Test Match Special
|Genre||Sport (cricket) commentary|
|Running time||During England Matches|
|Home station||Five Live Sports Extra & BBC Radio 4 longwave|
|Air dates||since 1957|
|Audio format||LW, Digital radio and Digital TV|
Test Match Special (also known as TMS) is a British radio programme covering professional cricket, broadcast on BBC Radio 4 (long wave), Five Live Sports Extra (digital) and the internet to the United Kingdom and (where broadcasting rights permit) the rest of the world. TMS provides ball-by-ball coverage of most Test cricket, One Day International, and Twenty20 matches and tournaments involving the England cricket team.
BBC Radio was the first broadcaster to cover every ball of a Test match. Live cricket had been broadcast since 1927, but originally it was thought that Test match cricket was too slow for ball-by-ball commentary to work. However, Seymour de Lotbiniere ('Lobby'), who was responsible for live sports coverage and who went on to become an outstanding head of outside broadcasts at the BBC, realised that ball-by-ball commentary could make compelling radio. In the mid-1930s he got Howard Marshall to begin commentating on cricket, rather than only giving reports. From the mid-1930s to the 1950s the amount of ball-by-ball commentary gradually increased, but it was not until TMS was launched in 1957 that every ball was covered for their British audience. Of those BBC commentators whose careers wholly preceded TMS, Howard Marshall is the most notable.
Robert Hudson was responsible for the launch of TMS, writing to his Outside Broadcasts boss Charles Max-Muller in 1956, proposing broadcasting full ball-by-ball coverage of Tests rather than only covering fixed periods, and suggesting using the Third Programme (as BBC Radio 3 was then known) frequency, since at that time the Third Programme only broadcast in the evening.
TMS became a fixture on BBC Radio 3 on AM medium wave until Radio 3 lost its MW frequency in February 1992. The programme moved to Radio 3 FM that summer and the following summer the morning play was on Radio 5, switching to Radio 3 for the afternoon session. The start of Radio 5 Live meant that TMS moved to its present home on Radio 4 long wave (198 LW, plus various localised MW frequencies including 720 MW in London and 603 MW in the North East). At times of cricket matches, the normal BBC Radio 4 schedule continues on its FM frequencies, whilst longwave is taken over by the cricket. This has, in the past, sparked controversy with some Radio 4 listeners unable to change frequencies. The shipping forecast is, however, retained — but it may be broadcast late. With the advent of digital radio, TMS can also be heard on Five Live Sports Extra, which has the benefit of not being interrupted by the shipping forecast, and also via the Internet.
Many spectators who are present at Test matches listen to TMS via headphones attached to portable radios or by a new commentary radio which can be purchased at the ground. However, they feature both TMS and Sky Sports commentary. TMS is usually the prime choice of listening at the ground. There is an occasional "dialogue" between the commentators and those present at the ground. Many television viewers watch muted action on their TV sets with TMS commentary.
From 1973 to 2007, Test Match Special was produced by Peter Baxter. Halfway through 2007, Baxter retired and was replaced by Adam Mountford, previously the Five Live cricket producer. Aged just one when Peter Baxter began his involvement with TMS, Mountford claims to love the current format, and promises to develop the technology available when listening to TMS through the BBC red button.
Calypso-tinged theme music from the track "Soul Limbo" by the American soul band Booker T. & the M.G.'s is played at the beginning and end of TMS coverage each day. The music was originally used as the theme for cricket coverage on BBC television for almost 30 years until the BBC lost the broadcasting rights in 1999. Several years later, the theme was resurrected by TMS and it is still used whenever the BBC shows international cricket highlight packages. The distinctive tune is instantly recognisable to many cricket fans around the world. "Soul Limbo" was introduced as the theme after a West Indies tour when many of their supporters in the crowd knocked tin cans together, and the piece's introduction is highly reminiscent of that peculiar sound.
On 23 December 2008 it was announced the BBC have won the UK radio rights up to 2013 meaning TMS could continue its presence on the British airwaves.
On 19 January 2012 Test Match Special used an iPad and Skype to broadcast the 1st Pakistan versus England Test match from Dubai due to technical problems with all other Radio broadcasting equipment.
