Robert Hudson was responsible for the launch of TMS, writing to his Outside Broadcasts boss Charles Max-Muller in 1956, proposing broadcasting full ball-by-ball coverage of Tests rather than only covering fixed periods, and suggesting using the Third Programme (as BBC Radio 3 was then known).
TMS became a fixture on BBC Radio 3 on AM medium wave until Radio 3 lost its MW frequency in early 1992. The programme moved to Radio 3 FM that summer and the following summer the morning play was on Radio 5, switching to Radio 3 for the afternoon session. The start of Radio 5 Live meant that TMS moved to its present home on Radio 4 long wave (198 LW, plus various localised MW frequencies including 720 MW in London). At times of cricket matches, the normal BBC Radio 4 schedule continues on its FM frequencies, whilst longwave is taken over by the cricket. This has, in the past, sparked controversy with some Radio 4 listeners unable to change frequencies. The shipping forecast is, however, retained - but it may be broadcast late. With the advent of digital radio, TMS can also be heard on Five Live Sports Extra, which has the benefit of not being interrupted by the shipping forecast, and also via the Internet.
Many spectators who are physically present at Test matches listen to TMS via headphones attached to portable radios or by a new commmentary radio which can be purchased at the ground, however, as well as TMS commentary, it also has Sky Sports commentary too. TMS is usually the prime choice of listening at the ground. There is an occasional "dialogue" between the commentators and those present at the ground. Many television viewers watch the action on their TV sets with the sound turned down and with TMS commentary.
From 1973-2007, Test Match Special was presided over as producer by Peter Baxter. However half-way through the 2007 summer Baxter retired and was replaced by Adam Mountford, previously the Five Live cricket producer. Aged just one when Peter Baxter began his involvement with TMS, Mountford claims to love the current format, and promises to develop the technology available when listening to TMS through the BBC red button.
Calypso-tinged theme music from the track "Soul Limbo" by the American soul band Booker T. & the M.G.'s is played at the beginning and end of TMS coverage each day. The music was originally used as the theme for cricket coverage on BBC television for almost 30 years until the BBC lost the broadcasting rights in 1999. Several years later, the theme was resurrected by TMS and it is still used whenever the BBC shows international cricket highlight packages. The distinctive tune is instantly recognizable to many cricket fans around the world. "Soul Limbo" was introduced as the theme after a West Indies tour when many of their supporters in the crowd knocked tin cans together, and the piece's introduction is highly reminiscent of that peculiar sound.
Current TMS commentators include:
The TMS team also includes a scorer. The first was Arthur Wrigley, followed in 1966 by Bill Frindall (affectionately known as "the Bearded Wonder"). Jo King is often used as scorer for some of the overseas tours when Frindall is unavailable. The producer from 1973 to June 2007 was Peter Baxter who was also a capable commentator himself. He succeeded Michael Tuke-Hastings, and on his retirement was succeeded by Adam Mountford. Shilpa Patel has been assistant producer since the 1990s.
Other Johnners' classics include, "there's Tony Grieg standing at second slip -- legs wide apart, bending over, waiting for a tickle;" and, "...and Thomson bowls to Boycott, short, ooh! and it catches him high up on the, er, thigh. That really must have hurt as he's doubled over in pain. I remember when..." and after 2 minutes of typical Johnners fill, he continued, "... and after some deep knee bends Boycott's ready to continue. One ball left."
Readers' letters and emails are often read out on air. Brian Johnston was once taken to task by a schoolmistress correspondent, pretending indignation, for saying during a West Indies Test commentary: "The bowler's Holding, the batsman's Willey." However on this occasion he was innocent.
Whilst the levity in the commentary box has reduced somewhat since Johnners' death there is still a recognition that no matter how seriously fans may take their cricket it is, after all, only a game. Po-faced commentary is not TMS's way. Not every listener is happy with Henry Blofeld's continuous references to buses, pigeons and aeroplanes, but most feel that the programme would be the poorer without him for all his eccentricities. "Blowers" and other unique voices became customary impersonations for comedians such as Rory Bremner.
