Sunday, 8 January 2012

Memories of a great Liberal

Planning my watching & listening for Saturday, I especially marked 20:02 on Radio 4. John Arlott was a hero on so many fronts, not just sporting (he was a good football commentator as well as a lover of cricket), but also literary and political. There was a concern that an archive programme might concentrate on the first to the detriment of the other two, but I need not have worried. It triumphantly celebrated Arlott's Liberalism with many clips from "Any Questions?" on which he was a regular panellist, together with some revealing interview answers and an analysis of his role in breaking apartheid in South Africa.

I would, however, argue over the statement that "he would have found obedience to the party whip difficult, and he rarely adopted a party political stance". Practically all of the views that he expressed on last night's programme would put him four-square in the middle of today's Liberal Democrats, and one recalls Paul Tyler's likening the task of LibDem Chief Whip to that of herding cats. Arlott would no doubt have objected to several of the coalition's policies, but in that he would be joined by the rank-and-file of the LibDem parliamentary party. Outside the world of broadcasting, Arlott also worked wholeheartedly for the Liberal Party, fund-raising and speaking.

The BBC has a patchy record of curating its historic recordings, so it was gratifying to hear that so many of those old "Any Questions?"* recordings have survived. There is another discussion to which Arlott contributed which I would dearly like to hear again, but, because it was part of what would normally have been routine test match coverage, has no doubt been routinely wiped. During a rain break at the Oval, the name of Wilfred Wooller came up. Arlott's antipathy to Wooller's political views, especially on apartheid, is clear from the extract from the Panorama debate played in yesterday's archive programme. Yet his respect for Wooller the unflinching cricketer and the man, who by sheer force of character had pulled many of his fellow Japanese prisoners-of-war through to survival as Arlott recounted, was evident. It would probably not be true to say that he would rather lose an argument than a friend, but he certainly had a balanced view of people and politics.

* They would repay study by today's AQ editor and chairman. Grisewood's light touch and less journalistic approach encouraged more entertaining and enlightening discussion, even on weighty political matters, than we hear nowadays.

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