In a test match three or four commentators and three or four summarisers are used in rotation; each commentator 'sits in' before the microphone for 20 minutes, and each summariser for 30 minutes, at a time. The voices of the TMS commentators have become part of the sound of an English summer, and there is a tradition of the commentators being referred to by nicknames (often based on the first syllable of their surname, plus the syllable "-ers"). They have included:
- EW Swanton (1938–1975)
- Rex Alston (1945–1964)
- John Arlott (1946–1980)
- Ken Ablack (1950–1962)
- Robert Hudson (1958–1968)
- Peter West (1958)
- Alan Gibson (1962–1975)
- Peter Cranmer (1965, 1968 - 2 matches only)
- Brian Johnston ("Johnners") (1966–1993)
- Neil Durden-Smith (1969–1974)
- Don Mosey ("The Alderman") (1974–1991)
- Tony Lewis ("ARL") (1977–1985)
- Jack Bannister (1988–1994)
- Arlo White (2005–2007)
- Christopher Martin-Jenkins ("CMJ") (1973–2012)
Current TMS commentators include:
- Henry Blofeld ("Blowers") (1974–1991, 1994–)
- Jonathan Agnew ("Aggers") (1991–)
- Simon Mann (1996–)
- Jim Maxwell (2005–) Ashes test series
- Simon Hughes (2007–)
- Ed Smith (2012–)
- Charles Dagnall (2012–)
The long standing pattern of a broadcast is commentary during the over followed by a summary or other comments between overs (usually by retired first-class cricketers). In recent years, this pattern has rather broken down, with comments being made not just between overs but between balls. Summarisers have included:
- Norman Yardley (1956–1969; 1973)
- Freddie Brown (1957–1969)
- Trevor Bailey ("The Boil") (1967–1999)
- Fred Trueman (1974–1999)
- Jack Bannister (1984–1988)
- Mike Selvey (1988–2008)
- David Lloyd ("Bumble") (1990–1995)
- Vic Marks (1990–)
- Graeme Fowler ("Foxy") (1994–2005)
- Mike Gatting ("Gat") (2000–2007)
- Graham Gooch ("Goochie") (2002–2009)
- Angus Fraser ("Gus") (2002–2008)
- Phil Tufnell ("Tuffers") (2003–)
- Geoffrey Boycott ("Boycs") (2005–)
- Alec Stewart (2006–)
- Michael Vaughan ("Vaughnie") (2009-)
When touring other countries (or sometimes in the UK) the TMS team are often joined by guest British summarisers who join the team temporarily. These have included:
- Matthew Hoggard (South Africa 2009)
- Dominic Cork (Bangladesh 2010)
- Mark Butcher (Bangladesh 2010)
- Peter Moores (Australia home 1 day series 2010)
Guest commentators and summarisers
In addition, visitors from overseas join the TMS team as commentators or summarisers when their country is touring England or vice versa. These have included:
- Ian Chappell
- Jack Fingleton
- Adam Gilchrist
- Jason Gillespie ("Dizzy")
- Matthew Hayden
- Dean Jones
- Tim Lane
- Justin Langer
- Geoff Lawson
- Alan McGilvray
- Jim Maxwell
- Dirk Nannes
- Neville Oliver, nicknamed "The Doctor" in reference to his initials and the film Dr. No
- Michael Slater
- Jeff Thomson ("Thommo")
- Maharajah of Baroda
- Harsha Bhogle
- Aakash Chopra
- Rahul Dravid
- Farokh Engineer ("Rooky")
- Sunil Gavaskar
- Ravi Shastri
- Colin Croft ("Crofty")
- Tony Cozier
- Roy Lawrence
- Sir Viv Richards
- Donna Symmonds, the first female regular commentator on TMS. 
The TMS team also includes a scorer. The first was Arthur Wrigley, followed in 1966 by Bill Frindall (affectionately known as "the Bearded Wonder") whose final test was England's drawn 2nd Test with India in December 2008. Jo King was used as scorer for overseas tours after Frindall stopped travelling. When Jo was unavailable for the 2006/07 Commonwealth Banks Series finals in Australia, Michael Robinson replaced her for the first final at the MCG. Malcolm Ashton (affectionately known as 'Ashtray') has been TMS scorer since Frindall's death in 2009. South African Andrew Samson has been the scorer on overseas tours since the Ashes tour of 2010/11. The producer from 1973 to June 2007 was Peter Baxter, who was also himself a capable commentator. He succeeded Michael Tuke-Hastings, and on his retirement was succeeded by Adam Mountford. Shilpa Patel was assistant producer from the 1990s until 2011. For some matches, Alison Mitchell reports from the boundary, doing interviews and features.
