An Evening With: Sir Geoffrey Boycott, Jonathan Agnew

Sir Geoffrey Boycott is appearing at Cheltenham Town Hall on 17th October 2017. Angela Cave caught up with him ahead of this.

“The word iconic is often overused but not in the case of Sir Geoffrey Boycott, cricketer extraordinaire and member of the Test Match Special team.  He is the equal fifth-highest accumulator of first-class centuries in history, eighth in career runs and the first English player to average over 100 in a season (1971 and 1979) and so it was with some trepidation that I brought my enthusiasm for, but limited knowledge of, cricket to the table when I had the great pleasure in interviewing him – I needn’t have worried it was one of the most enjoyable interviews ever!

First of all, I have to ask with the retirement recently of your fellow commentator Henry Blofeld, are you going to take up the sartorial mantle and will we see you in raspberry trews, yellow shirt and lilac shoes,

Oh gosh love I don’t think so, I like pastel colours, pale blues and yellows and I don’t think my Rachel would like me going out looking like a deckchair, she tells me I should wear pastels and I do, but they don’t really work on a wet day I must say.

You are famous for your comments about your mother and her abilities on the cricket pitch with a stick of rhubarb – as in ‘My mother could have hit that ball with a stick of rhubarb’ so please share your favourite rhubarb dish.

It’s got to be stewed rhubarb with some cold custard and some cream – the simple things are the best and when I was a lad we had lots of fruit, whatever was in season, not like now when you can get everything all year round.  My mother made the best fruit pies ever and I do like a fruit pie. We had a pantry and you eat what was about and the fruit was put fresh in the larder and cooked soon after – that’s why I batted so well, it was me Mum’s fruit pies!

Test Match Special’s anniversary match held recently was really great fun with captains, of which you were one, bidding for players at an auction with, unsurprisingly, sticks of rhubarb – you were the winning captain, tell us your secret.

Oh that was a good day!  I was in it to win it, you don’t play if you don’t want to win in my book, so I told my team to have fun – but win.  I picked my players carefully too – pick the girls I said to Michael Vaughan at the auction, they are young and fit, they have good fielding and ball skills and some of them are still playing, Charlotte Edwards had just retired and her team had won the women’s league so that was a no brainer – and those girls were good too.  Phil Tufnell had no chance!

At this point Geoffrey’s mobile rang and he broke off to answer it, coming back to tell me that a signed bat he had given to a charity had raised over £500 for a local cricket club……

Well there are so many charities and they are all good so what I can do, I will do – that was a bat I had signed by as many well-known players as I could and then I told the lass to paint over the signatures with clear nail polish so they stayed on, a good tip is that it’s like varnish so it keeps the signatures safe. Mind you some of them are just squiggles so I write the name of the player next to them! My wife and I had a charity event at our house recently and raised £50,000 for Yorkshire Air Ambulance which was good but it doesn’t get much publicity, wouldn’t it be nice if every paper had a page of good news eh?  Now that would be a really good read.

You are on tour with Jonathan Agnew, that must be great fun, it certainly is for the audience!

Oh it is, even tho’ he stitched me up recently on air by playing a prank on me about my 100th 100 being downgraded, gosh he had me proper he did.  Even my wife Rachel was taken in, she was listening in the kitchen as she likes Test Match Special like you do and she was really cross.  He had an official bit of paper which is what got me – but don’t you worry I’ll get him back, and anyway it had literally millions of hits on Youtube!

Which is your favourite cricket ground to comment in, and why?

Port Elizabeth, and I like Durham.  The commentary box is right behind the bowler’s arm so I can see what the ball is doing down the pitch and the boxes aren’t too high.  I like a box to be just above the side screen so I can see what is going on.  Sometimes they put us like crows up in the sky and you can’t see the bounce of the ball and both of those grounds have good roomy boxes so we aren’t all squashed in!

If you could invite any cricketer, past or present, for dinner who would it be and why?

No question, W.G. Grace, what a man he was we, could have a right good natter. He was a legend for good reason he not only got over 50,000 runs and was the first man to get 100 100’s twice.The Daily Telegraph had a sort of benefit thing for him when he reached a particular milestone and asked readers to send in a shilling – in today’s money they raised ½ a million pounds!

The Prime Minister of the time, was it Mr Gladstone, sent him 100 shillings for 100 100’s but the rest was just small donations, not like today where they get thousands and thousands.  He played til he was 50 something and he was a gargantuan man, a big man in body and in stature. He would play a game in Kent one day, then the next day get on a train to Yorkshire get a hansom cab from the station and do it all again.  He had so much influence on the game, what a dinner that would be!

As this is our Christmas issue what will you be doing on Christmas Day?

Good question, well if I am fit and healthy I will try and get a game of golf in the sunshine in Melbourne before the Boxing Day Test and as I shan’t have family out with me a game of golf it will be – if the club is open, they have opened it for me in the past which was very kind so that’ll be me.”

An evening with Sir Geoffrey Boycott is on at the Cheltenham Town Hall October 2017.