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Friday, 8 April 2011

Typewriters and Cricketers: Post 66 and all that

It was a year ago this week that Sir Alec Bedser, the great England cricketer, died, aged 91. By chance I came across this November 10, 1955, news photo of Bedser with his twin brother and fellow England cricketer Eric endorsing the Blue Bird typewriter at Anthony Hordern & Sons, at the time the largest department store in Sydney.

The Bedser twins’ association with Blue Birds came about because of their investment in office supplies companies. In 1954, with a friend, Jack Fagan, they set up an office equipment store in their home town of Woking, 23 miles south-west of Charing Cross in central London. They soon bought another shop in Staines, and then acquired Henry Baker Ltd, a small business off Ludgate Circus. In 1962 they went into partnership with Ronald Straker to form Straker-Bedser, with 180 employees and 25 shops in London and the Home Counties. By the time it was taken over by Ryman in 1977, Straker-Bedser had an annual turnover of £1.8 million. Shortly afterwards Ryman was bought by Montagu Burton.
Neither twin married. They lived together in a house that they built with their father in 1953 in Woking, until Eric died, aged 87, in 2006.
The Blue Bird, as all good typewriter lovers will know, is the English re-branding of the German Torpedo.
Alec Victor Bedser played 51 Tests for England and as a right-arm medium-fast bowler once held the world record for Test wickets, a record he took in 1953 (with 236 wickets) from New Zealand-born Australian spinner Clarrie Grimmett. Eric played one first-class tour match for England, against Tasmania in 1951.
The Bedser twins were born in Reading, Berkshire, where their father was stationed with the Royal Air Force. At the time of their birth, their father was serving in the Royal Flying Corps in the First World War. In 1939, aged 21, the twins joined the RAF to serve in World War II: they had a narrow escape when strafed by a German fighter on the Belgian border in May 1940. For a time they were stranded in France, before being rescued by a fellow Surrey Cricket Club member, who took them most of the way to Dunkirk in his car. They were evacuated from Dunkirk and later served in Algiers, Tunis and Naples. Interesting that they should then, like the renowned English author Enid Blyton, become associated with the Torpedo [albeit labelled a Blue Bird]!

(Blyton had earlier used a Remington:)
Bedser was an England cricket selector when Cape Town-born Basil D'Oliveira was left out of the England team for the 1968 tour of South Africa. It was this incident, coupled with New Zealand’s cancellation of its 1967 rugby tour to South Africa (because Maori players were barred), which was at the root of the Anti-Apartheid Movement and the eventual international sporting boycott of South Africa. In turn, the boycott was a significant factor in the birth of the Rainbow Nation and a “new” South Africa under president Nelson Mandela.

Interestingly, it was another England cricket personality with a typewriter connection – writer, sports historian and beloved BBC commentator John Arlott - who had been instrumental in D’Oliveira moving to England in 1960.
While collecting typewriters is not normally associated with collecting sports memorabilia, specialist sports memorabilia auctioneers, T.Vennett-Smith, of Nottingham, sold the typewriter used by Arlott, after Arlott died in 1991. The grey Olivetti Studio 44 was described as having “signs of wear” (less so on this fine example from Adwoa Bagalini’s blog, above). For many years, Arlott’s faithful Olivetti tapped out articles for The Guardian and was also pressed into service to help Arlott write on his other two great passions, poetry and wine. An English journalist noted, “Arlott is remembered for writing with both authority and wit on the pleasures of Krug champagne [the research must have been brutal], and when mentioning a newly released [and none too palatable] Beaujolais and all the related hype, he wrote ‘this wine was not released. It must have escaped’.” (The Studio 44 ad here looks as if it might have taken its inspiration from a diagram showing a cricketer's run-scoring strokes):
Another great cricketer-writer was the Australian leg-spin bowler Arthur Mailey. Mailey played in 21 Test matches between 1920 and 1926, using leg-break and googly bowling to take 99 Test wickets. He was also a talented cartoonist and journalist who drew cartoons and caricatures for the Sydney Arrow and Bulletin and the London Bystander: in 1921 he joined the staff of the Sydney Sun as sporting cartoonist and cricket writer, later transferring to the Daily Telegraph. The title of his delightful autobiography, 10 for 66 and All That, was inspired by his second-innings bowling figures against Gloucestershire in 1921.
Mailey is seen here at home at Burraneer Bay in Port Hacking in August 1950.
Astonishingly, while I was researching this post, I came across an article in which someone (don’t know who) has tried to draw a comparison between “The QWERTY Phenomenon and the Game of Cricket” (and I think they’re being quite serious). “In D. Dennet,  Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the meanings of life [New York, Simon & Schuster, 1995] [Dennet] describes the QWERTY phenomena in biological and cultural evolution as an example of how ‘mere historical happenstance ... restrict[s] our options’ (6:131). Economists add a value judgment to this description, some using QWERTY as an example of market failure and inefficiency. However, the evolution of QWERTY, like cricket, follows rules that are enigmatic at first glance … Describing QWERTY as ‘inefficient’ demonstrates an attempt to play cricket with the rules of baseball.”



Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Oz-typewriter,

I made an odd and wonderful fund at a german flea market. It's a Torpedo-Typewriter excactly looking like the red one in your post. It comes with english qwerty-keyboard and scriptfont. What's so odd about it: there's a @ on the keyboard. You write, that there are english rebuilds of german Torpedos. Do you know, when they manufactured them? I also love typewriters and that @ is kinda weird for me, cause the typewriter looks like if it's build in 60s-70s.

Yours Susa

P.S. I'm a fan of your blog!

Anonymous said...


me again. I unlocked the mystery of the @ on my typewriter. I didn't know that it's an old sign, because here in Germany it got known, when Internet and Mailcommunication came out. I read that it was already a common sign in english-speaking countrys before internet.