Harry’s Ramblings Cricket disaster
by Harry Pope
When I was a lad in the 1950s, Sir Harry Secombe lived, like me, in Cheam. This is a suburb of Sutton on the northern border of Surrey and south London. He owned a large house on the Cheam Road, and had an annual charity cricket match.
He would get his showbiz pals to come for the day, not necessarily to play, but to be a part of the fund raising to get as many of the paying public to come along as possible. My family always attended, weather permitting of course, there was always a lot of antics to laugh at, especially when Harry was at the crease. His eleven played against Sutton Cricket Club, it was their home ground, they were a reasonable club team, but he would also bring along some Surrey County players. They were the dominant team in that period, so it would be fun for them to be playing against people who wanted to take the day more seriously. Alec and Eric Bedser, famous cricketers and both England players, were from Cheam, so usually attended.
The star man was in a summer show at the London Palladium theatre, and my dad had taken me to see it the previous week. I was only about ten, really excited at having first seen my favourite comedian on stage, then at the cricket match. Of course, I purchased a programme, and then stood in line for his autograph. I was very shy, but he was such a lovely man, he made me immediately feel at ease. He said to me
‘what’s your name, then?’
‘Harry,’ I whispered. ‘I went to the Palladium last week and saw you.’
‘Haha, still friends are we?’
Over 60 years later, I can still remember standing there, in the presence of such a wonderful man, with others waiting in line as we had our own chat. He signed my programme, which I took back to my family. That programme went everywhere with me that afternoon, I advanced on all the celebrities I could, if I thought that they were famous, then I was onto them. Even those who had no notoriety were stopped by me, anyone wearing cricket whites was obviously worth getting their signature. No serious actors attended, it was for the more popular show-business element, there would have been thousands at the match because cricket was in its heyday, and everyone wanted to see the celebrities. Bear in mind that WW2 had only ended just over ten years previously, austerity was still firmly in the minds, so an occasion such as this was a must. The railway station was only a mile away, the cricket ground was on a major bus route.
By mid-afternoon my souvenir programme was covered with so many autographs there was only room on the reverse. If only I had that programme now, I could take it to the Antiques Road Show and have a chat with the lovely Fiona Bruce. However, disaster was to overcome my day.
The public toilet was a latrine dug on the outer area of the ground, close to the road, but screened from view. Men would enter by the flap in the tent, wooden boards would be there for you to stand on, and you would perform into the communal pit. Of course, nothing like that would be permitted these days, but then it was a common thing for men. Basic was the norm, you really would not think it unusual.
I had my programme under my left elbow as I deftly relieved myself, but when it came to buttoning my short trousers, I was overwhelmed by disaster. The cricket souvenir disappeared into the pit. I wanted to jump in and retrieve, but the man standing next to me had seen, been aware of my distress, and shook his head firmly.
There was my programme, a sodden mess, at the bottom of the latrine pit.