The text of Sir John Major’s comments made at the Thanksgiving Service for Sir Alec Bedser CBE, held at Southwark Cathedral on Monday 12th July 2010.
SIR JOHN MAJOR:
Alec and Eric Bedser were indivisible: even God made them complementary. One bowled medium fast. One was a spinner. One was a batsman. One wasn’t. Both fielded – in a stately fashion.
And both would have been surprised – and enormously touched – that thousands of years of friendship and admiration are gathered here today to say farewell to Alec.
Arthur Morris and Micky Stewart are from cricket’s High Table, and have spoken with affection of the Alec they knew. Alec would have liked that: he didn’t approve of everyone but he did approve of Micky. And he loved Arthur Morris like a brother and – in Alec’s world – nothing meant more than that.
As a boy, I idolised Alec Bedser from the cheap seats: later, I came to know him as a friend. There was nothing false or puffed-up about Alec. His values and opinions didn’t change with fashion. What you saw was what you got: a big man – with an even bigger heart.
And – as St. Peter will surely have learned by now (at least from Eric) – Alec was a cricketer. An English cricketer. In Alec’s lexicon, only Australia came close to England as a nation. “And they” – as he explained his affection for Australians – “were English once”. Two hundred years of nationhood had not changed Alec’s mind about Australian origins.
Such men as the Bedser brothers are rare. In times long gone, their forebears fought at Agincourt and Waterloo. Alec – and Eric – served their country too, in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. Alec fought on after the War: at Lord’s, The Oval, Brisbane and Sydney. For years he was the English pace attack: an indefatigable giant in the direct line of Sydney Barnes and Maurice Tate, untiring and often unplayable: but not always, so I am told, uncomplaining.
Alec’s views on cricket were trenchant – often generous, sometimes not, but always backed by his love – and knowledge – of the game.
However, he wasn’t a lover of every aspect of modern cricket. I sat with him when an English fast bowler hurled himself full-length to save a run. “Wonderful,” breathed an eminent fellow guest, “… and he’ll have to bowl after tea.”.
Alec didn’t agree. His view was different: “Bloody fool – if he’d hurt himself he couldn’t bowl, could he?”.
To watch cricket with Alec was an education. To listen to him was a master-class. He and Eric had prodigious memories. “Brother had him caught at second slip.” Eric would say of some obscure game played fifty years ago. “Yeah”, Alec would add, “Low down. Left hand. Old Laurie Fishlock nearly dropped it.”.
When Alec was Knighted for “Services to cricket”, the brothers were delighted. Eric said: “He’s the first bowler to be Knighted since Sir Francis Drake”.
Those of us privileged to know Alec could offer a thousand vignettes.
He came to No 10 one summer’s evening, clutching a bag of his home-grown runner beans. These were promptly removed and searched for explosive devices. However – as I learned later on – the only explosive device present had been Alec: “Beans!” he said to me. “Beans! If I was going to blow you up I’d have put it in me cauliflower”.
Alec was a good friend to have. His support – in all circumstances – was total. He lived life like he played cricket – for the team, never for himself. And always – of course – for Eric. In life, they were inseparable. Now, they’re reunited, and will never be apart again.
I like to think they’ve rejoined old friends, formed a celestial cricket team, and now discuss tactics over their usual midday pint. I can picture Alec on some green field: bowling again to Bradman, perhaps, and testing himself against Grace and Trumper. A little cloud cover would help his swing and, with luck, the heavenly turf will allow the leg-cutter to grip. If so, the batsmen had better be on their mettle: they are facing the greatest medium-fast bowler of his time – perhaps any time.
Alec played cricket like a poet: his length and line were perfect. The finest poem cricket has known, written of a much earlier great bowler, ended with the plea that “the turf may lay softly upon him”.
And on you, dear Alec. And on you.