By Kevin Perkins, Larwood’s biographer
SYDNEY – May 21, 2002
Harold Larwood loved to tell a good story and one of his favourites concerned his on-field nemesis Don Bradman from that blood-stirring bodyline tour of Australia.
Harold did not swear, was never uncouth, but made an exception in this case – even if he only ever related the tale to friends, usually over a beer.
He was always accused of trying to murder Bradman with his short-pitched thunderbolts to a packed legside and one of the keenest questions asked of him over the years was: “how many times did you hit Bradman?”
“Only once,” Harold would say, “only once. And do you know where I hit him? – fair in the arse!”
And he would laugh heartily at the memory, as if it were the crowning moment of their famous duel, reducing the great Don to such a state of confusion and perplexity that he embarrassingly copped an undignified one in the rear end.
There was no malice in it and never was with Harold. After meeting him for the first time at his Sydney home, people would say: “how could such a nice, mild-mannered little fellow have caused so much trouble?”
The answer, of course, is that he was a fast bowler of genius.
I met Harold in 1950 when he migrated to Sydney with his family. We remained friends until the day he died almost 50 years later. In all that time he never really changed, remaining the same constant, reliable, steady person of strong character. He lived simply, respecting old values and virtues. In a long journalistic career, I regard Harold as one of the most honest and fair dinkum men I ever met.
In English eyes he was pretty much a forgotten man in those early days in Australia. Unknown to him I secretly saw and encouraged visiting English cricketers to call on him and he loved the fact that he was remembered. He’d ring me to share his excitement, not knowing I’d organised the meetings. Over the years I took numerous people who wanted to meet him to his home and it was always a warm, friendly experience.
He had an excellent memory and his cricket stories were always interesting, often spiced with an earthy, lively sense of humour. One he liked telling from the bodyline tour was getting a young batsmen out three times in the first over during a provincial match, only to hear the umpire say firmly “not out!” At the end of the over Harold casually asked the young bat, “excuse me, but is that umpire your father?” “No,” said the youth, “he’s me uncle.”
But under it all, Harold was still deeply hurt at his treatment by the English cricket establishment in making him the scapegoat for bodyline bowling. I have no doubt that this was the underlying reason why he chose to migrate to Australia, although he would not say so publicly.
He coached me in fast bowling (ironically I came from Bradman’s home town of Bowral), predicting I would be opening the bowling for Australia. However, an arm injury ended that ambition.
But it took me more than 10 years to convince him that, for the sake of his family and to set the historical record straight, he should let me write his inside account of the bodyline crisis. He didn’t want to stir up old wounds. Happily, the book we collaborated on, The Larwood Story, gave him a new lease of life.
Cricket enthusiasts beat a path to his door, countrymen from England contacted him, he and his wife Lois had three sponsored trips back to England where he visited old haunts and old friends again. No more was he Larwood the recluse. It gave him back his dignity and self respect. For me, that was one of the nicest things I have done through my writing.
The final blessing was John Major awarding him the ordinary man’s knighthood, the OBE. That buried the hatchet and healed the wounds he still felt.
Although he regarded himself as an Aussie by then, the recognition from his homeland, however belated it might have been, ensured that when he died he was proudly an Englishman once more.
My wife Cynthia and I were the only persons outside the Larwood family to attend Harold’s funeral. At the request of the family, it was a strictly private affair – no photos, recordings or videos taken, no record kept.
I have never revealed this before, but far from his homeland on the other side of the world, Harold Larwood’s coffin was draped in the Union Jack.