16th Nov, 2018

Tales from the boundary and beyond in evening with Aggers

Rob George 14th Oct, 2018 Updated: 15th Oct, 2018

HE’S ONE of the longest serving broadcasters in sport and the man involved in some of the most hilarious moments in the history of the BBC’s Test Match Special.

But now Jonathan Agnew is dispensing with a batting partner for a series of solo shows on life, laughter and cricket.

Ahead of a visit to Huntingdon Hall this Saturday, he spoke to Observer editor Rob George about ‘An Evening with Aggers’

“I THINK as a broadcaster you’ve got to be a little bit of a show off I suppose, walking out and performing in front of that number of people doesn’t faze me.

It’s perhaps not a surprising admission from a man who as the BBC’s cricket correspondent has interviewed numerous England cricket captains in good times and bad.

But ‘An Evening with Aggers’ is the respected broadcaster’s first time facing the bowling alone without the likes of Geoffrey Boycott or Phil Tufnell for company.

“I suppose you always have one eye on the future, nothing is very secure these days, certainly in the world of broadcasting so I thought I would I see if I was any good doing it,” Agnew said.

“I’m really enjoying it, it’s a strange one doing it by myself but as soon as I overcome that I’ve decided I prefer it.

“You haven’t got to worry about anyone, about Tuffers going off piste or Boycott ranting and apologising for something non PC! I get out there do my bit and I really enjoy it,” he added.

The tour began last month and it’s clear Agnew has been touched by the support from audiences up and down the country for the show which is not just cricket but tales of a life in broadcasting

“On radio you can be yourself and have some fun and make a few wisecracks but you never get an immediate response, it goes out into the ether and there’s a deafening silence,” he said.

“But in a theatre there’s this lovely communication with people, you feel laughter and an audience enjoying itself which is really nice.

“Funnily enough my wife came to my show at Loughborough in front of a big crowd and she came off as I did and said she could tell I really enjoyed it and it’s true.”

It’s therefore a surprise when ‘Aggers’ reveals he still gets nervous, despite having commentated on Ashes victories, resignations of England captains and gold medal winning performances.

“The key is your channel those nerves in a positive way and make them work for you rather than not, he said.

“Funnily enough as a cricketer I was probably more consumed by nerves and that’s probably why my England career wasn’t as successful as it possibly should have been.

“I was much more tentative as a cricketer than as a broadcaster.”

Agnew played three tests for his country and took four wickets including the scalps of the Sir Viv Richards and Gordon Greenidge.

He was among a legion of English cricketers in the 80s and 90s who were dropped almost as quickly as they had been picked.

“I think they get given more time these days. When I was playing you were in and out all over the place you didn’t know who was coming or going.

“In a way that time helped county cricket because it was a good motivator to get some wickets on a cold, windswept day in Cardiff knowing you could be playing for England next week.

“But conversely you didn’t get the chance to settle in to the next level up and it’s not an excuse but it’s certainly something which didn’t help me when I played at that level.

“My job these days is to give my opinion, for what it’s worth,  on people appearing at test level and there are some you see who take to it like a duck to water like Sam Curran who looks to be made for it.

“Ben Stokes is another but there are others and I was one who look a little bit lost.”

After he hung up his bowling boots, Agnew took his place behind the microphone on Test Match Special to begin his own journey on one of radio’s most iconic programmes.

And while cricket has evolved dramatically since the programme began in 1957, ‘TMS’ continues to appeal to legions of fans. But what is the reason behind the long innings?

“There’s always been down the Test Match Special years a bridge, an individual who bridged one generation to the next and carried the traditions and the basic structure with him,” Agnew said.

“From John Arlott, Johnners (Brian Johnston) took it on to another level, you’ve got Blowers (Henry Blofeld) and Christopher Martin Jenkins who again bridged that gap and then you’ve got me.

“Hopefully I am bringing those old traditions and values to the current generation.

“The basis of it hasn’t changed, it’s a nice, friendly place, you get the odd grump and curmudgeon in Trueman or Boycott but that’s part of the make-up.

“There is always humour but it has to be bound by the piece of string that is the cricket, when the bowler runs into bowl you must be concentrating on that and when the ball is over and you’ve described whatever has happened you can go back to what you were talking about.

Agnew and the show made the headlines earlier this summer following a poignant e-mail from a son who revealed his father had spent his final hours with his family listening to TMS before he passed away.

“It underlines the communication and the company that Test Match Special and radio provides, in the 80s when they talked about how video killing the radio star it totally underestimated what radio is,” he said.

The 58-year-old has been an ever present in the TMS box for many of his 27 years on the programme but has taken time away from the programme recently to support his wife Emma’s battle with breast cancer.

“We had unbelievable support from people we will never meet and never know but it played a massive part in her recovery no doubt about it,” he admitted.

“A Pakistani lad came up to me at Lords during the test match earlier this summer with his flag wrapped around his shoulders and said ‘How is your wife, we have been praying for her at the mosque’.

“On what other sort of programme would you get that sort of reaction?

The former swing bowler saved his best for the final ball of our stint when he revealed one of his greatest career highlights came not at Lords or the MCG but in Rio De Janeiro at the 2016 Olympic Games.

“I think commentating on Charlotte Dujardin winning dressage gold would be one of the highlights,” he said.

“I still get very emotional playing that now because it was a triumph for me as well as her.

“I had two years to prepare for that from nothing to commentating on the radio on eight minutes of dressage freestyle.

“I knew I had done a decent job and Charlotte winning was fantastic. To stand there as she got her medal and the Union flag was raised and the national anthem was played was very emotional.

So what can Worcester theatre goers expect from ‘An Evening with Aggers’?

“We have lots of wind ups, lots of Johners if you haven’t heard him before, a varied programme over the best part of two hours so there is plenty there,” Agnew revealed.

“I’ve had a fortunate and varied life with the Olympics with archery and equestrianism, royal events, Diana, Princess of Wales’s funeral.

“It’s more than just playing cricket or talking about cricket, there is that thread which runs through it but there is lots of video, lots of soundtrack and funnies.

An Evening With Aggers is at Huntingdon Hall this Saturday (October 20) from 7.30pm. Tickets are £13 and available from the Worcester Live Box Office on 01905 611427

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