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Monday 3 June 2019

Cricketers Can’t be Killers

The  Golden Age
  by Carol Westron
A look at the influence cricket had on English Detective Fiction in the early 20th Century.

Despite living near to the village of Hambledon, which has been called ‘the cradle of cricket’, I have little knowledge or interest in the game. What does interest me is the effect that cricket had on society and the impact this had on detective fiction before and during the Golden Age. The influence of cricket spread through all layers of society, from public schools and universities to village cricket, although the latter was often on less than pristine fields. All the same, it was an elitist sport where the wealthy upper class and middle class, public school educated men who played as Amateurs, were more highly regarded than the working class Professionals, who depended on cricket for their livelihood.

It was in Victorian times that parallels began to be drawn between skill at cricket and honour and manliness. This was embodied in the poem, Vitai Lampada (1892) by Sir Henry Newbolt, which allies the lessons learned in public school cricket with the courage, determination and blind patriotism that the cricketers who became soldiers later displayed in fighting for Britain’s interests abroad.

THERE'S a breathless hush in the Close to-night -
Ten to make and the match to win -
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play and the last man in.
And it's not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
Or the selfish hope of a season's fame,
But his Captain's hand on his shoulder smote
"Play up! play up! and play the game!"

The sand of the desert is sodden red, -
Red with the wreck of a square that broke;
The Gatling's jammed and the colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed his banks,
And England's far, and Honour a name,
But the voice of schoolboy rallies the ranks,
"Play up! play up! and play the game!"

This is the word that year by year
While in her place the School is set
Every one of her sons must hear,
And none that hears it dare forget.
This they all with a joyful mind
Bear through life like a torch in flame,
And falling fling to the host behind -
"Play up! play up! and play the game!"

This poem received a new lease of life during the First World War, when it was both admired and also, unsurprisingly, satirised. After a literary tour of Canada in 1923, Newbolt grew weary of being asked to recite it and declared that Vitai Lampada had become "a kind of Frankenstein's Monster that I created thirty years ago.” Nevertheless, the perceived ties between cricket and nobility of character continued.

One of the most famous crime fiction cricketers was created in the last years of the Victorian Age. E. W. Hornung first introduced A.J. Raffles in 1898, in six short stories published in Cassell’s Magazine. These were republished as a collection, with two additional stories, under the title The Amateur Cracksman in 1899. Raffles is a handsome, charming and ruthless burglar who, with the assistance of his friend, Harry ‘Bunny’ Manders, steals to support his lavish lifestyle. (In old-fashioned British slang, to call somebody a rabbit was to indicate that they are extremely poor at sports, particularly golf, tennis and cricket. Therefore the nickname Bunny tells the reader that Manders has always been subservient and inferior to the cricket all-rounder Raffles, a position confirmed by his having been Raffles ‘fag’ at school).

In his essay,
The Ethics of the Detective Story from Raffles to Miss Blandish (1944), George Orwell argues that, ‘In making Raffles a cricketer as well as a burglar, Hornung was drawing the sharpest moral contrast he could possibly imagine.’ It is certainly true that in the 21st Century, a hundred and twenty years after Raffles first appeared, it is hard to imagine what a bold step Hornung had taken. In Victorian and Edwardian England, ‘playing the game’ and ‘good sportsmanship’ was valued above success, and a public school man who stole from his peers was letting the side down in a way that would not be forgiven.

Hornung’s brother-in-law, Arthur Conan Doyle, had counselled against making Hornung’s chief protagonist a criminal, and it can be argued that, for all his eccentricities, Sherlock Holmes is a far more conventional crime fiction hero. What is more, Hornung increased the societal pressure on Raffles and Bunny by making them not aristocrats but middle-class young men who would be cast into the outer darkness if their crimes became known. Raffles is accepted into high society because of his looks and charm but above all because ‘as a cricketer I dare swear he was unique... a dangerous bat, a brilliant field and perhaps the finest slow bowler of his decade.’ (The Amateur Cracksman, 1899.)

