Martin Chandler | 8:38am GMT 24 January 2021
Even by today’s standards Frank Tyson’s cricket career was a short one, and in 1950s England it could almost be called fleeting. He played a single match in 1952 and then, at the age of just 30, he was gone at the end of the summer of 1960. Whilst short Tyson’s career did not want for drama, and he enjoyed much success, particularly in Australia in 1954/55. For those interested in his cricket career I tell the story of that here.
One of the reasons for the delayed start to Tyson’s career was his, in a time when many fewer did so than they do today, going to University. A man who got a degree in English Literature from Durham was always likely to be a man who might turn his hand to writing, and so it was to be with Tyson.
Going into teaching after retirement Tyson also spent the summer of 1961 playing as a professional for Todmorden in the Lancashire League and writing his autobiography, A Typhoon Called Tyson. The book was an unusual one of its type in that Tyson did not, as one would hope from a man with his academic background, employ a ghost. That said he clearly took advice, and specifically acknowledged input from two of the very best, Alan Ross and John Arlott.
The book is a very good one, the more enjoyable because so many books of that type in that era were so disappointing. That said Tyson’s publishers no doubt encouraged him to express a few controversial views, and those that hit the headlines were on the subject of the then current England captain, Peter May.
What was not so widely reported were Tyson’s views on May the cricketer; as a batsman I have never met his peer – he is driven by a dynamic compelling force. The opinion that caused the interest was what followed; More than any other skipper I have played under he lacked the common touch …… every man is entitled to be aloof and pursue his own way, but this policy in a cricket captain, particularly off the field, can be disastrous.
That 1961 summer was Tyson’s last in England. Like his great hero Harold Larwood before him Tyson decided to return to the scene of where he had caused such carnage a few years before. He became what was then known as a ‘ten pound Pom’, and emigrated to Australia. The situation was not however quite the same as with Larwood, Tyson never having been unpopular with Australians, and he was married to an Australian.
In Australia Tyson taught History, French and English at Carey Grammar School in Melbourne, where future Australian captain Graham Yallop was one of his charges. He remained in teaching until 1975 at which point he became the first full time coaching director of the Victorian Cricket Association. That was a role that enabled him to take up a number of other coaching assignments around the world and there are a number of instructional books that bear Tyson’s name.
Tyson also found himself in demand with the ABC and landed himself a fascinating appointment as a summariser for the 1974/75 Ashes during which a new pair of Australian fast bowlers, Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson, dictated the course of the series. Later Tyson gathered together his thoughts for a book, Test of Nerves. A year later, and from the same vantage point, he wrote The Hapless Hookers, an account of Australia’s 5-1 defeat of West Indies in 1975/76.
There was a partial departure from the same formula the following year when The Centenary Test appeared. The similarity was that this contained a day by day account of the Centenary Test. The departure was that the book was in a magazine format and, the historian in him emerging for the first time, Tyson included an account of the first ever Test a century before. Also present was a feature on Man of the Match Derek Randall, and Tyson’s account of the celebratory dinner that brought together so many survivors of Ashes contents going back to the 1920s.
A further three years were to pass before a further book from Tyson appeared, and then in 1980 there were two. The first was the more interesting, War or Peace. In a sense this was reminiscent of his earlier tour accounts, but the background was very different. In the 1979/80 Southern Hemisphere summer two sides toured Australia at the same time, West Indies and England, as the Australian Board tried their best to repair the hole in their finances that the World Series Cricket schism had caused.
Tyson’s book sets the scene by explaining how peace was brokered and what the terms of it were. He then goes on to give accounts of the three Tests Australia played against each opponent. Interestingly the 14 ODIs that comprised a triangular contest are not covered at all, perhaps reflecting the relative lack of importance that Tyson attached to them as well as the fact that the hosts did not, no doubt to the Board’s chagrin, reach the best of three final.
The second Tyson book was one with a historical bias, The Century Makers: Men Behind the Ashes, 1877–1977. If not exactly ten a penny books about Ashes history are not uncommon and in that era plenty were published. As the title suggests Tyson’s book concentrated more on the individuals who had starred in the matches rather than the contests themselves and Tyson certainly did plenty of research. Reasonably well received the book did pass one acid test, in that there was an updated edition published in 1982 suggesting that, after the heroics of Ian Botham and Bob Willis in 1981, sales had been encouraging. I am not however aware of a third edition ever appearing.
In 1987 Tyson published The Test Within. Sub titled Talent and Temperament in 22 Cricketers the book is a series of pen portraits ranging from the most popular cricketers of Tyson’s own time, like Len Hutton, Denis Compton and Keith Miller, through to contemporary heroes like Imran Khan, Kapil Dev and Ian Botham. As the sub title suggests the purpose of the essays was to try and identify what made the subjects the players they were and they certainly succeed in that, the essay on the subject of Garfield Sobers being a particularly impressive piece of work.
In 1990 Tyson fully retired, and it is an interesting feature of his writing career that his two best books appeared in retirement, albeit the first had its roots back in the 1960s at which time Tyson first became involved with the ABC when his teaching commitments permitted him to do so.
Back then if there were no Test matches Tyson would cover Melbourne Grade cricket. At the Hawthorn-East Melbourne club he was, when the club was discarding some of its archive material due to lack of space, offered the chance to help himself to anything that took his fancy. Drawn to an old cuttings book Tyson found himself in possession of what amounted to a diary kept by Tom Horan, one of the Australian side who played in the first ever Test match. Horan played in 15 Tests altogether and toured England twice including in 1878, a non Test tour but one in respect of which he compiled the book as he went along. In later years Horan became a well known cricket writer, writing under the pseudonym of Felix.
It seems that the book was put together in an unconventional way, and at the time Tyson, schoolmaster, coach and broadcaster simply did not have the time to give his find the attention it deserved and was not immediately aware of its significance. Horan’s artefact was put away once again and Tyson gave it no thought until the early 1990s when, by now retired, he found it again when moving house. This time he had the time to spend on studying the relic, and realised just what a treasure he had found.
Horan’s Diary was published in a signed limited edition by the ACS in 2001 and is, to any student of the era, a fascinating read and one which, I suspect I am right in saying, remains the ACS’s most ambitious project. Those responsible for the decision to proceed with the publication are every bit as deserving of credit as author Tyson. If there is a fault it is that the well produced hardback does not contain any photographs of the book that Tyson was working with, but that is but a minor complaint and I would imagine an omission for which there is a sound explanation.
Half a century is a long time, and 2004 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the famous tour on which Tyson made his name. There were books aplenty about the tour at the time, but none of them bore Tyson’s name. To mark the anniversary the septuagenarian dusted off his memories, those of his contemporaries, old scrapbooks and diaries and wrote his last book. In the Eye of the Typhoon is a fascinating read, superbly illustrated and conveying an impression of the touring experience as well as any book ever has. If you want to read a book about that famous tour, and some of us have read several, then Tyson’s retrospective is most certainly the one to go for.
By the time In The Eye of the Typhoon appeared Tyson had moved to the Gold Coast where he remained until his death at the age of 85. Still a creative man he seems to have concentrated on painting rather than writing, often on cricketing subjects, and it is a source of some disappointment that, as far as I am aware, very little of his artwork is in the public domain. If I am wrong in that assertion I would certainly be very pleased to stand corrected.
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