Martin Chandler | 7:25am BST 26 April 2020
The paternal grandfather of Samuel Canynge Caple was an American, so one of relatively few people who, in Victorian times, bucked the trend and travelled from the new world to the old in order to make their fortune. For Charles Caple there was only modest success, but his son, Percival, certainly made a good move when he joined CJ King and Sons Ltd, a company of Bristol tug boat owners. Percival went on to marry Grace, the daughter of Samuel King, one of the original CJ King’s two sons.
Born in Bristol in 1910 Canynge Caple was educated at Clifton College, the scene of AEJ Collins famous score of 628* in 1899. From there he went to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and then, presumably keen to make his way in the world of entertainment, he joined a repertory company performing Shakespeare. In 1931 Canynge Caple married a fellow thespian, Hilda, herself the daughter of a successful father, in her case a commercial artist. Canynge Caple seems not to have been destined for stardom however and he became a journalist although, presumably, not one who had to work too hard.
Always a cricket lover Canynge Caple was a Gloucestershire member from an earlier age, and took out memberships with other counties as well. He appeared regularly in the correspondence section of The Cricketer throughout the 1930s. Generally his letters picked up on statistical matters and were not controversial in nature and were certainly respectful, and at times almost apologetic in tone. He began however in 1933 with a letter in rather different vein, on the subject of the Bodyline tour, just completed. Canynge Caple’s letter advocated a temporary cessation of Ashes cricket suggesting Tests should be limited to those countries who still regard the cricket field as the scene of a fine game and not an arena for the slaughter of the innocents.
The quoted comment suggests that Canynge Caple was opposed to Jardine’s tactics, but in fact that was far from the case. His main complaint was about the behaviour of the Australian spectators, adding it is most unfair that having travelled thousands of miles to take part in these games, our cricketers should be the victims of this hooliganism, which savours more of an American “gangster section” than the peaceful fields of cricket.
The admiration for Jardine’s men is further demonstrated by a photograph of The Men Who Won The Ashes that represents the frontispiece of Canynge Caple’s first book, The Cricketer’s Who’s Who, that appeared in 1934. The formula had been attempted before, and a not dissimilar publication, HV Dorey’s ‘Blue Book’, appeared annually between 1909 and 1913.
Canynge Caple’s book was a ‘one off’ but was well received, and it is perhaps surprising that, the hard work having been put in to that first book, there was no repeat. With a photograph of Gilbert Jessop gracing the dust wrapper the book was an attractive one and must have sold well as (unless you want a copy complete with the flimsy original jacket) it is not difficult to pick up a copy today for a modest outlay.
The Who’s Who consists of 214 pages, which sounds relatively modest, but the font is very small and there are as many as 52 lines of text on a full page. This means that some of the entries are over a thousand words in length, and there are more than 250 profiles of current English players as well as 40 of the leading overseas cricketers of the day. The writing is not, it has to be said, particularly exciting and is generally limited to a strictly factual account of a player’s career with very little by way of comment. What is remarkable, and this is surely a sign of what was found interesting in the 1930s rather than an omission on Canynge Caple’s part, is that noticeably absent from the entries are their subject’s career statistics.
Moving on from the book it is not easy to ascertain how Canynge Caple spent his time. He certainly watched a lot of cricket, and thought about the game a good deal as his regular letters to The Cricketer amply demonstrate. He also did other writing, David Frith in his obituary in Wisden Cricket Monthly mentioning that he occasionally wrote for the Daily Telegraph but, overall, it seems likely that Canynge Caple, with no need of a regular income, was very much a freelancer, working as and when he chose.
In 1939 Canynge Caple was living in Weybridge in Surrey and that year’s census records him as living with his wife and son (as well as, to further underline his comfortable financial circumstances, a servant). As to his occupation in addition to his journalism he is described as an author (despite just that single book five years earlier) and a cricket statistician. I cannot locate any war service, despite Canynge Caple being of conscription age, over and above his being an Air Raid Warden. At some point during the conflict the Caples relocated to Tintagel on the North Cornwall coast, the county in which he would spend the rest of his life.
After the war Canynge Caple was one of the driving forces behind the formation of the Society of Cricket Statisticians (that soon became the Cricket Society), and he was also involved in the ill-starred Cricket Book Society that Roy Webber started at around the same time. Canynge Caple planned to reprise his Who’s Who for Webber’s society, a letter at a time, but he had only got as far as ‘E’ when the venture folded.
Those five booklets from the Cricket Book Society apart ‘author’ Canynge Caple had not written a single book since 1934, but in 1948 and 1949 he then produced three. The first was a joint venture with AG Powell and was once more under the aegis of the Cricket Book Society. The title was The Graces, EM, WG and GF, and the book a fairly brief run through the lives of the famous brotherhood with the emphasis of their cricketing stories. Initially released in an edition of 1,000 copies the authors said there would also be an unlimited edition later. They probably didn’t have in mind twenty five years later, but that is when the standard edition eventually appeared.