As Jack Williams, author of Cricket and England: a cultural and social history of the inter-war years, observes: ‘For much of the 20th century cricket was esteemed an expression of English moral worth. While it is not difficult to uncover instances of cheating in cricket, its standards of sportsmanship and fair play were believed to be higher than those in other sports.’ (The Independent, May 1999.) Hornung agrees with this, regarding cricket as being of importance in forming character, and at times seems to echo the sentiments of Newbolt’s Vitai Lampada. ‘Everybody knows how largely the tone of a public school depends on that of the eleven, and on the character of the captain of cricket in particular.’ (The Amateur Cracksman, 1899) However, it is soon made clear that, even at school, as the revered captain of cricket who was never found out in wrongdoing, Raffles has a dark, daring and dangerous secret life.

Hornung continually equates the skills that Raffles excels at in cricket with his abilities as a cool, successful thief. ‘And there knelt A.J. Raffles, with his black hair tumbled, and the same watchful, quiet, determined half-smile with which I have seen him send down over after over in a county match.’ (The Amateur Cracksman, 1899).

It is clear that Hornung intended to create a very different style of hero, a buccaneer, a man with flair, self-confidence and charm, who uses the advantages he has to hand to gain the sort of life to which he feels entitled. Although he claims to have lost interest in cricket, its usefulness is something that Raffles, albeit grudgingly, concedes may be useful in his more profitable career, ‘“Still, if you can bowl a bit your low cunning won’t get rusty, and always looking for a weak spot's just the kind of mental exercise one wants. Yes, perhaps there’s some affinity between the two things after all.”’ (The Amateur Cracksman, 1899) And following this discussion, Bunny soon witnesses just how valuable Raffles’ skill at cricket is: ‘It was no mere exhibition of athletic prowess, it was an intellectual treat, and one with special significance in my eyes. I saw the “affinity between the two things,” saw it in that afternoon’s tireless warfare against the flower of professional cricket... What I admired, and what I remember, was the combination of resource and cunning, of patience and precision, of headwork and handwork, which made every over an artistic whole. It was all so characteristic of that other Raffles whom I alone knew!’ (The Amateur Cracksman, 1899)

From the start of the stories featuring him, Raffles claims to have lost all his previous enthusiasm for cricket. He continues to play because being a first-class cricketer gives him entry into exalted circles and because it is assumed that nobody will question the honesty or honour of such a man. “Cricket,” said Raffles, “like everything else, is good enough sport until you discover a better. As a source of excitement, it isn’t in it with other things you wot of, Bunny, and the involuntary comparison is a bore....  But I’d chuck up cricket tomorrow, Bunny, if it wasn’t for the glorious protection it affords a person of my proclivities.”’ (The Amateur Cracksman, 1899)

After several more Raffles short stories, which showed a tendency to get darker as theyprogressed, Hornung wrote his only full-length Raffles novel Mr Justice Raffles (1909), in which Raffles dies fighting in the second Boer War. It seems that, in the end, Hornung was not immune to the need to redeem his cricketer anti-hero and give him a hero’s death.

While they are not detective stories, P.G. Wodehouse’s superb depictions of a young cricketer, are too informative and far too much fun to be ignored. Mike Jackson is the youngest son in a middle-class family of talented cricketers, and Wodehouse first introduced him in the magazine The Captain in 1909. The story was originally in two parts, entitled Jackson Junior and The Lost Lambs. The latter was republished in book form in 1935 as Enter Psmith, and both stories were republished by Herbert Jenkins Ltd in 1953, as Mike at Wrykin and Mike and Psmith.

