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In the Spotlight and always a great read – A brief guide to Playfair Cricket Monthly magazine

Posted: 18th December 2012

At last I could relax. I’d just bought a complete set of Playfair Cricket Monthly magazines and everything was in order.

But why would there be any angst about buying old issues of this magazine which although a quality one, in memorabilia terms seems to have been placed in a position of supporting cast member as much as a lead role within the cricket magazine family?

Firstly, this purchase also had a bit of sentimentality involved with it as the magazine was the first I acquired as I got hooked into sport in the mid 1960’s as a small boy. My first memories of cricket on television, the  moment which actually injected the cricket drug in me, was when I walked in from the garden and looked at the TV. Surrey and England openers Mickey Stewart and John Edrich were facing the West Indies quicks, Charlie Griffith and the marvellous Wes Hall back in 1963. I was fascinated and after a while ran back out into the garden, found a ball and tried out an impression of Hall; I was still doing it 30 years later.

Indeed, the cover for the July 1963 edition shows Edrich and Stewart walking out to bat for England (see above). Mickey Stewart has a wry smile on his face and John Edrich looks quite pensive. Perhaps they are about to face another barrage from two of the most fearsome fast bowlers the game has ever seen? But this cover is a reminder for me of that moment which started my love affair with the game.

Secondly and a small thing, but this particular job lot of the magazines were in pristine binders with the magazines included correctly according to the start and finish of each volume from May to April, as opposed to others I had seen which were bound chronologically according to the annual January to December calendar, thereby only including 8 editions for 1960 and 4 for 1973. Disaster!

In a world where change is a given, maybe the Playfair Cricket Monthly didn’t last long enough? The last issue of magazine in April 1973 looked remarkably similar to the first issue 12 years before in April 1960.

Major change was not a characteristic of the magazine during its life, but I don’t mind this. In fact, the consistency of design during its life was, for me at least, a reassuring one. Colour trimmed covers with the rest in black and white, both text and photographs, including the brilliant Spotlight series. The magazine was pretty consistent in its content too; it did what it said on the tin. It was always a good read. As I got older, I would often take a copy of the magazine to Lord’s when watching Middlesex so that I had something to read in the lunch and tea intervals.

Playfair Books had been around since the late 1940’s and had produced its cricket, football, rugby union annuals and also a range of cricket tour guides and brochures on the teams visiting England each year;

In April 1960, the company magazine launched Playfair Cricket Monthly into a marketplace with only The Cricketer to compete with. Unlike modern day magazines, although not entirely inconsistent with the trends of the time, the layout of the magazine was quite austere with an emphasis very much on the words than the pictures.

On the cover of the very first issue we see Surrey and England’s Peter May with the last white man to Captain the West Indies, F.C.M. ‘Gerry’ Alexander tossing up at the 2nd Test in Trinidad;

The magazine was edited throughout its life by Gordon Ross, a man who was heavily involved with sports journalism and especially cricket.

Ross had taken over as editor of the Playfair Cricket Annual in 1954 and would later become the associate editor of Wisden between 1978 and 1980 under Norman Preston. Ross also edited the statistical version of The Cricketer, its Quarterly Facts and Figures booklet, The Cricketer Quaterly. He wrote books, had been a consultant with Gillette and NatWest and heavily involved in both companies sponsorship of One-Day cricket. He was also a Vice-President of Lancashire.

Here is Ross (far left) at the annual Playfair Club Dinner. Ross had created the Club as part of the portfolio of books, publications and activities designed to help promote Playfair;

The March 1961 edition shows two great Captains, Australia’s Richie Benaud and West Indies’ Sir Frank Worrell.

Inside, the 3rd and 4th Tests between the sides were covered;

There were great photographs, including the shots taken for the Spotlight article, a full page black and white action photograph of the chosen player.

A Spotlight photograph I have always loved is this one of the great Lancashire fast bowler, Brian Statham;

By 1962, the front cover design had been adjusted and was beginning to adopt the look which would remain until 1973.

The expression, ‘Mad dogs and Englishmen stay out in the mid-day sun’ might apply to this front cover shot of M.C.C.’s 1962/63 touring team to Australia.

Having arrived in Aden by plane, the players took a tour around the harbour before boarding the Canberra for the remainder of their trip down to Australia. A fine array of slacks, tailored shorts, floral shirts, floppy hats and cricket socks are in evidence.

I hope the likes of Kent’s Colin Cowdrey, Sussex’s David Shepherd, Yorkshire’s , Ray Illingworth and the rest have their sunscreen on;

Ross shared the editor role with statistician Roy Webber.

A heartfelt tribute to Webber by Ross was published in the December 1962 edition after Webber’s sudden and tragic death. There were similar tributes to Ron Roberts and Denzil Batchelor later;

By 1963, the red side bar had been added to the front cover as we see one of the greatest all round cricketers that the game has ever seen, Gary Sobers, after one of his left arm fast medium seamers has been delivered.