One of TMS's specialities is to keep talking through rain delays. It is taken as a matter of pride that even if play is interrupted for an hour or more (sometimes much more) then the commentators will keep on talking. John Arlott was a master at talking even when nothing much was happening and still keeping listeners entertained. He once spoke uninterrupted for twenty minutes and kept everyone spellbound describing the covers being removed at Lord's. A long established tradition is the interviewing of a special guest during the Saturday lunch break, on one occasion this led to Brian Johnston chatting with actor Bill Pertwee for 90 minutes as rain delayed the start of the afternoon session.
The TMS box has many visitors during a day's play and these visitors keep returning despite the leg pulls. Mike Gatting's alleged gluttony is one of the many running themes - "Better get our lunch before Gatt arrives" is a typical remark. The main butt of practical jokes is Henry Blofeld who fails to spot a "wind up" even if it is staring him in the face.
In recent years the immediacy of listener reaction and comment afforded by e-mail has been frequently hijacked by one or other of the commentary team, who will pass their victim an alleged listener's email comment to read out live on air which they only realise is a wind up when it is too late. A typical example of this occurred during the West Indies tour of England in May/June 2007 when Tony Cozier read out a letter purportedly from a "Juan Kerr" from Mexico debating the standard of cricket on the South American mainland. In typically innocent TMS style, Cozier continued for almost a minute before Jonathan Agnew, amidst much chortling, remarked "I think you've been done by the name there Tony". To exacerbate the innocence of TMS, Cozier genuinely didn't seem to understand why Agnew had interrupted him.
Freddie Trueman was a great defender of the purity of the game and made frequent references to it requiring a 'side on' stance for success, A letter read out from a 'listerner' said that he had been dropped by his club side because he had fully adopted Freddie's advice and had 'played side on' as a wicket keeper, Freddie did not see the funny side.
During the series between New Zealand and England in 1999 the Kiwi guest commentator frequently made fun of the names of places mentioned in the shipping forecast that interrupts commentary on R4 LW. When he was off air during the 3rd test Aggers asked listeners to send in any information that they could find to assist his colleague in understanding it, contributions were received by the sack load.
Well-informed concern about BBC Sport's commitment to maintaining the tone and style of the programme after its 50th Anniversary led to an Early Day Motion being tabled in Parliament by Andrew George MP in June 2007.
Brian Johnston started the fad of the public sending cakes to the commentary box. In Brian's day it was chocolate cakes, whereas now fruit cakes seem to be more popular. Indeed, the Queen herself reportedly had a fruit cake baked for the TMS team. She said that it was baked "under close supervision" by her following Jonathan Agnews's light hearted questioning of her as to whether she might have baked it herself. Henry Blofeld is reported to have said that it contained a goodly portion of "Royal brandy". The fondness for cakes spun off into hosting the "Tea Lady of the Year" competition for a couple of seasons, in which the TMS team sampled teas usually prepared for club cricket matches - sometimes by male tea "ladies"! Recently, in England's 2006 Second Test against Sri Lanka, Henry "Blowers" Blofeld was sent a Banbury Cake, containing real Indian sultanas, much to the amusement of everyone involved.
Beards have become a recurring theme during TMS commentary, under the supervision of "Bearders" himself - scorer and statistician Bill Frindall. The TMS team receive sporadic missives from Keith Flett, social historian, serial newspaper letter writer and chairman of the Beard Liberation Front, a group dedicated to the removal of a societal prejudice against the facially follically enhanced or bearded. Flett offers his opinions on the state of beards in the game today and his views are frequently discussed on TMS, particularly by Jonathan Agnew, including transformations in the recent and bygone Pakistan cricketers, and most recently with regards to the "splendidly hirsute" Monty Panesar.
There is a tradition that every Saturday of a home test match the commentators wear a 'Primary Club' tie. Membership of the Primary Club is available to anybody who has been out first ball (a "golden duck") in any form of cricket. Proceeds are donated to a charity for blind and partially sighted cricketers.
In the current (2008) series against South Africa the commentators have discovered Wikipedia and taken to reading out references to themselves and other commentators. ("Who writes this stuff?" "Anyone can write it apparently.")
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Nov 17, 2002; Byline: ROGER SKIDMORE ONCE upon a time England used to beat Australia at cricket. I'm being deadly serious. In the days of Ian...