A Look at the Alderman

As a race, we Yorkshiremen are rude, boorish, stubborn, aggressive, argumentative, disruptive, intolerant and and just plain downright bloody-minded. We harbour a series of complexes ranging from inferiority to persecution, and we are violently resentful of authority in any guise.

A man with the clarity of thought to come up with those words, and the honesty to express them, has to be someone worth listening to and Don Mosey aka ‘The Alderman’ was most certainly that. 

For all of us of a certain age Mosey first came to our attention for his work as a commentator on Test Match Special back in the mid 1970s. He was the one with the commanding presence and slightly fearsome voice, tempered by an occasionally impish sense of humour and just enough of an accent to make it clear he was from the Broadacres.

Mosey hailed from Keighley and was a product of what is now considered a bygone age. Strictly brought up in a household that esteemed the value of education above all else all three of Mosey and his two younger brothers secured scholarships to Keighley Grammar School. That much said Mosey shone only at languages, left school at fifteen and went straight into journalism. His Headmaster’s final report on him was, apparently, good but not as good as he thinks he is.

There was a break in 1941 when, a couple of years after starting his career with the Craven Herald Mosey went into the RAF where, after training as air crew, he travelled the world for four and half years, a goodly part of them spent teaching Indians English in the Iraqi desert. On being demobbed he went straight back to the Craven Herald and continued his progress, moving onwards and upwards until, in 1959, he became the Northern Cricket Correspondent of the Daily Mail. A decent club player in the Wharfedale League himself, Mosey developed strong and lasting friendships within the all-powerful Yorkshire eleven of the early 1960s.

In 1964 Mosey left the Daily Mail. As my introductory paragraph makes clear he was not a man to suffer fools gladly. He left after being incensed over a dispute where the bean counters were able to overrule the creative minds, and he decamped to BBC Radio and began a new career as Outside Broadcasts producer for the North of England.

It was 1974 when Mosey joined TMS, and 1978 before, to the best of my knowledge, he first wrote a book, so he was 54. The book in question was Brian Close’s autobiography, I Don’t Bruise Easily. One of the first cricket books I ever read, I recall thoroughly enjoying the book, although I now know it received somewhat mixed reviews. Alan Gibson, for a year a colleague on TMS, reviewed it for The Cricketer and described it as very readable but at the same time expressed disappointment that it was rather a sad, sour book. I refer back to my opening paragraph! Much the same comments can be made in respect of Mosey’s next writing assignment, Ray Illingworth’s 1980 autobiography, Yorkshire and Back. 

Another collaboration with a Yorkshire great, Fred Trueman, appeared at the end of 1982. I have not read My Most Memorable Matches but the humorous cover and involvement of cartoonist Roy Ulyett suggest it was a more light hearted work than the next Mosey book, another ghosting exercise, this time John Hampshire’s Family Argument. In Wisden Cricket Monthly Simon Wilde put it succinctly when he concluded the book was highly recommended to all those who like a blood-bath with plenty of victims and, again, I refer back to my opening paragraph.

In 1984 Mosey retired from his position with BBC Outside Broadcasts although he remained with TMS for another seven years. As far as his writing was concerned his only non-cricket book appeared in 1984, although there was a cricketing connection, Fred Trueman’s Yorkshire being about the topography of the pair’s beloved county.

The following year, 1985, Mosey’s name appeared as an author in his own right for the first time with The Best Job in the World. The book is essentially autobiographical concentrating, as the title suggests, on his role with TMS. Long time colleague Christopher Martin-Jenkins described the book as charitable and entertaining. No great controversy there then, which is something that cannot be said of Mosey’s other 1985 book, Boycott, a biography of the great man, and one which was anything but authorised. It was not a book that found favour with its subject who, two years later in his own autobiography, stated scathingly that Mosey’s book was what purports to be an unbiased biography. It is also the book from which my opening paragraph originates.

The reality of the situation was that Mosey had known Boycott throughout his professional career. He had watched him develop, as well as observed at close quarters the great team he had been a part of in the 1960s. On the other side of the coin he had seen the gradual disintegration of the White Rose, both on and off the field, as the 1970s passed into the 1980s and observed Boycott’s role in that.

In fact it would seem that until November 1983 the two had got on well, Mosey’s take on what happened next is that in a television interview in November 1983 I had offered the suggestion that Geoffrey was not perfect in every way and this had meant the end of a beautiful friendship.

In truth Mosey was probably the ideal person to write the book at that time (Boycott still had one season left as a Yorkshire player). He knew his subject as well as anyone and, having previously worked with Close, Illingworth and Hampshire, had access to a vast amount of testimony from others who knew his subject equally well. The resulting book paid due regard to Boycott’s pre-eminence as a player, but left no reader in any doubt as to what Mosey perceived to be the flaws in his character.

As to how the book was received it was certainly well reviewed. In The Cricketer former Glamorgan all-rounder Peter Walker, who would therefore have ‘had dealings’ with Boycott over many years, felt that Mosey encapsulated the central core of his subject with rare insight. David Frith in Wisden Cricket Monthly was a little more guarded and in Wisden John Arlott did his usual deft job of telling his reader what the book was about, without actually giving away what he himself thought of his old friend’s work.

