As a kid I owned the audiobook version - on cassette - of Fred Trueman's salty autobiography Balls Of Fire (double entendre most definitely intended), read by the great man himself. Fred had been retired for many years even back then, and the audiobook was an extension of the persona he was building up on Test Match Special, that of the world's Greatest Living Yorkshireman: hard-bitten and hard done by, triumphant despite the best efforts of 'all t'other boogers' who were out to get him.
The bit that stuck in my pre-adolescent mind was a description of the breakdown of his marriage to Enid, caused, he reckoned, by his long absences on tour: 'She must have known I had had the odd bird...' Fred intoned regretfully (well if she didn't, she did once she'd listened to Balls Of Fire).
Around that time, Fred had another string to his bow, presenting the Yorkshire TV series The Indoor League. The genesis of this is covered quite brilliantly in Dan Waddell's new book We Had Some Laughs, a memoir of his father Sid, who conceived and produced The Indoor League. Dan makes no secret of the fact that, in Sid's eyes, one of the great advantages of The Indoor League was that it was staged entirely in a pub, a sort of working man's Olympics based around darts, arm-wrestling, skittles, bar billiards, table football, pool and Sid's personal favourite, shove ha'penny.
Dan provides some magnificent detail; from the man known as Buffalo Bill, the shove ha'penny exponent who dresses in cowboy regalia for all of his matches 'complete with holster and a cap gun' to the fact that the darts was contested on a 'Yorkshire board' that had no treble segment, meaning that the matches went on for three times as long as normal. Even this paled when compared to the nine-minute table football match in which the ball remained invisible.
Supervising it all, and delivering 'menacing links' while clad in a cardigan matched with a wide collared shirt, smoking a pipe and holding a pint, was Fred. His early efforts had 'all the fluidity of a treacle sponge', and it fell to Sid to supply the linguistic fireworks via a script.
'I don't talk like this,' Fred moaned when he read it.
'You do now,' the exective producer told him.
So the character was born, not without some hilarity. Fred was called upon to describe one shove ha'penny player as 'the Spassky of the sliding small change', and when Sid recruited a former male model to the arm-wrestling contest, he drafted the line: 'the narcissus of the knotted knuckles', which emerged from Trueman's lips as, 'the nancy boy with the knotted knuckles'.
Series three of The Indoor League climaxed with a mass brawl that began when a table football player accidentally chinned his opponent while celebrating a goal. Sid was soon making his name on-screen while commentating on darts, while Fred went on to one other moment of television greatness when he appeared in an episode of Dad's Army.
Trueman's Indoor League sign-off, 'Ah'll sithee' has passed into folklore, and, as Dan's terrific book demonstrates, the show went a way to constructing the image that we remember as a legend of his time.
NB: I'm reading a proof of We Had Some Laughs. Amazon has it listed for publication in May - well worth picking up for your hols...
India vs England Test Series: India Report Card
2 months ago