TMS has always had a distinctively irreverent style. While it takes its role of describing and commenting on the action seriously, there has also been much light relief. Brian Johnston, who was as happy on the stage and working in light entertainment presentation as he was in the commentary box, was the master of this style which on occasion could lead to hilarity in the box, most notably on one occasion in August 1991 at The Oval when Agnew referred to Ian Botham's dismissal "hit wicket" as Botham "just couldn't quite get his leg over!" This remark led to the total collapse of both in a fit of giggles (which was followed quickly by Johnston's giggle-affected chastening, "Aggers do stop it!") This clip has become a broadcasting classic and is frequently replayed. In 2005 Radio 5 Live listeners voted it the greatest sporting commentary of all time, receiving ten times as many votes as 'they think it's all over'. A more recent example of double entendres was when Agnew was commentating about England batsman Kevin Pietersen replacing a bat rubber talking about the process of rolling it down the handle, and leaving Vaughan having to deadpan admit he was no good at putting a rubber on, before eventually collapsing in a fit of giggles. A further example occurred during the second test match between England and the West Indies at Trent Bridge in May 2012 - during a discussion on the conflicting schedules of personal and professional life as a cricketer, Sir Vivian Richards revealed that he had cut short his honeymoon in order to play in a test match, prompting Agnew to ask, "Did you get any?" Agnew, realizing the ambiguous nature of his question, added, "Runs, that is?", but by then it was too late and listeners were treated to more giggles from the TMS box.
Other Johnners' classics include, "There's Neil Harvey standing at leg-slip with his legs wide apart, waiting for a tickle," and, "...and Ward bowls to Glenn Turner, short, ooh! and it catches him high up on the, er, thigh. That really must have hurt as he's doubled over in pain. I remember when..." and after 2 minutes of typical Johnners fill, he continued, "Well, he's bravely going to carry on ... but he doesn't look too good. One ball left."
Listeners' letters and emails are often read out on air. Brian Johnston was once taken to task by a schoolmistress correspondent, pretending indignation, for saying during a West Indies Test commentary: "The bowler's Holding, the batsman's Willey." However on this occasion he was innocent.
While the levity in the commentary box has reduced somewhat since Johnners' death there is still a recognition that no matter how seriously fans may take their cricket it is, after all, only a game. Po-faced commentary is not TMS's way. Not every listener is happy with Henry Blofeld's continuous references to buses, pigeons and aeroplanes, but most feel that the programme would be the poorer without him for all his eccentricities. "Blowers" and other unique voices became customary impersonations for comedians such as Rory Bremner.
One of TMS's specialities is to keep talking through rain delays. It is taken as a matter of pride that even if play is interrupted for an hour or more (sometimes much more) then the commentators will keep on talking. John Arlott was a master at talking even when nothing much was happening and still keeping listeners entertained. He once spoke uninterrupted for twenty minutes and kept everyone spellbound describing the covers being removed at Lord's. A long established tradition is the interviewing of a special guest during the Saturday lunch break, on one occasion this led to Brian Johnston chatting with actor Bill Pertwee for 90 minutes as rain delayed the start of the afternoon session.
The TMS box has many visitors during a day's play and these visitors keep returning despite the leg pulls. Mike Gatting's alleged gluttony is one of the many running themes — "Better get our lunch before Gatt arrives" is a typical remark. The main butt of practical jokes is Henry Blofeld who fails to spot a "wind up" even if it is staring him in the face.
Freddie Trueman was a great defender of the purity of the game and made frequent references to it requiring a 'side on' stance for success. A letter read out from a 'listener' said that he had been dropped by his club side because he had fully adopted Freddie's advice and had 'played side on' as a wicket keeper; Freddie did not see the funny side.
Concern about BBC Sport's commitment to maintaining the tone and style of the programme after its 50th anniversary led to an Early Day Motion being tabled in Parliament by Andrew George MP in June 2007.
Brian Johnston started the fad of the public sending cakes to the commentary box. In Johnston's day they were chocolate cakes, whereas now fruit cakes seem to be more popular. Indeed, the Queen herself reportedly had a fruit cake baked for the TMS team. She said that it was baked "under close supervision" by her following Jonathan Agnew's light hearted questioning of her as to whether she might have baked it herself. Henry Blofeld is reported to have said that it contained a goodly portion of "Royal brandy". The fondness for cakes spun off into hosting the "Tea Lady of the Year" competition for a couple of seasons, in which the TMS team sampled teas usually prepared for club cricket matches.
