BBC Radio 7, 11 July 2009
The 1932-3 England-Australia Test series, known to all and sundry as
the 'Bodyline' tour, is one of the most notorious episodes in cricket history. The ground has been well covered by journalists
who actually participated in the tour, by other cricket writers, and by television adaptations such as the fictionalized Australian
television epic of the 1980s, in which Douglas Jardine was portrayed by Hugo Weaving as a tight-lipped disciplinarian with
a perpetual sneer on his face.
Christopher Douglas' radio play, originally broadcast in the 1980s, suggested that
the events involved issues of class, money, nation and colonialism. Jardine (Michael Cochrane) is an extreme example
of the public school educated patrician, firmly believing that it is his right to lead his troops into battle on the
field of play. He expects absolute loyalty from his team-mates, whether amateurs or professionals; if they rebel, then the
only course of action would be for him to resign in the belief that he has not fulfilled his duty as a captain. While we might
admire him for his selfless devotion to his country's cause, it is clear that he has no concept of man-management, especially
where the professionals are concerned. To him Harold Larwood (Michael Kitchen) and Bill Voce (David Threlfall) are a completely
alien species of human being with their coarse northern accents and down-to-earth manners. Jardine can tell them what to do,
but he cannot understand how their working-class minds work.
Such class-related issues do not go away: although the England team ultimately wins
the series, Larwood and Voce are made scapegoats for the whole 'Bodyline' affair, and ordered to apologize. Needless to say
Larwood refuses, arguing with justification that he was only carrying out his captain's orders.
The issue of money dominates Douglas' play. As someone devoted to the amateur
ethos - i.e. play up and play the game - Pelham Warner (Robert Lang) is horrified by what happens on the field.
He considers the whole Bodyline a serious breach of protocol, as the England bowlers aim at the Australian batsman's torsos
rather than bowling at the stumps. For Larwood, a full-time professional, the issue is far more clear-cut; completely oblivious
of protocol, he simply carries out a job of work to the best of his ability. The Bodyline series marked a watershed
in English cricket history as an example of the professionalization of the game, where results assumed far more significance
However Douglas also suggests that the entire Bodyline issue was blown up out of
all proportion by the media, which deliberately sensationalized the events on the field. This is suggested through the use
of radio commentaries given by former Australian bastman Jack Ryder (Gordon Gostelow), which highlight the on-field conflicts
between Jardine and Larwood. Such conflicts simply do not exist (Larwood always carries out his captain's orders), but who
cares about truth when a good story is involved?
As the title suggests, The Englishman Abroad also involves issues of
nationhood. Jardine believes it is his duty to reinforce British domination of the upstart colonials, especially Don Bradman
(Christopher Blake), whose run-getting feats in the 1930 series had already wrested the Ashes from England's grasp. For the
Australian people Bradman is not only a great cricketer, but also a symbol of their struggle for independence. Once the series
ends, with a 3-1 defeat of the Australians, it seems that such illusions have been shattered.
Deftly directed by Jane Morgan, The Englishman Abroad shows why the Bodyline
series still proves an object of fascination, nearly eighty years after it took place. As Harold Larwood's daughter recalled
recently, in a Test Match Special interview, it involved so much more than just cricketing issues.