Book Of The Year Award 2012 > Fred Trueman - The Authorised Biography
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Another book on Fred Trueman? When I looked into the summerhouse, I found four autobiographies, Fast Fury, The Freddie Trueman Story, Ball of Fire and As It Was; John Arlott's definitive, at the time, biography Fred; numerous books with tales of old triumphs and disasters and even a slim volume simply entitled Cricket. Surely that's enough to give a full picture, particularly when you add in DVD's and his contemporaries who have to include their favourite Trueman story. Well - maybe not, in this case.
Chris Waters, a trained journalist who had come up the old-fashioned way through provincial papers, before returning to become the cricket correspondent of the Nottingham Evening Post, must have thought long and hard before he left his home city to take up one of the more prestigious and delicate positions in sporting journalism - that of cricket correspondent of the Yorkshire Post. Having done so and settled in, naturally, the name of Trueman was never far from anyone's lips but as everyone has their own picture of the man, it takes some nerve and a fair bit of skill to write the authorised biography.
The new sources that Chris Waters has uncovered help to make this a book with something new to tell. Although the official documents seem to be 'missing' from the 1953/4 Tour to the West Indies at Lord's (and candidly, the fact that this controversial tour and the 'Bodyline' tour seem to be the only ones for which comprehensive records are not available, does MCC no favours,) the author has had access to Len Hutton's Captain's Report, as well as that of Peter May from the 1958/9 Tour to Australia and Ted Dexter's from 1962/3. Also, a 1964 BBC documentary exists and thanks to the good offices of David Frith, extensive use is made of that rare piece of film.
One of the great mysteries surrounding Fred's life and career is exactly why he seemed to attract controversy, compared to other professional bowlers who were his partners at county and Test level during his long career. He came from much the same circumstances as, say, Alf Coxon or Cliff Gladwin as two examples but it was always Fred who was the 'problem.' Perhaps it was National Service that made him contemptuous of authority that was given but not earned; it could have been the situation at Yorkshire, with players at odds with each other and an administration that could be relied on to do the wrong thing with monotonous regularity or a new professional captain of England, uncertain of his own position and eager not to commit the kind of errors that senior figures were willing him to make. Or, maybe it was a combination of all three factors, together with a large chunk of bravado and a budding inferiority complex that could be said to lay the blame at Fred's own door. Whatever the reasons(s), Fred became the 'go-to' player to single out when anything went wrong and sometimes, when there were probably groundless fears, mainly with regard to tours abroad, it was 'safer' and 'easier' to leave Fred at home.
Despite the above, this is a good story to be able to tell. As the biography is authorised, there is obviously far more detail surrounding family life than previously and if, sometimes, there is a feeling that no one could be quite as saintly as Fred's parents are held up to be; 'warts and all' covers the rest of Fred's private life very handily. Myths are disproved along the way - Fred's legendary imbibing is confirmed by everyone as non-existent; most of the stories about his loutish behaviour on tour simply didn't happen and there is some diligent research, not merely to name and shame the real perpetrators but to set the record straight. Villains and ogres abound. The usual suspects like Brian Sellers and Gubby Allen turn up but there are others who leave their mark on a self-conscious and possibly out-of-his-depth young player.
The book is even-handed though, with some merciless focussing on Fred's private life where he was often less than heroic. His latter days on TMS are very much as most people remember - it was always better in the old days and modern players couldn't play half as well as Fred himself - or so he claimed, at some length. His services dispensed with, Fred retreated to the Dales where he could nurse yet another grudge, to put alongside a long list and believe that the world had treated him unfairly.
The book begins with a meeting of rapprochement, exactly one year before Fred died in 2006. At that meeting in a quiet Yorkshire village, Fred, Ray Illingworth, Brian Close and Geoffrey Boycott came together to bury the hatchet; not in each other, it's necessary to add and more likely, they all decided not to bury it, just lay it aside for a while. The inside front cover is a painting of that meeting; Fred is demonstrating the grip that made him 'T'Finest Bloody Fast Bowler That Ever Drew Breath' and the others are in the unfamiliar position of sitting and listening. Somehow it sums up much of the man's life and his position in relation to himself and to others.
This is a well-rounded portrait; perhaps the first to really draw out the contradictions inherent in such a man. Born of impoverished roots, he had that strong streak of working-class conservatism that became Conservatism in later life. A not untypical trait in men (and women, sometimes) of his age and upbringing but very pronounced in Fred. He loathed those representatives of the ruling-class in cricket and in life but yearned for a knighthood for himself.
A coda on his funeral demonstrates many of the contradictions inherent in his life. A grand mix of cricketers and friends gathered to say goodbye, headed, of course, by Dickie Bird, who naturally arrived at 7 a.m. Old enmities in Yorkshire cricket were not forgotten and the boy from the impoverished mining village was laid to rest in his beloved Dales as curlews flew over to salute the great bird-watcher that he had become in later life. There was no memorial service to follow, because, in Fred's own words, 'When I'm dead and gone, I don't want those two-faced bastards from Yorkshire and MCC, who I didn't get on with, standing up and saying nice things about me.' There may be some adjectives missing from that version but the gist is there - Fred was going out as he had lived.
It's a very good book and even if you have any or all of the other books mentioned above, this is a highly worthwhile addition to your library. It deserves to do well and Chris Waters is a name to look out for in the future.
Aurum Press, 7 Greenland Street, London NW1 0ND www.aurumpress.co.uk £20