Having taken on a mighty challenge in 1985 Mosey did the same again with Botham in 1986. Once more the scenario was a mighty cricketer whose professional and private lives both made headlines. Again Mosey had originally been a good friend of Botham (in a later book he wrote of reading stories to a young Liam Botham whilst the youngster was sat on his knee), but the relationship soured. At one point when invited to interview Botham by the BBC Mosey declined to conduct a conversation with that loud-mouthed hooligan.

At this time books on the subject of Botham seemed to appear every few months, and his momentous deeds were generally carried out in the full glare of the cameras and reporters. A simple cricketing biography was never going to work, and wasn’t what Mosey attempted. As with Boycott Mosey in effect took Botham’s on-field achievements as read, and attempted to analyse the personality behind them. Inevitable the result was not something which its subject would have enjoyed reading, and neither of Botham’s autobiographies make any mention of Mosey at all.

In many ways it has to be said that Mosey’s book is a fair portrayal of Botham’s faults, and on occasion in analysing those he does apportion blame to factors other than Botham himself. The problem ultimately however, and much the same can be said of Boycott, is that if the heroics on the pitch are ignored, and likewise the good deeds off it, such as the charity walks, then no biography can be truly impartial however much the writer might set out with that intention.

There was no book from Mosey in 1987, but two in 1988. The first, credited to Mosey and Trueman, has the unattractive title of Cricket Statistics Year by Year 1946-1987. Given the title of the book there are inevitably some numbers in the book, but they are incidental to the main purpose of the book which is simply to record a dialogue between Mosey and Trueman as they recall each of those 42 summers and to reproduce around one hundred excellent photographs.

Next up was We Don’t Play it for Fun, which has the sub-title A Story of Yorkshire Cricket. It sounds like a history, but it isn’t, and I will mention again my opening paragraph. To that I will add some more of Mosey’s own words. He writes that the book is written with unashamed sentiment, natural pride and the most enormous affection and I admit readily and happily that I wrote much of it with a great lump in my throat. Later he adds: If lesser mortals, unfortunate enough to be born on less hallowed ground, do not really understand our point of view then that is their problem, because we know that it is right. So what is the book if not a history? It is a collection of pen portraits and other stories ranging over the entirety of the county’s history. Yorkshiremen will love it, and reading it is also an instructive experience for the neutral.

In 1989 another Mosey biography appeared, and of another Yorkshireman, albeit on this occasion of a man who played his county cricket for Surrey and, briefly in his declining years, for Essex. Laker is one of three biographies of the great off-spinner and there is not much to choose between them. Laker was perhaps a little more avuncular than Mosey, but that observation apart the pair clearly shared much more than just the county of their birth.

There were to be three more books from Mosey, one in 1990 and then two more the following year. The first was Mosey’s contribution to the most famous brand in cricket literature as he penned The Wisden Book of Captains on Tour something which, having been on five tours, he was well placed to write.

The first of Mosey’s two books in 1991 was his last biography and, perhaps, a fitting one as he produced Fred – Then and Now, a biography of his great friend Trueman. Dividing a book of modest proportions, less than two hundred pages, into two parts Mosey gave almost equal space to Trueman’s life after cricket as he did to his playing career. Once more the book is redolent of the sentiments set out in my opening paragraph but, on this occasion, Mosey’s subject would doubtless have approved of the finished product, despite the book being completely unauthorised.

Finally came a full autobiography, The Alderman’s Tale, the release of which coincided with Mosey’s retirement from the TMS commentary box. It is a curious book. It tells the story of Mosey’s life very well, and it came as no surprise to anyone that there was some criticism of his employers, but the scale of that was unexpected. Although he worked happily with the likes of Old Etonians Henry Blofeld and Brian Johnston he did not like the way the old school tie ran the show and was particularly resentful when Martin-Jenkins, an Old Marlburian, was appointed BBC Cricket Correspondent ahead  of him in 1972.

The Alderman’s Tale brings to mind a book of one of the subjects of Mosey’s biographies, Jim Laker. Back in 1960 Laker published Over to Me, the ghosted autobiography that was so critical of his county captain, Peter May, amongst others and which I told the story of here. So sour was the tone of Laker’s book that it gave the casual reader the impression that Laker cannot have enjoyed his life in cricket at all, and The Alderman’s Tale did much the same for Mosey, even though anyone who had read The Best Job in the World was well aware that that was not the case.

After he retired from TMS Mosey moved to Morecambe in Lancashire from where he kept an eye on the career of his son, Ian, a professional golfer. He did not write any more books although he did contribute to each of the first fourteen issues of Cricket Lore including making a withering attack on the decision made by Yorkshire to, for the 1992 summer, remove the long cherished prohibition on those born outside the ridings playing for Yorkshire. His final piece for the magazine, and as far as I am aware his last published work anywhere, reprised the best chapter in The Alderman’s Tale, the inspiring story of Mosey’s great friend, former Australian seamer Neil Hawke.

Don Mosey was 74 when he died in 1999. He had a few health problems latterly and had been advised to give up smoking. His reply was: no chance of me giving up the slim, cool comfort, I’ll be fine and dandy – in closing I refer back to my opening paragraph once more.

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