During his time in England, Wodehouse was a passionate cricket lover, indeed his first piece of paid writing was
Some Aspects of Game Captaincy, which was published in the Public-School Magazine. What is more, the name Jeeves was that of a Warwickshire bowler, killed in the First World War. At Dulwich College, Wodehouse was a successful bowler, but he was prevented from going to Oxford by the collapse of his father’s business, and he was forced to enter the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank. Wodehouse drew on this experience for Psmith in the City, where Mike’s father has lost his money and Mike has to enter the New Asiatic Bank. Cricket is a continual theme through Mike at Wrykin, Mike and Psmith and Psmith in the City, indeed in the last book cricket neatly bookends the story, providing the reason at the beginning for Mike’s disagreement with the bank’s manager, and at the end for his dismissal from the bank.

Throughout the books featuring Mike Jackson, Wodehouse shows clearly the importance of cricket in public school life and the eminence and influence of the captains of cricket, but he also sees the intrinsic humour of this mindset. In Mike and Psmith, Mike has been refusing to play cricket for his new school because he is sulking that his father took him away from Wrykin and nobody has realised what a skilled cricketer he is. Eventually, he does agree to play in a match between two of the houses, in order to score over an unpopular and unfair master, Mr Downing. As an illustration of the value that some teachers placed on the importance of cricket, even in the most minor of private schools, this cannot be bettered.
‘Mike was not a genuine convert, but to Mr Downing he had the outward aspect of one. When you have been impressing upon a non-cricketing boy for nearly a month that (a) the school is above all a keen school. (b) that all members of it should play cricket, and (c) that by not playing cricket he is ruining his chances in this world and imperilling them in the next; and when, quite unexpectedly, you come upon this boy dressed in cricket flannels, wearing cricket boots and carrying a cricket bag, it seems only natural to assume that you have converted him, that the seeds of your eloquence have fallen on fruitful soil and sprouted.
Mr Downing assumed it...
“What!” he cried. “Our Jackson clad in suit of mail and armed for the fray!”
This was Mr Downing’s No. 2 manner – the playful.
“This is indeed Saul among the prophets. Why this sudden enthusiasm for a game which I understood that you despised? Are our opponents so reduced?”’

Jack Williams commented that ‘Since Victorian times cricket has been celebrated as symbol of England and Englishness. It has had a key role in how the English, and particularly those with social and economic power, have imagined themselves. A cricket game on the village green against a backdrop of parish church and country inn is still one of the images most widely employed to evoke a sense of England.’ (The Independent, May 1999.) This idyllic picture was a very comforting one for readers in the 1920s and 1930s, with its sense of social and moral stability and a set order in which everybody knew their place.

From most fictional depictions, it seems that when inter-village rivalry took over, cricket on the village green was played on a much lower moral plane. The underhand tactics described in Murder Isn’t Cricket (1946) by E & M.A. Radford, is certainly not in the noble spirit of the game.
‘The second over of the Thames Pagnall innings saw the awaited trouble break out. A tall burly figure took the ball. He sent down the first of his over, and the crowd jumped as one man. The second ball shook the bails.
A shout broke from the Thames Pagnall side of the field. “Who’s he? He ain’t a Maplecot man. Take him off.”
The Pagnall captain, who had been watching the bowling very carefully from the other crease, approached his vis-à-vis. “Isn’t that Charlton, the Lancashire fast bowler?” he asked.
Maplecot’s skipper grinned. “Sure,” he said. “What’s wrong with that? He’s working in Maplecot now, and eligible. Lodging there, too.”
“Since when?”
“Since yesterday.”
The Pagnall fears were justified. Two wickets fell to the County man in that over for five runs. Four wickets were down for fifty; and then the squire stalked to the wicket to partner the blacksmith. They put on another fifty before the blacksmith, unsighted by a Maplecot lout walking in front of the screen, let a fast one into his wicket. Ominous mutterings broke out; and a suggestion that the visitor – who doubtless had been wandering backwards and forwards across the screen since the Pagnall innings had opened – should be lynched there and then was favourably received.’

In many villages and the less prestigious public schools the wicket was ill kept and extremely hard to play on, which was deeply frustrating to serious players, but in Thames Pagnall the local squire and team captain has
decreed that the pitch is treated as something close to sacred land and the whole village is horrified when a man has the temerity to be murdered there during the game.

