At the BBC’s first TV Test match, a young Norfolk lad mixes with the big names
PUBLISHED: 23:16 10 August 2018 | UPDATED: 09:49 13 August 2018
The day the BBC’s cameras filmed a Test match for the first time was a memorable occasion for a young batsman just out of Norfolk, says Tony Wenham
An anxious young batsman strode down the most famous steps in sport in front of some 20,000 spectators, the biggest crowd of his career to date.
But, even as all-round cricketer Bill Edrich, Norfolk’s recent teenage phenomenon, walked out to open the batting at Lord’s against Australia in only his second Test match, the local audience was increased by perhaps a few hundred more as BBC cameras focused on the opening overs in an experiment which would transform spectator sports.
It was 80 years ago, and a cricket Test match was being televised for the first time. Earlier in the year, the outside broadcast team had also sent back pictures from the Boat Race, the first televised football match – England against Scotland – and the FA Cup Final.
Eighteen months before, after a series of trials, the BBC had opted for the Marconi-EMI broadcast system, and soon after set up a mobile outside broadcast unit to televise the coronation of King George VI in May 1937. Television set owners – and there were very few – were discovering a completely new experience.
It was a hot day on June 24, 1938 at Lord’s and, in a commentary position opposite the famous pavilion – between the “free seats” (coincidentally now known as the Edrich Stand) and the old Mound Stand were three cameras: one on the bowler, one on the batsman and a third on top of the old Tavern Hotel for general atmospheric shots.
To 22-year-old Edrich, the son of east Norfolk farmers and a former pupil of Bracondale School in Norwich, it must have seemed a long way from Lakenham.
The BBC had chosen their inaugural match well; two of the giants of 20th century batting were both playing, each captaining his respective country.
Don Bradman was a freak of nature, literally a run machine who, over a 20-year professional career, scored a hundred at least once every three innings. And, as an Aussie, he had a special fondness for hundreds against England.
Wally Hammond broke all English batting records between the wars, with statistics second only to his great rival Bradman – which forever rankled the England skipper, bolstering his reputation for moodiness.
However, on the day the cameras rolled for the first time, Wally was in the ascendant, scoring a double hundred and finishing on 240 – at the time the highest score for England in any home Test match.
Predictably, the Don, as he was known, responded with 102 in the second innings, ensuring a draw for the visitors.
Edrich, meanwhile, had booked his place in the team after an extraordinary start to his season with Middlesex, scoring 1,000 runs in May. But the step up to international level was proving tough. In the entire series – reduced to four matches due to rain – he made a total of 67 runs in six innings and took one wicket. And yet he was still picked to tour South Africa in the winter of 1938-39.
After his death in 1980, Wisden, the cricketer’s bible, noted: “Endlessly cheerful, always optimistic and physically courageous, he was a splendid hitter of short-pitched fast bowling and took the blows he received as a part of the game.”
Even so, would he have made the cut today?
It was later rumoured that Hammond kept Edrich in the team because he had a soft spot for his out-of-form team-mate, founded on a common interest: a love of the opposite sex.
Hammond, tall and athletically built, had been a renowned ladies’ man since his youth; Edrich would marry five times. Famously, the Middlesex and England bowler JJ Warr was asked by an usher at the fourth wedding: “Bride or groom?” Answer: “Don’t worry, I’ve got a season ticket.”
Even in South Africa, Edrich failed to impress yet kept his place, finally repaying Hammond’s support with a double hundred in the last match of the series, the so-called “timeless Test” which went on for 10 days.
And then the war came, and cricket and outside televised broadcasts stopped for the duration.
Bill Edrich joined the RAF and had a distinguished career, winning the DFC as a bomber pilot, and his cricket took off from 1947-53 until his retirement from first class cricket when he returned to captain Norfolk until 1972. Sadly, two members of the 1938 England team did not return from the War – bowlers Ken Farnes and Hedley Verity.
The BBC, meanwhile, would have a triumphant 1948, televising the London Olympics.
The first telly test match
A TV set before the Second World War was a luxury. The cheapest model with a 12in (30 cm) screen cost the equivalent of about £6,000 in today’s money.
It is not known how many people actually watched the cricket from Lord’s on TV – just a few thousand sets were made in Britain before the war – but
only viewers within 20 miles of London’s Alexandra Palace were able to receive the signal in 1938.
The BBC’s Lord’s transmission would have been very different from today’s Sky Sports broadcasts. Apart from being
in black and white, there were no replays and no highlights packages.
Over the years, the BBC employed presenters who became household names such as Richie Benaud (a former captain of Australia), Brian Johnston and Peter West.
In 1999, the BBC lost coverage of England home matches to Channel 4, which subsequently showed the dramatic Ashes series of 2005. BBC Sport has been criticised for failing to show any live cricket, although it will televise some live short-form cricket from 2020. The corporation failed to respond to requests for stills and footage of the 1938 match at Lord’s.