KNOCK ON THE DOOR AND “ASK FOR CARMEN”

  • My entry to Test cricket reporting

By Clayton Goodwin

Allan Rae (left), smiter of sixes and purveyor of confidence, talks with Sir Everton Weekes at St Martin in the Fields church, Trafalgar Square in June 2000

Clayton Goodwin (centre) in discussion with Lionel St Aubyn, his host and publisher’s representative, and Rudy Ragbir, Sports Editor, in the Trinidad Guardian offices, Port of Spain, in March 1981

I watched my first West Indian cricketer before he had become a West Indies cricketer. It was on the first weekend of June 1948 in a charity game at the Bat and Ball county ground, Gravesend, and I was just 5 years-old. Allan Rae, the Jamaican left-handed opening batsman, started proceedings by hitting a fusillade of sixes into the gardens of houses in the adjoining street. Former Australian masters Bill O’Reilly and Jack Fingleton, and a team of notable Kent players were also in that game, but it was Rae who imprinted himself on my memory. Just over half-a-century later we were colleagues in the same press-box. Allan had kindled a spark of interest and delight that has often burned brightly and never really gone out.

I saw the West Indians twice within a week in late August 1957. The first was on the opening day of the Fifth Test at The Oval as their bowlers conceded a harvest of runs to Tom Graveney and Peter Richardson, and then at Canterbury where Clyde Walcott, most powerfully, and Nyron Asgarali pummelled Kent’s bowlers in a double-century partnership. Before the start of play in the county game we rubbed shoulders with some of the players as they loosened up for the day ahead. They included Rohan Kanhai, Wesley Hall, Roy Gilchrist. Andy Ganteaume, an opening batsman, came to the ground late, and was sent in to bat late, because his delayed return from a trip to the cathedral had annoyed his captain (Walcott). Ganteaume was one of the first people I ran into on arriving in Trinidad for my first visit there many years later, and he remembered that occasion well.

By the time West Indies toured here next in 1963 I was a press messenger, and in this capacity was present for one of the most outstanding Tests ever played. There was great fast bowling by Hall, Charlie Griffith and Freddie Trueman, Basil Butcher’s magnificent century, Ted Dexter’s commanding innings, Brian Close’s courageous counter-attack, Frank Worrell’s fine captaincy, and that tense finish in which all four results were possible as Colin Cowdrey came out to bat in the shadows of late afternoon darkness with his shattered arm in plaster. This was also my debut as a Test cricket reporter, though I did not know that at the time. It was privilege enough merely to have been there.

Two or three days later the editor of New Contact, one of several ephemeral West Indian magazines of the time, sought me out. “We want to have our own exclusive eye-witness report of such an historic match, and we have heard that you were there” he said. “Would you like to write something for us?” He mentioned a certain number of words and a £3 fee. It was more than twice as much as I was getting paid as a messenger. In a condensed report there was no room to describe Conrad Hunte, after a slightly delayed start due to a shower, hitting the first three balls of the match to the boundary, but I managed to get in most of the important bits. Then I had to hand the copy in “by Thursday” (I think) to the editor’s representative according to his instructions.

That was the intriguing part. He directed me to go to Gerard Street in Soho, find a nightclub that was closed (it was early afternoon), above a café, climb the darkened stairway to the first floor, knock on the door and “ask for Carmen”.  An attractive and charming black woman in her twenties, wrapped in what appeared to be a dressing-gown, let me in. The club was very dim. She pulled up chairs for us either side of a small table. I handed Carmen my report which she read thoroughly, nodded approval, and handed over an envelope with three crisp notes. The following week a contributor’s copy arrived for me with my report and by-line. The magazine folded shortly after that, and I saw no more of either New Contact or Carmen Mollison.

From such small acorns …… from there I have reported West Indies, and West Indian cricketers, both male and female, youth and mature, in international and first-class cricket at venues throughout England and Wales, as well as in  the Caribbean and continental Europe. During celebrations in 2000 to mark the centenary of West Indian tours to England I arranged a commemorative game at the Bat and Ball in Gravesend and presented a service at St Martin in the Fields in Trafalgar Square, London. With the congregation comprised of many former cricketers, current diplomats, actors, peers and clerics, broadcaster Joseph “Reds” Perreira asked me to introduce a special guest whom he had brought with him ….. it was Allan Rae.

As the calypso says:
Rae had confidence
So he put up a strong defence.

His appearance certainly gave me confidence that day.