The second of the triumvirate was a 72 page booklet celebrating the history of international cricket between England and New Zealand, published to coincide with the arrival of Walter Hadlee’s ‘forty niners’. I don’t own the booklet so will not comment further, but I do have the last of the three, A History of the Gloucestershire County Cricket Club, published Worcester by Littlebury. The book,which has a foreword from John Arlott, is a model of its type in that it contains a comprehensive narrative account, some interesting and well presented statistics, scorecards of important matches and a decent index. Fully illustrated there are some excellent photographs and some entertaining caricatures. The writing style is however, as is usually the case with Canynge Caple, somewhat unadventurous.
It was during the late 1950s that Canynge Caple embarked on the most prolific period of his writing career. With just a short history of Thornbury CC (a Gloucestershire club closely associated with the Graces) in between from 1957 to 1961 he produced, annually and to coincide with the visit to England of that summer’s tourists, a book chronicling the history of that nation. The titles are England v West Indies 1895-1957, The All Blacks at Cricket 1860-1958, England v India 1886-1959, The Springboks at Cricket 1888-1960 and The Ashes at Stake. All five books were again published by Littlebury and, with similar jackets utilizing the same style and colour scheme, they make an impressive looking set of books.
In terms of content the books, as would be expected from Canynge Caple, do their job well and are well illustrated. What they noticeably lack however is, in each case, a bibliography or acknowledgments statement. There certainly doesn’t seem to be much, if anything in the way of original research. The New Zealand volume, for its early years, relies very much upon a two volume history of the game in the Shaky Isles that was written by Terence Reese, and the South African one is heavily influenced by the similar volumes published by Maurice Luckin and Louis Duffus.
It is impossible from this distance to know how well the books sold, but the absence at the time of very much being available in the UK on the history of overseas cricket suggests to me that the first three probably sold pretty well. The South African volume was a little different, Canynge Caple (or perhaps his publishers) dropping the scorecards and statistics that had been present in the three previous books and the largest so far (318 pages) consisted of narrative content only.
With the Australians due to visit in 1961 it would seem that a comprehensive Ashes history had originally been planned but, Canynge Caple explained in his preface, owing to rising costs, my publishers have had to limit this book to a size which makes a magnum opus impossible.
The Ashes at Stake therefore deals largely with home Ashes series, and is very much in the Canynge Caple style of well written but pedestrian content with, for once an exception. Perhaps unsurprisingly in light of that 1933 letter to The Cricketer the one chapter in the book that is really worth reading is that on ‘Bodyline’. Canynge Caple’s views had probably mellowed a little in the intervening quarter of a century or so, but not in a significant way. He gives an excellent account of why Jardinian leg theory came into being, although then, bizarrely, seems to be under the impression that prior to the third Test no ‘Bodyline’ had been bowled. By far the most interesting comment however is one that will come as a great surprise to some when he writes; to the young enthusiast the names of Jardine and Larwood mean little today, while the phrase bodyline bowling merely recalls, a storm in a teacup in the bad old days. That comment certainly is accurate however – until the fiftieth anniversary of the tour brought it the new audience it has never lost the 1932/33 series had certainly been consigned to the backwaters of cricket history and England’s two great heroes swept under the carpet.
Although he was only 50 when he wrote The Ashes at Stake Canynge Caple, by now living in St Ives, an hour and a half’s drive further down the Cornish coast, never wrote another book. He didn’t entirely stop writing however, using his local knowledge to contribute to a centenary publication from Gloucestershire in 1970 and, the same year, publishing a modest history of Cornish cricket to coincide with a first round fixture in the old Gillette Cup, something he updated for the county’s next appearance in 1977. There were other contributions to brochures and booklets and some non-cricket writing on the subject of Cornwall as well.
As to how Canynge Caple spent his time in middle age a recollection of David Kelly is illustrative of that, on the subject of a tour of Cornwall he was part of in the mid 1960s; we had a match against Perran-ar-Worthal Cricket Club, a delightful name and, as I recall, a decent ground…. I recall asking who the person was who appeared to be holding court on a bank overlooking the playing area, easy chairs, a sunshade and picnic, with several hangers-on. I was told by one of the home players it was a writer named Canynge Caple.
Sam Canynge Caple died in April 1991, the day after his 81st birthday. As a cricket writer he is largely forgotten, but his name lives on in Cornwall, and I am grateful once more to David Kelly for bringing to my attention the existence of the Canynge Caple Cup, and the Canynge Caple Colts Cup, awarded each year to the county’s outstanding players.
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