Book review – An Evening With Johnners: Centenary Edition

The late, great Brian Johnston's son has brought together the schoolboy humour and excruciating jokes which probably work a little better in context and in the company of the man himself, writes Tim Ellis.

One of the best things about Brian Johnston is that he brought a smile and joy to most things that he did. Cliched as it sounds, Johnston really did embody the best in human nature through his genuine warmth and ability to laugh without any cruel intentions. There was a natural innocence about his regard for people and his own position at the forefront of Test Match Special for over 20 years.

Before he sadly died in 1994 at the age of 81 years old, Johnston toured the country with a one man show which essentially collated the best bits from his cricket and broadcasting reminiscences. It went down an absolute treat and even made the United Kingdom album charts two months after his passing. His son Barry has brought together the copy of that show in this book which contains the schoolboy humour and excruciating jokes which probably work a little better in context and in the company of the man himself.

What really sticks out his innate decency as a person. As Johnston points out, it is some feat never to have had an argument with all the disparate members of the Test Match Special box over the years, including the spiky late Fred Trueman. He changed the whole approach to cricket commentary on TMS, puncturing some of the pomposity that surrounded the game. In some ways this culminated in the most painfully funny bit of schoolboy japery with Jonathan Agnew when Ian Botham couldn't get his "leg over" the stumps at The Oval in 1991.

When pointing out the modern day malaise of verbal diarrhoea in the commentary box, Johnston has the experience of knowing that less is more. Having covered epic royal events on the BBC, he knew that painting a picture that could already be seen was not necessary. There might be a few editors at the BBC in 2012 who could learn a thing or two about how to approach people and what might be considered newsworthy. In a life of strife, Johnston reminded you that you can sometimes choose happiness.

His son remembers the show thus: "He sat on a high wicker stool. No notes or lists to jog his memory. For two hours he would tell his stories with wit and perfect timing, with no hesitation and no mistakes." Brian Johnston was a natural comedian and the voice of English summers on the radio. Yet his professionalism could sometimes be underrated because of his jocular style. He is sorely missed but his spirit is kept alive by the many anecdotes that live on. Just ask Agnew.

<i>An Evening with Johnners: Centenary Edition by Barry Johnston (Quiller Publishing £16.99)</i>

<b>Tim Ellis</b>