From a young age, Sobers could bat just about anywhere in the order, score hundreds often at will against the best attacks in the world, bowl seam, finger spin or wrist spin and field anywhere but especially close to the bat where he had reactions like lightning.

In 93 tests for the West Indies across 20 years, 8,032 runs @57.78 including 26 centuries and a highest score of 365 not out (then a world record), 235 wickets @34.07 and 109 catches bear testament to these tremendous skills;

As the domestic summer arrived, the tourists would be featured and the emphasis would switch to the unfolding county season.

As the months went by, the Test matches were always a priority at the beginning of the magazine but there was good coverage of the County scene too, including strong focus on the Gillette Cup as it launched in 1963.

The September issue usually previewed the final and the October issue became the post final review usually with a photograph of the wining captain at Lord”s just after the post match presentation holding the Cup aloft, like this one showing Ted Dexter with the trophy after the first final where Sussex beat Worcestershire (65 overs a side in that year);

Not much change to the 1964 front cover as Bobby Simpson introduces his Australia team to the Queen Mother at the then traditional one-day season opener at Arundel.

Bill Lawry is shaking hands but Peter Burge, next in line, looks just a bit uncomfortable. He would play a match saving innings in the Leeds Test later in the summer;

League cricket up North, especially the Central Lancashire League and Lancashire League were covered by Manchester Evening News writer John Kay.

In 1961 he was asking how clubs could justify paying their overseas professionals bearing in mind dwindling club revenues with crowds reducing as people settled into a number of weekend pursuits other than loyally and automatically going to watch 5 hours of league cricket, an issue still being discussed 50 years later by many club officials and supporters as I go and watch live the current day incarnations of the leagues’ club teams.

For 1965, the red side-bar on the front cover has shifted to the right.

The front cover of this November issue shows the Captains of the touring teams for the summer just ended. Pakistan Captain, Hanif Mohammed, one of four brothers who all played for their country (Mushtaq also played for Northamptonshire and Sadiq for Gloucestershire) chats to India’s, the Nawab of Pataudi who had played for Oxford University and would play for Sussex and India after losing an eye.

On this occasion, they were at Lord’s to play in an early Rothmans sponsored one-day game against England for the Rest of the World XI;

Homes of Cricket was a lovely feature at a time when the County teams still often played at out-grounds as opposed to a headquarters base as is usually the way now.

There were the grounds, like Sussex’s Hastings Central Ground, shown here, sadly sold for town centre development;

It’s 1966 and the front cover of Playfair Cricket Monthly might not have changed but the moment of truth is a split second away for you if you are the batsman staring at Sussex’s John Snow, shown here on the front cover of the December edition. The England fast bowler is just about to launch a delivery at you and you’d better be ready.

Snow did not have a very long run, in contrast to the likes of Middlesex’s John Price whose run-up curved around at the start and almost went into the Warner Stand when he was bowling at Lord’s pavilion end. But Snow had a beautiful action and hurled the ball down at a tremendous pace as he exploded through his delivery stride.

He played in the Middlesex League for Edmonton for one season after retiring but rarely bowled and batted higher up the order than when a professional (at number 3), although we must not forget that he did score 59 not out putting on 128 runs for the 10th wicket with Ken Higgs in the 5th Test against the West Indies at the Oval in 1966;

The magazine used many of the best writers of the time.

Neville Cardus usually wrote about cricket in the early part of the 20th Century (and equally often, his beloved Lancashire). Rex Alston wrote about current issues in the game. Denzil Batchelor’s articles were fun fictional accounts of interesting cricket characters. Diana Rait Kerr and  A.A. Thomson provided insight into the game’s history. Murray Tippet covered the game down under and all things Australian as Geoffrey Chettle for South Africa.

John Arlott wrote about many topics usually from his diary;

By 1967, Tony Locke was coming to the end of a long career. In the winter of 1967/68, he was Captain of Western Australia in the Sheffield Shield.

On the cover of this December edition, he is sharing a drink with the great Don Bradman, at that time, a selector for the Australian test team;

Also, in Homes of Cricket, larger grounds like Yorkshire’s Bramall Lane were shown. Lots of spectators are in the far grandstand at the far end of this photograph. That stand was one of the football stands. Now, where the square is situated, a new stand has been built and the cricket ground is no more;

Yorkshire and England’s Geoffrey Boycott played at Sheffield many times. Here he looks out at us from the front cover of this 1968 edition.

Boycott had headed the batting averages in the 1968 season with nearly 1,500 runs @64.65 with 7 centuries on the way;

A great snapshot of the game through the 1960’s and early 1970’s, team photographs of most, if not all counties were produced each year. It doesn’t seem as if there is any rhyme or reason as to how and when the photographs would appear with some issues including up to 4 team photographs while other editions didn’t include any.

