Wednesday, 23 March 2011


The Middlesex and England spin bowler Fred Titmus has died at 78. He grew up within walking distance of Lords, and after his career retired to run a post office, I think. I first became aware of him in 1982, while I was still keen on cricket, and Mike Brearley pulled him out of the crowd at Lords to bowl for Middlesex against Surrey and he took 3/43. That means he played first-class cricket in five decades, and few top class sportsmen can make that claim.

Although he was a good enough batsman to open for England on six occasions, Titmus' greatest legacy is a remembrance of cricket's caste system. At 16 Fred asked for a tryout at Lords, and was taken on the ground staff. He made his Middlesex debut that year, and at 17 was selected to play for the MCC against the county champions, Surrey. As the match began, the PA at Lords made this announcement: 'there is a change in your scorecards. For FJ Titmus, read Titmus, FJ.' Fred was a professional, and thus called 'Titmus' by the 'amateurs' whose initials preceded their family names.

Fred also played football for Chelsea juniors, and signed as a professional with Watford. He also lost four toes in a boating accident in 1968 but continued to bowl. He apparently is no relation to Abi Titmuss, but the band Half Man Half Biscuit recorded a song called 'Fuckin' 'ell it's Fred Titmus'. His obits all mention that he was Cockney, which technically Somers Town wouldn't qualify you for, but they also say he walked like Charlie Chaplin, so I guess he does qualify after all.

There is no American equivalent to the English expression 'servant of a club' but with all the good and bad that connotes, it certainly applies to FJ Titmus.

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