Tuesday, 1 January 2013

On CMJ, loyal friends - and the unprincipled

Christopher Martin-Jenkins died early in the morning of New Year's day. A much loved husband, father and Grandpa, a good man, a legendary voice of Test Match Special. Christopher was also a past President of the MCC, had delivered the Colin Cowdrey 'Spirit of Cricket' lecture in 2007 and was an incisive and knowledgeable cricket journalist, latterly for The Times.

CMJ was well-known to all TMS listeners for his allergy to technology; on 11th July 2009, whilst commentating on the 1st Test in the Ashes series, at Sophia Gardens, he was amazingly persuaded to join Twitter. Aggers announced CMJ's Twitter ID on air and shortly after CMJ wryly acknowledged his technophobia when he tweeted:

CMJ's technological shortcomings and his frequent tardiness were chronicled on air with great affection by Aggers and the rest of the TMS team - I always thought of him as an absent minded professor....peerless in his field of expertise and slightly baffled outside of it - but he never failed to make me smile and wish I'd been able to sit down with him and talk about cricket and, indeed, life in general.

When CMJ's death was announced it was telling that, without exception, the comments by his broadcasting and written media colleagues were made with great affection for the man, respect for his abilities and distress at his early passing. Amongst the expressions used by them.... 'erudite' 'knowledgeable' 'witty' 'kind' 'a true gentleman' 'humorous' 'a great friend'.

A great friend.......one of my favourite pieces of poetry is by W B Yeats from 'The Municipal Gallery Revisited': 'Think where man's glory most begins and ends and say my glory was I had such friends'.

Such friends are not gained by happenstance but by mutual respect, affection, loyalty and by the absolute conviction that one would step in for the other when one is ill, vulnerable or in need.

Such a friend to CMJ was Jonathan Agnew. Christopher's illness had been known about for quite some time - the cause, and seriousness, of it was not overtly acknowledged on TMS. But there were enough gentle hints for those of a sensitive nature to have read the signs. A glance at CMJ's Twitter bio confirmed it, for those who cared to look.

Eight weeks ago CMJ wrote a piece for The Times. At the time TMS and Sky were in the middle of negotiations with the BCCI prior to the start of the Test series against India and it seemed far from certain that TMS would be able to broadcast from India.

CMJ's article in the Times consisted of precisely 700 words. In the 2nd paragraph, 49 of those 700 words referred to an amateur internet set-up that comments live on cricket from their view of a TV screen - but didn't mention the set-up by name; the rest of the article mused gently on cricket times gone by. I have a Times subscription and read it soon after it was published...there was a poignant mention in it of Tony Greig having cancer. Poignant as I knew, as did many others, of CMJ's own situation and I read it with sadness as it seemed, to me anyway, to have been written by a man painfully aware of his own mortality.

With sad predictability those 49 words in The Times were seized upon and used to vilify CMJ and, because of his connection to it, TMS. Certain tweeters, who have strong links to the amateur internet set-up, sent abusive tweets to CMJ. Editor of The Cricketer Andrew Miller, with a shrewd eye on maximimising a commercial opportunity at the expense of a dying man, wrote a piece in the Daily Fail in defence of the internet set-up which his magazine owns. Meanwhile I'm sure the management of The Times were astonished to find they had so many subscribers. 

Into this maelstrom had stepped a true friend of CMJ - Jonathan Agnew. Aggers would have been well aware of CMJ's condition; he would also have been well aware that CMJ was reading tweets etc (as evidenced by subsequent tweets of CMJ). Aggers tweeted a few things with which he sought to divert the spite and bile from CMJ to himself. He succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. The opprobrium heaped upon him was breathtaking - the firestorm of tweets he endured from supporters of the aforementioned internet set-up had to be read to be believed. My comment at the time on a blog someone had written about the affair:

The spite and mean spiritedness of one of the main protagonists of that time, who carries a link to the internet set-up on her bio, is best summed up by her own tweet today, which prompted this blog post. Here's a link for those with the stomach for it:


Be proud of what you did for your friend, Jonathan Agnew - loyalty is a vastly underrated quality. Rest in Peace, Christopher Martin-Jenkins, safe in the knowledge that only the very best of men attract the very best of friends. Your like comes along rarely - we cherished you in life and we'll cherish your memory.