Known simply as “Aggers” to the army of fans devoted to BBC’s Test Match Special, Jonathan Agnew’s charm knowledge and ready wit have gained him a place in the heart of anyone who loves the game of cricket.
Agnew’s hilarious “leg-over” wicket comment on TMS, provoking giggling fits from the late Brian Johnston during a live broadcast at the England versus West Indies Test match, was recently voted the greatest cricketing commentary ever.
“We lived on a farm and my father would carry a radio around and listen to Test Match Special, and those were my first cricket memories,” recalled Agnew, the former England fast bowler.
“TMS sparked an interest in me, in the same way it has in so many thousands of children down the years.
“I was unusually quick as a teenager, and enjoyed terrorizing our opponents, or better still the teachers in the annual staff versus pupils match. This, I gather, used to be a friendly affair until I turned up, and I relished the chance to settle a few scores on behalf of my friends – for whom I was the equivalent of a hired assassin. If Mr So-and-so had put them in detention, they’d say sort him out. I’m very competitive. I don’t like losing – I cheat at Monopoly.”
Laughter is never far away in the Test Match Special box, and a rewarding reminder that TMS is a kind of club whose only membership criterion is a love of the game.
“Archbishop Desmond Tutu turned up in the Test Match Special box and that was a bit of a shock,” recalled Agnew.
“He just wanted to come in and chat about cricket. It was lovely. Archbishop Tutu was a charming and humble man. We had a great couple of hours with Daniel Radcliffe, who plays Harry Potter and is an avid TMS fan who loves his cricket. Sir Elton John popped in one day.
“I had no idea his knowledge would be as deep as it was. He’d been watching a series between West Indies and Zimbabwe and he started quizzing me about young Zimbabwean players. I had no idea what he was talking about.
“It’s great for cricket that we attract people like that.”
Agnew has written a book about his special working relationship with Brian Johnston, his former colleague on Test Match Special. So what made him special and what makes a good commentator?
“Johnners was an amazing communicator. He turned TMS into a sort of soap opera.It felt like he was talking to you directly and that is a great gift.
“You can bring other things to radio commentary – colour, description – really powerful vivid description, and you don’t have to have that essential playing background.”
Agnew admits that after the hullabaloo of this summer’s Ashes contest, he needed to take himself out of the firing line: “I try and go and hide away when I can, and think of new things to talk about, read lots of papers. You cannot simply turn up and churn things out, you have to think of interesting topics to talk about that you can toss into cricket.
“I love dog walking and mowing my lawn – they are wonderful distractions. I’ve got a Springer spaniel called Bracken, named after Australian fast bowler Nathan Bracken. Bracken and I walk for hours through the Leicestershire countryside.
“He has astonishing energy and I have no phone signal, which is a great combination. It helps me clear my head.”
l Jonathan Agnew, “My life in cricket”, at The Grand, Clitheroe, October 8th. £12, £6 concessions. Box office 01200 421599.