Here are team photographs of Don Kenyon’s Worcestershire and Ossie Wheatley’s Glamorgan;

In a strong Yorkshire side, John Hampshire had many others waiting to take his place. But in 1969, he made his debut for England at Lord’s and scored a century in the process. West Indies’ Captain, Gary Sobers refrains from giving Hampshire a man hug and settles for a congratulatory handshake;

On the back cover of the magazine, various items were advertised including the sister publications in the Playfair Books stable, the annuals for Rugby Union and Football;

A change in decade brings a change in front cover colours.

Barry Richards, so important to Hampshire in their early 1970’s success is shown here on the front cover of the May 1970 edition striking another effortless on-drive, framed in a new blue trimmed front cover;

From January each year, the emphasis shifted onto cricket overseas, previewing and then covering any MCC / England tours but also featuring the main series between the other top Test playing nations too. There were always scorecards of these matches and usually a report on each test in any series which included the big 4 nations at the time, England, Australia, West Indies and South Africa.

Below, Ron Roberts is reporting on the 1963 2nd Ashes Test in Brisbane.

More new colours for the front cover for 1971 as we celebrate Ray Illingworth and his team beating the Australians down under at the end of a 7 match series.

Of course, back then, they didn’t have another One-Day internationals and TwentyT20 internationals to play too, although it was usually the practice to finish the tour down under with a short trip to New Zealand;

Cricket in the Public Schools was always featured.

Here we have teams from Ardingley College and St Paul’s. Usually, plenty of striped blazers and cravats were in evidence. But not here;

We have another colour for our 1972 front cover showing Glenn Turner.

The Kiwi opener made a slow start to his First-Class career but became a prolific scorer for both Worcestershire and New Zealand scoring 1,000 runs before the end of May in the English season of 1973.

Turner scored a century of centuries and the distinction of scoring 141 not out in a Worcestershire total of 177 all out against Glamorgan at Swansea in 1977;

The advertisements within the magazine are an evocative reminder of the time. However, although cricket specific, this one for fertiliser is quite a quirky one and assumes all those groundsmen or club committee members will be reading and open to the persuasive promise of the Hortexo brand;

By 1973, although the Playfair annuals in both cricket and football were established (both still running in 2012), the magazine was merged with The Cricketer.

The front cover of that last issue shows Sussex and England Captain Tony Grieg in full flow at the crease.

Recently departed us, Grieg was a controversial figure some criticising him for what he did with Kerry Packer while England Captain, others praising him for helping to take the game forward and getting a just reward for the players as more money came into the game almost directly as a result of the World Series Cricket concept which he and Packer created;

Unlike The Cricketer, Playfair Cricket Monthly was published monthly throughout its life with each volume starting in May (Number 1) and finishing with the April edition of the following year (Number 12).

The name of the magazine continued for a while printed on the front cover of the next few months issues of The Cricketer into which it had been merged;

Collecting, values and prices

For collectors, bound volumes come up once in a while, like the one I acquired but watch out for the lettering on the spine. Some have each of the 13 years printed on it in gilt lettering while others were published blank without the name of the magazine or the year of the issues supposed to be housed inside.

Most issues are quite easy to find on Ebay for a few pounds. But I’d always suggest collectors check condition.

 

Final word

Playfair Cricket Monthly was a great read with great photographs (especially the Spotlight ones) and it will always be special to me as it was the first cricket magazine I ever experienced.

Maybe others can now enjoy it too? It providers a terrific record of the game in the 1960’s and early 1970’s.

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Category: Cricket Magazines

Tags: Playfair Cricket Monthly, The Cricketer

6 Comments

Gulu Ezekiel

Re. the Hanif Mohammed, Tiger Pataudi Nov. 1965 cover, the (4, not 5) Mohammed brothers never played for India, though they were born there. They all played for Pakistan. Good read.

Saturday 5th March 2016 - 8:04pm

midfielder

Gulu, thanks for spotting my basic errors about the brothers (which I've now corrected). Also, thanks for reading the post and for the kind comment. Best wishes, Mark

Sunday 6th March 2016 - 3:03pm

Fraser Simm

I included a celebration of Playfair Cricket Monthly in my book "Echoes of a Summer Game" which slightly mirrors the content above- but with more text. My first issue was in February 1963, but as well as collecting the later editions on a monthly basis, I gradually managed to get copies dating back to 1960.

Wednesday 19th April 2017 - 5:36pm

midfielder

That's great Fraser. The magazine was a really good read. Today's magazines seem dominated by graphics it seems. Thanks for looking at the site. Best wishes, Mark

Thursday 20th April 2017 - 12:13pm

Kerry Edwards

As a lad my father subscribed to these magazines when we were in India. I enjoyed reading them through the 1960s. So many are familiar.

Thursday 21st September 2017 - 4:44am

midfielder

Great Kerry. These were very much the magazines of my cricketing youth too. Thanks for having a look at the post / site. Best wishes, Mark

Thursday 21st September 2017 - 1:26pm

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