The South African has earned plaudits for his softly-spoken and humorous interjections, razor-sharp judgment of what constitutes a meaningful stat, and ability to remain polite while still concentrating on his scoresheets. How old were you when you got into scoring? I started scoring at school when I was about 15 or I always had decent marks at school, though, so I gravitated towards scoring. At first I just scored in books, but I developed my own linear scoring method once I got to a more serious level and started scoring for ball-by-ball commentary on radio in
Although he was the instrument of change and made things much more lively, no one was more protective of TMS than Johnners. A few years before he died, the programme was in trouble.
We had to be shifted from Radio 3 Long Wave, which had been our home for some years, and none of the other networks was particularly keen to have us.
Would we disappear? There were even early day motions in the House of Commons pleading for us to be saved. Four or five of us were staying just south of Manchester, at the Swan at Bucklow Hill.
We met before dinner and Wilkinson was far from convincing when he tried to reassure us. In no time at all, Johnners had near enough lost his temper.
It was the only time I saw this happen. He did not mince his words and a machine gun on a good day would have been proud of his delivery.
Our boss was dumbfounded and out of his depth. Johnners extracted a promise from him to keep the team fully informed of everything that was said by the powers that be about the future of TMS. He urged Wilkinson to fight for all he was worth to save us, and Wilkinson, who by this stage was not putting up much of a defence, readily agreed.
Later, Johnners often spoke about that meeting with wry humour tinged with sadness that it had been necessary at all, rather than with relish at having won the day.
Peter Baxter — warm and sympathetic until things went wrong, when a certain amount of iron entered his usually genial soul — pulled the strings behind us as producer for 34 years.
In his early days, any problems on the commentary front came from the newcomers. He found, for example, that he had to cope with the increasingly regular appearance of pigeons, seagulls, aeroplanes, helicopters and other forms of passing aerial entertainment.
You can afford occasionally to look over the boundary. Peter retired in , and during the last few years of his reign, it seemed that Test Match Special was being pulled inexorably towards Radio 5 Live. Now that a sports network existed, Radio 5 Live, it was not surprising that they felt they should take us on board.
There would have been one problem: Test Match Special did not sound like the rest of Radio 5 Live, so we had better change our ways.
Understandably, he wanted to protect his heritage and the TMS way of doing things. His retirement was looming and in the build-up to it, two 5 Live regulars joined us for a short time.
Arlo White spent a year or two with us and, I daresay, found himself in a difficult position, with a 5 Live briefing in his head and Baxter as his boss. In the end, he may not have been too enthusiastic about the combination of cricket and BBC politics.
Mark is a charming man and a wonderful commentator on so many sports. In the end, it was decided that Peter would retire midway through the English summer. There was undoubtedly a gradual change in the way things were done. It sometimes seemed that unashamed individuality became less important than general conformity.
As one who had thrived in the era when this individuality was encouraged, the contrast was sharp.
You only had to listen to one syllable from Arlott, Johnston and Christopher Martin-Jenkins and you knew exactly who they were. Jonathan Agnew, who has his own splendidly distinctive tones, continues this tradition. I continued trying to paint the picture and enliven the scene as I had always done.
TMS was shifted from some of its old commentary boxes into newly painted glistening white corridors with media to the right and media to the left of us. We had become massively corporate, and the change in topography had also robbed us of some familiar views. In the last few years I made up for the lack of buses by turning my gaze and voice on the seeming idleness of neighbouring cranes.
Then, of course, there was all the aerial activity, both feathered and otherwise, such as a helicopter buzzing noisily across a ground or the constant stream of aircraft in the distance behind the Pavilion on the way into Heathrow.
Commentators should be acutely aware of the fact that part of their role is to be an entertainer. Anyway, in my case, it was too late to try and teach an old dog new tricks.