‘“God bless my soul!” he repeated. “On our pitch.”
Not even the boys of the village were allowed on that pitch; the dogs were chased off; cows from their
experience had taught their calves to skirt round it in their goings and comings from the meadows; and now a dead man had planted himself there.’
(Murder Isn’t Cricket, 1946.)

Until 1962, the two-tiered social hierarchy of cricket was enshrined in the structure of the game. The professional cricketers were men who have to earn their living by playing and coaching cricket; usually they would be paid to play for their county during the cricket season and in the winter, they would seek other employment.  The amateurs were gentlemen, who were in a position to devote their lives to playing cricket. In reality, the main difference between professionals and amateurs was social status. Most high-ranking amateurs were produced by the major public schools and universities and were upper or middle class. The team captain was always an amateur.

This gulf is beautifully illustrated in P.G. Wodehouse’s Psmith in the City (1909), in which Mike Jackson has walked out on his job in a city bank, which he had loathed, in order to play in an important match at Lords, and is now contemplating how he can earn his living: ‘It was not a time for half-measures. He could not go home. He must carry the thing through, now that he had begun, and find something to support himself. There seemed only one opening for him. What could he do, he asked himself? Just one thing. He could play cricket. It was by his cricket that he must live. He would have to become a professional. Could he get taken on? That was the question. It was impossible that he should play for his own county on his residential qualification. He could not appear as a professional in the same team in which his brothers were playing as amateurs. He must stake all on his birth qualification for Surrey.’

The annual Gentlemen v Players fixture, which was played from 1806 to 1962 emphasised this gulf in social status. Gentleman and Players is the title of a Raffles short story in The Amateur Cracksman, in which Raffles is playing as one of the Gentlemen. Perhaps because he is part of the middle class rather than an aristocrat, Raffles is extremely sensitive about the amateur status that proclaims him to be a gentleman. ‘“I felt venomous. Nothing riles me more than being asked about for my cricket as though I were a pro. myself.”’ (The Amateur Cracksman, 1899.)

The elite status of cricket can be seen in the flawless white clothing of the players, although in village and work teams, this also proves to be a gulf between the middle- and upper-class cricketers and working class occasional players. In Dorothy L. Sayers’ Murder Must Advertise (1933), Lord Peter Wimsey is working ‘undercover’ for a prestigious and respectable advertising firm. In the guise of Mr Bredon, he is taking part in a cricket match against one of the firm’s major clients. The ex-public school members of staff are reasonably well turned out, but the ‘dress of the remainder varied in combining white flannels with brown shoes, white shoes with the wrong sort of shirt, tweed coats with white linen hats, down to the disgraceful exhibition of Mr Miller, who, disdaining to put himself out for a mere game, affronted the sight in grey flannel trousers, a striped shirt and braces.’

The multi-talented Lord Peter Wimsey is the best-known cricketing detective of the Golden Age and the one who most closely achieves the honour and moral heights expected of great cricketers. This is ironic when, in Murder Must Advertise, he is deceiving his team mates and co-workers by masquerading as Death Bredon, a rather shady distant relation of the noble Ducal house. However, his motives are of the highest; he is attempting to solve a murder and break up a ruthless drug smuggling gang.

In his guise of Bredon, Wimsey intends to make no more than twenty runs, but a sharp blow from the ball causes him to forget his alias, although perhaps it is just the cricketer in him taking over. ‘Nothing makes a man see red like a sharp rap over the funnybone, and it was at this moment that Mr Death Bredon suddenly and regrettably forgot himself. He forgot his caution and his role and, Mr Miller’s braces, and saw only the green turf and the Oval on a sunny day and the squat majesty of the gasworks. The next ball was another of Simmonds’ murderous short-pitched bumpers, and Lord Peter Wimsey, opening up wrathful shoulders, strode out of his crease like the spirit of vengeance and whacked it to the wide.’

