Read was regarded as the fastest bowler in the world for the brief period he was able to play first-class cricket, and though he could be extremely erratic in length he was still an extremely dangerous bowler on a lively pitch. Originally from Winchester College, Read never went up to either Oxford or Cambridge University but his reputation as a fast bowler in club cricket was such that Surrey gave him a trial against those two Universities in 1933 even though he never claimed qualification to represent Surrey in County Championship matches. Although he took 4 for 26 in the second innings against Cambridge, Surrey did not think it worth having Read properly qualify for them and they raised no objections when Essex asked if he might be available. Read was obviously qualified for Essex: not only was he born there but his father, Arthur Holcombe "Arnold" Read, had played 22 games for their first eleven between 1904 and 1910.
Read played only one match for Essex in 1933 and took none for 56, but the following year, coming into the team after Kent has punished the Essex bowling for 803 runs at the cost of only four wickets, he caused a sensation. In his first over, he knocked off the cap of Jack Hobbs - in his last season of first-class cricket - and then bowled him. On a good pitch, Read's speed caused him to carry all before him with seven wickets for 35. Although his training as a chartered accountant made his appearances limited, he still took 69 wickets at an average better than any fast bowler except Larwood and his Essex compatriot Ken Farnes. For the Gentlemen against the Players at Folkestone in September Read took in two innings nine wickets for 171 runs.
In 1935, Read's profession prevented him playing any cricket until mid-June but when he entered the Essex side, he immediately clicked. Despite the fact that Farnes could not help him owing to injury, Read and Stan Nichols stood alone as a pace-bowling duo and in a sensational match at Huddersfield, their sheer pace off the pitch bowled out the otherwise unbeaten Yorkshire eleven for 31 and 99, giving Essex a win by an innings and 204 runs. This performance led to him being chosen for the last Test match against a strong South African side. On a shirt-front pitch, Read bowled very well to take six wickets - all of recognised batsmen. He was chosen for a tour led by Errol Holmes to Australia and New Zealand but his form there was variable - though he did take 11 for 100 against a New Zealand XI at Dunedin.
However, Read's employers at this time became so angry at his absence from duties as a chartered accountant that they threatened to sack him if he continued to play three-day cricket in the season of 1936. Consequently, the tour was the end of Read's career in first-class cricket apart from one match in 1948 for the MCC against Ireland. Essex - who with Farnes and Read in tandem would have had the two fastest bowlers in the world and potentially the fastest attack of any county side in history - were never able to see what the potential of the two together would have been as they only were able to play together in one match on a slow wicket at the Wagon Works Ground against Gloucestershire in late 1934.
Read did play in club cricket on Saturdays for Enfield Green and The Butterflies for many years after he was no longer able to play three-day matches.
Although a capable fast bowler, Hopper Read undoubtedly ranks as one of the worst batsmen in the history of first-class cricket. At one point in 1934 he played eight successive runless innings, and for his whole career his runs totalled almost thirty percent less than his aggregate of wickets at a batting average that is still the lowest of any cricketer ever to play for his country. The nearest approach is that of Glamorgan paceman Jeff Jones who also had a career average of under four runs an innings - but Jones was perhaps less remarkable in an era which produced most of the worst batsmen in the game's history