Beards have become a recurring theme during TMS commentary, under the supervision of "Bearders" himself — scorer and statistician. The TMS team receive sporadic missives from Keith Flett, social historian, serial newspaper letter writer and chairman of the Beard Liberation Front, a group dedicated to the removal of a societal prejudice against the facially follically enhanced or bearded. Flett offers his opinions on the state of beards in the game today and his views are frequently discussed on TMS, particularly by Jonathan Agnew, including transformations in the recent and bygone Pakistan cricketers, and most recently with regards to the "splendidly hirsute" Monty Panesar. Bill Frindall was announced "Beard of the Year" winner in 2008.
There is a tradition that every Saturday of a home Test match the commentators wear a Primary Club tie. Membership in the Primary Club is available to anybody who has been out first ball (a "golden duck") in any form of cricket. Proceeds are donated to a charity for blind and partially sighted cricketers.
View from the Boundary
This is a regular Saturday lunchtime feature during home Test Matches, in which guests from all walks of life are interviewed about their love of cricket as well as their own sphere of activity. In the early years of the feature the interviewer was usually Brian Johnston; nowadays most interviews are conducted by Jonathan Agnew. Lily Allen has been interviewed twice and stated a preference for the longer Test form of the game during her first interview on View from the Boundary. Daniel Radcliffe was interviewed on his 18th birthday at the Lord's Test in 2007 after being hunted down by Shilpa Patel, TMS's long-standing assistant producer. During the Ashes Test in 2009 at Lords Patel also attracted the Australian actor Russell Crowe into the TMS box, while his cousin the former Kiwi test cricketer Jeff Crowe was serving as the Match Referee. Agnew remarked "that we have been joined by the cousin of the match referee" live on air. David Cameron has been interviewed twice on View from the Boundary: once when serving as the Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition and more recently as Prime Minister.
At the end of each test match, the commentators vote for their favourite special moment in the match, and the player involved wins a bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne. Examples include a personal milestone for a player, such as a century or 5 wicket haul, a dramatic celebration, or a spectacular piece of fielding, wicket or shot.
In 2008 Mike Selvey was "asked to leave" TMS after making a comment regarding the shift towards "laddish" commentators such as Arlo White and Mark Pougatch who have "little knowledge of the game, especially of the cadences of Test Match cricket", a shift in dynamic by current producer Adam Mountford. This sentiment has been echoed by many of his contemporaries and the wider cricket community in general.
- However, according to EW Swanton full ball-by-ball coverage was first tried experimentally in 1939, with himself, Howard Marshall and Michael Standing as the commentators, but the full coverage only went to the West Indies. EW Swanton, Sort of a Cricket Person, Collins, 1972, p281 of the 1974 Sportsman's Book Club edition. Similarly, in 1948 the BBC provided full ball-by-ball coverage for Australia.
- Martin-Jenkins, Christopher (1990). Ball by Ball: The Story of Cricket Broadcasting. Grafton Books. p. 91. ISBN 0-246-13568-9.
- http://www.ecb.co.uk/ecb/about-ecb/media-releases/bbc-sport-gain-radio-rights,303608,EN.html ECB media release regarding 2010 - 2013 UK radio rights
- BBC Sport Online, TMS: A Glorious History(consulted 2007-02-06).
- Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 2007, ISBN 978-1-905625-02-4, p52.
- BBC Sport Online, Ashton joins TMS team (consulted 2009-05-18).
- , "The Ashes 2010: Sky Sports v Test Match Special" (consulted 2012-12-08).
- , " New TMS producer signs on" (consulted 2012-12-08).
- http://sport.guardian.co.uk/news/story/0,10488,1552787,00.html Article in The Guardian
- Johnston, Brian (1974). It's Been a Lot of Fun. London: W. H. Allen. p. 207. ISBN 0-491-01471-6.
- Johnston, Brian (1974). It's Been a Lot of Fun. London: W. H. Allen. pp. 258–9. ISBN 0-491-01471-6.
- Martin-Jenkins, p160.
- Andrew's Early day Motion
- Lily brings a smile to TMS
- Thanks Johnners: Jonathan Agnew Blue Door Publishing 2010
- Christopher Martin-Jenkins: Ball by Ball - The Story of Cricket Broadcasting, Grafton Books, 1990, ISBN 0-246-13568-9
- Test Match Special - 50 Not Out, BBC Books, 2007, ISBN 0-563-53906-2