Dennis Silk

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Dennis Silk
Personal information
Full nameDennis Raoul Whitehall Silk
Born(1931-10-08)8 October 1931
Eureka, California, United States
Died19 June 2019(2019-06-19) (aged 87)
Domestic team information
1952–1955Cambridge University
Career statistics
Competition First-class
Matches 83
Runs scored 3,845
Batting average 29.80
100s/50s 7/19
Top score 126
Balls bowled 357
Wickets 1
Bowling average 240.00
5 wickets in innings 0
10 wickets in match 0
Best bowling 1/22
Catches/stumpings 45/–
Source: Cricinfo, 15 June 2013

Dennis Raoul Whitehall Silk CBE (8 October 1931 – 19 June 2019[1]) was an English first-class cricketer and a school headmaster. He was a close friend of the poet Siegfried Sassoon, about whom he spoke and wrote extensively.[2] In the 1990s he chaired the Test and County Cricket Board.

Early life and cricket[edit]

Silk was born in Eureka, California. His father was a medical missionary on a Native American reservation in the Sierra Nevada desert. Silk's mother, who was Spanish, died when he was five, and the family returned to Britain.[3]

Silk was educated at Christ's Hospital, and Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, where he gained an MA in history and represented Cambridge University at cricket. A useful opener or middle-order batsman, he scored centuries in matches against Oxford University in 1953 and 1954, and captained Cambridge University in 1955. He went on to play first-class cricket for Somerset as an amateur during the school summer holidays, but gave priority to his teaching career. His highest first-class score was 126 for Cambridge University against the MCC in 1953.[4]

He toured East Africa with the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) in 1957–58, and captained the MCC on tours to South America in 1958–59 and to the US and Canada in 1959 and 1967, none of which included first-class matches. He also captained a strong MCC team on a tour of New Zealand in 1960–61, which included 10 first-class matches, three of them against the full-strength New Zealand team. After the New Zealand tour he retired from first-class cricket at the age of 29.

He seldom bowled his leg-breaks, and his single first-class wicket came in his second-to-last match, when he bowled Gerry Alexander in the MCC match against the Governor-General's XI in Auckland.[5] However, on the MCC tour of South America in 1959 he took nine wickets at an average of only 2.11, as well as scoring 457 runs at an average of 76.16.[6]

He later wrote two instructional books on playing cricket. He was Chairman of the Test and County Cricket Board from 1994 to 1996, and also served as President of the MCC. He was an Honorary Life Vice-President of the MCC from 2000 onwards.[7] He was made a CBE in the 1995 New Year's Honours List for services to cricket and education.[8]


Having taught at Marlborough College, Silk moved on to Radley College, where he was Warden (headmaster) from 1968 to 1991.[9] In this role he appeared prominently in the 1980 BBC documentary series, Public School.[10] Eric Anderson, who headed Shrewsbury (1975–1980) and Eton (1980–1994), regarded Silk as the best headmaster of his generation in England, who transformed Radley from what Anderson described as "a pretty ordinary place" to one of England's best public schools.[11]

When Silk retired from Radley, rather than accepting any retirement gifts for himself, he established the Dennis Silk Fund to support the education of talented boys whose parents might otherwise have struggled to pay the school's fees. As of 2018, 31 boys had benefited from the fund.[12]

Friendship with Sassoon[edit]

During the early 1950s, Silk was introduced to the cricket-loving poet Siegfried Sassoon by a mutual acquaintance, Edmund Blunden. Until Sassoon's death in 1967, Silk was one of his closest friends, and made several unique recordings of the poet reading his own work at Sassoon's home in Heytesbury, Wiltshire. These formed the basis of a BBC Radio 4 programme on the subject: Siegfried Sassoon: a Friend. In 2009, Silk became President for Life of the Siegfried Sassoon Fellowship.[13]

In 2014, Silk and his wife, Diana (who also knew Siegfried Sassoon well), appeared on the BBC programme Countryfile in a feature on Sassoon's residence at Heytesbury.[14]

The cricket writer David Foot likened Silk to Sassoon, describing him as "a gentle, rounded, civilised man, a scholar without ostentation, literate, a lover of poetry and someone with a similar sense of quiet fun".[15]

Portrait bust[edit]

Dennis Silk sat for sculptor and former Radley College pupil Alan Thornhill for a portrait in clay.[16] The correspondence file relating to the Silk portrait bust is held as part of the Thornhill Papers (2006:56) in the archive[17] of the Henry Moore Foundation's Henry Moore Institute in Leeds and the terracotta remains in the collection of the artist.

Personal life[edit]

Silk married Diana Milton in Pitminster Church in Somerset in 1963. They had four children. They moved back to Somerset after his retirement.[18]


  • Cricket (Hart-Davis, 1964)
  • Attacking Cricket (Pelham, 1965)
  • Siegfried Sassoon (Guinness lecture) (Michael Russell, 1975)
  • T. E. Lawrence and Siegfried Sassoon: a Friendship (Reading Room Press, 2010)


  1. ^ "Dennis Silk (1931-2019)". Lord's. Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  2. ^ "Dennis Silk, former chairman of TCCB, dies aged 87". ESPN Cricinfo. Retrieved 21 June 2019.
  3. ^ Brenkley, Stephen. "Silk cuts his ties after a smooth reign". The Independent. Retrieved 1 January 2019.
  4. ^ "Cambridge University v. MCC scorecard : 1953". Retrieved 21 June 2019.
  5. ^ "MCC v. Governor-General's XI scorecard". Retrieved 21 June 2019.
  6. ^ "M.C.C. in South America, 1958-59", Wisden 1960, p. 867.
  7. ^ "Honorary Life Members". MCC. Retrieved 16 June 2016.
  8. ^ Wisden 1995, p. 908.
  9. ^ "Dennis Silk 1931-2019". Radley College. Retrieved 23 June 2019.
  10. ^ Florence Waters (25 October 2013). "A Very British Education: whatever happened to the Radley boys of 1980's Public School?". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  11. ^ Anderson, Eric. "How Silk transformed the country club". Times Higher Education. Retrieved 16 June 2016.
  12. ^ "The Silk Fund". Radley College. Retrieved 1 January 2019.
  13. ^ "Siegfried Sassoon Fellowship - Home". Retrieved 25 June 2019.
  14. ^ "How Warminster war poet's cricket thrived", This is Wiltshire, 28 February 2014. Accessed 6 March 2014
  15. ^ David Foot, Beyond Bat & Ball: Eleven Intimate Portraits, Aurum, London, 1993, p. 48.
  16. ^ Portrait head of Dennis Silk image of sculpture,
  17. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 12 January 2009. Retrieved 2009-08-10.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link) HMI Archive
  18. ^ "Dennis Silk obituary: Former Somerset batsman dies aged 87". Somerset County Gazette. 27 June 2019. Retrieved 7 July 2019.


  • Siegfried's Journal (journal of the Siegfried Sassoon Fellowship) – no. 10

External links[edit]