At the end of the match, Wimsey’s brother-in-law, Chief Inspector Parker, pretends to arrest Wimsey for his own protection. The intrinsic belief that the great cricketer is also morally irreproachable is voiced by old Mr Brotherhood, the owner of the firm whose team has just been defeated by Wimsey’s skill as a batsman. ‘“Well,” he said again, “his name may be Bredon. But he’s innocent. Innocent as day, my good fellow. Did you see him play? He’s a damned fine cricketer and he’d no more commit murder than I would.”’ The faith in the moral probity of the great cricketer clearly lives on into the 1930s.
There are other detective books that feature cricket matches but I discovered only one novel featuring women’s cricket, and that was just after the Golden Age. Death Before Wicket by Nancy Spain is a comedy crime novel, published in 1946. Unfortunately, it is now out of print.

Despite the fact that the Women’s Cricket Association was founded in 1926, the woman’s role in fictional cricket matches remained passive, that of spectators and providers of refreshments. The typical attitude to women and cricket is displayed by Freddie Arbuthnot in Dorothy L. Sayers’ Gaudy Night (1935), as he recalls first meeting Harriet Vane at a match between Eton and Harrow.
‘“Yes, ghastly hot afternoon that was, too. Can’t think why harmless women should be dragged along to be bored while a lot of little boys play off their Old School Ties. (That’s meant for a joke.) You were frightfully well-behaved, I remember.”
Harriet said sedately that she always enjoyed a good cricket match.’

Many of the authors of the Golden Age enjoyed cricket. P.G. Wodehouse loved cricket and played well (until he moved to America and transferred his allegiance to baseball); E.W. Hornung loved cricket and played although not very well; and Dorothy L. Sayers was an enthusiastic and knowledgeable spectator of cricket. Agatha Christie never created a cricketing detective but she also loved the game and made provision under her will to finance the tours of the England Young Cricketers Club to the West Indies. So perhaps it’s only fair to let the last word go to her detective, one who would never be fooled into thinking the ability to score runs or bowl players out proved the intrinsic moral worth of a man, Hercule Poirot: ‘“Cricket, the English enigma. I know not of any other game where even the players are unsure of the rules.”’ (Four and Twenty Blackbirds, 1960.)

E.W. Hornung - The Amateur Cracksman
Independently Published. ISBN: 978-1095917114
Note: This costs £15.50 as a paperback but can be obtained free on Kindle – ASIN: B0082ZES9O

E.W. Hornung - Mr Justice Raffles
Independently Published. ISBN: 978-1093601275
Note: This costs £19.14 as a paperback but can be obtained free on Kindle – ASIN: B00847OM8C

P.G. Wodehouse – Mike at Wrykin
Publisher: Everyman. ISBN: 978-1841591773

P.G. Wodehouse – Mike and Psmith
Publisher: Tark Classic Fiction. ISBN: 978-1604500660

P.G. Wodehouse – Psmith in the City
Publisher: Createspace. ISBN: 978-1987452853

Note: All of these Wodehouse books are also available at a low price on Kindle.

E & M.A. Radford – Murder Isn’t Cricket
Publisher: Dean Street. ISBN: 978-1912574735. ASIN: B07MTP363J

Dorothy L. Sayers – Murder Must Advertise
Publisher: Hodder Paperbacks. ISBN: 978-1473621381. ASIN: 978-0450002427
Dorothy L. Sayers – Gaudy Night
Publisher: Hodder Paperbacks. ISBN: 978-1473621404
Kindle sold by Amazon Media. ASIN: B00R1T46K8

Agatha Christie – The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding (containing Four and Twenty Blackbirds)
Published: Harper Collins. ISBN: 978-0008164980
Kindle published by Dreamscape Media. ASIN: B07LGSXBY2

Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and
Victorian times. 
The Terminal Velocity of Cats the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013. Carol recently gave an interview to Mystery People. To read the interview click on the link below.

 To read a review of Carol latest book Strangers and Angels click on the title.

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