Thursday, February 04, 2021

The mouse and the umpire: Mortimer Also by Jo Rice

Long ago, I heard a book called Mortimer Also read on Jackanory.

Jackanory? It was a television programme in which someone sat down and read you a story. No animation. No special effects. Just a few illustrations if you were lucky.

Mortimer Also concerned a test match umpire and a mouse who lived in his cottage. The umpire did not want anyone to know his eyesight was failing, so the mouse would sit on his head, peer out through a hole in his panama and yank his hair to signal whether or not to give a close lbw appeal.

I know would be too far-fetched for today’s children. Just imagine: an umpire standing in a test in his home country!

But it was a lovely story and it introduced me to Francis Thompson’s poem At Lord's:

For the field is full of shades as I near the shadowy coast,
And a ghostly batsman plays to the bowling of a ghost,
And I look through my tears on a soundless-clapping host
As the run-stealers flicker to and fro, To and fro:
O my Hornby and my Barlow long ago!

One of the eerie things about the Internet is the way it allows you to recover your childhood.

Thanks to the IMDB I can tell you that I heard Mortimer Also read on Jackanory by Harry Fowler in May 1969. Fowler had made a good living playing chirpy cockney evacuees in 1940s films, but his acting career never really took off after that.

And thanks to eBay, I now have my open copy of the book. It was written by Jo Rice and illustrated by David Knight.

Extensive research (reading the blurb on the book’s jacket) suggests that Jo Rice was a woman and thus probably not the Jonathan “Jo” Rice who has written many cricket books and is the brother of Sir Tim Rice.

One other point: trawling the further recesses of the Internet reveals that Jackanory repeated “Mortimer Also” in July 1971.

It is notable that this page tell you: "Next week: The Village That Slept with Rosalie Crutchley."

Children’s television in the early seventies was a lot racier than people imagine.

******

This post first appeared on The Corridor, where Tim Rice's brother left a comment confirming that he was not the author of Mortimer Also.

A blog post on Ramblings on my bookshelves suggests the story was inspired by the 1961 Ashes series in England and that Graham McKenzie and Ted Dexter appear in it as lightly fictionalised characters.

1 comment:

brandnewguy said...

"At Lord's" reminds me of the spectral beauty of Roy Harper's "When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease":
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vy-WU7RPxEw