Following the sad news that Stan Bennett died last week, below is the interview he did with Phil Smith a couple of years ago:
Stan Bennett, doyen of cricketing law, member of the MCC Laws committee and highly respected umpire trainer whose influence on cricket officiating in north Gloucestershire and beyond is legendary, sadly passed away following a short illness on Monday 5th June. An interview with Stan undertaken two years ago, detailing parts of his life story that GACO members might find of interest, can be seen below:-
Gloucester’s Stan Bennett, who sat on the MCC Laws Committee for nearly twenty years, shares his fascinating story in the first of the summer’s ‘Big Interviews’, as he talks us through his travels from Stockport Sunday School to St John’s Wood in:
MY JOURNEY TO LORD’S
“I didn’t set out to get to Lord’s of course, such ambition might have seemed rather arrogant. It all began during WW2 with a schoolmaster, a Mr E.W. Bell, who set the wheels of cricket that would eventually take me to Lord’s, in perpetual motion. I didn’t go to Mr Bell’s school; I didn’t read anything he wrote; I didn’t see him play, nor did I talk to him until some years later. But he lived just four houses away from my parent’s home in Stockport and had a son, Michael, who was my closest friend at the time, and Mr Bell ensured that his son got every possible encouragement to watch and to play cricket. We chalked wickets on the low wall in front of their house and bowled the ball into the brickwork for seemingly hours on end, but Mr Bell didn’t mind one bit; in fact, he positively encouraged it.
“We needed a cricket bat and when Michael was given one, he freely shared it. Wartime England had no first-class cricket for obvious reasons, meaning a number of players who would have been competing at county or even international level, played in competitions such as the Central Lancashire League. Mr Bell encouraged Michael to watch Stockport Cricket Club and I went with him as often as possible. We saw some great players at Tale Green, two of whom, Learie Constantine and Manny Martindale, were the West Indies’ opening bowlers before the war and did the same thing for Stockport in some of their post-1945 celebratory matches. This really set in motion the desire to view as much cricket and watch as many great players in action as possible, Dennis Compton leading the post-war charge, scoring literally thousands of runs, seemingly just for fun. No inhibitions; no pressure. As the great Australian all-rounder of the time, Keith Miller, a wartime spitfire pilot once said, ‘There’s no pressure in cricket. Pressure is having a Messerschmitt with all guns blazing up you’re a**e.’ In such an atmosphere, who could fail to be drawn into the game?”
Most of Stan’s cricket was played for Stockport Sunday School (SSS) in what was, at the time, a very competitive Derbyshire and Cheshire League. The Sunday School in question was created in the late 18th century, almost 100 years before the 1870 Education Act brought pedagogy to vast numbers of ordinary working people. In that bygone era, it was a long day’s schooling on the Sabbath for the young men and women of the area who had the drive and desire to improve their lot, as they willingly gave up their only free day of the week to study.
Stan’s primary schooling took place at Alexander Park, in a collection of buildings situated in and around the town and later at Stockport School, while SSS provided
an extremely welcome sporting outlet. At its peak, the Sunday School catered for an impressive 5000-plus students; it used largely religious-based material for the teaching of reading, while each class started the day by attending a short(ish), multi-denominational religious service. As time went on, the organisation expanded to include many popular leisure time activities, of which cricket was one of many. The SSS sporting facilities were excellent, including two fine cricket grounds, each boasting its own pavilion. To celebrate its 100th anniversary, Stockport Sunday School built a concert block and named it simply, The Centenary Hall, a building in which Stan stood proudly to play his music, a few years after he had found himself sitting in it to take his 11-plus scholarship exam.
At his grammar school, Stan encountered ‘Chippy’ Wood, a no-nonsense maths master who he describes as ‘Simply the best teacher I ever came across’, due to his ability to communicate really effectively with a class of 30-odd, testosterone-fuelled adolescents. One of Chippy’s disciplinary techniques, which drew huge admiration from the teenage Bennett, was to open the glass cupboard doors that were adjacent to the board to such an angle that they could be used as mirrors, so that when the teacher was beavering away at the chalk face, a quick glance to right or left would reveal the location of a seated miscreant and the destination, three seconds later, of the wooden blackboard eraser.
For a man who has been synonymous with the summer game nearly all his life however, it may come as a surprise to some people that cricket is a definite second on Stan’s list of hobbies and interests. “Music,” he says, adamantly, “is the one thing I couldn’t live without,” and he recalls, in typically precise detail, the time when he began his musical love affair.
“A most unfortunate wartime incident sealed my interest in music,” he recounts. “On 22nd March 1945, a Lancaster bomber crashed in our area soon after taking off with a substantial bomb load and an undiagnosed technical problem. All the crewmembers sadly died, one of whom had a son who later, and as a direct result of this accident, became my friend – and 75 years later, still is. A friend who, by the way, was to comment very succinctly on my cricketing ability, describing my bowling as, ‘Very quick, but highly erratic’. He failed to pass comment on my batting technique though, which is unsurprising really, as I performed very much like Geoffrey Boycott, but without the ability. Anyhow, away from the cricket ground, music came easily to Alan Jenkins and it became both his life and livelihood as he went on to play the tuba with distinction in Manchester’s internationally renowned Halle Orchestra and later in the capital with the LSO.”
Alan lived eight miles from Stan in Salford and one day, after Stan had made the journey to Alan’s house, the pair of them were sneaking off to a patch of waste
ground behind the Manchester United training pitch for a kickabout. Mrs Jenkins, ‘a formidable but lovely woman’, was having none of it however, as Alan had a piano lesson that afternoon and Stan had little option but to tag along. Fascinated by his friend’s ability and the ‘mystifyingly complex language’ of music, young Bennett decided to learn the notations and begin to play himself. ‘My competitive instinct, I guess,’ as he pulled out every stop in trying to keep up with his high-class musical friend.
“I recognised from the start, Alan’s much greater ‘natural’ ability and knowledge in the subject and decided that, even if I was never going to have his talent, I could try to compete on playing ability. How? Practice, lad, Practice. And a bit of reading to get at least a passing acquaintance with the technical stuff. I owe Alan Jenkins my musical life.”
And so began a near fifty-year odyssey that saw Stan star with both trumpet and cornet in some of the finest amateur brass bands of the era, during which time he performed at a host of prestigious venues including the Albert Hall and the Berlin Open Air Arena. His job eventually brought him to the West Country and a musical shift to Bristol Sunlife, where he made a seamless transition from player to conductor. In 1983, the band reached the national final of ITV’s ‘Best of Brass’ competition, before being edged into second place in front of a packed television audience on a panel decision. “I won’t say we deserved to win,” Stan recalls, “but everyone seemed to think we played exceptionally well on the day.”
Photography was another of Stan’s hobbies down the years, an interest which seems quite appropriate considering the amount of development he’s been involved in on a cricketing front. But back to the long and winding road to St John’s Wood. Stan takes up the story again:
“I first saw Lord’s in the late summer of 1945, but only from the outside as everything was locked up and I wouldn’t have had enough money to get in, anyway. I did eventually find my way in to the ground a few times prior to the 1960s, when a work-related move to London gave me far more opportunities to visit, but as it was more convenient to enter via the northern entrance, I didn’t get to go through those magnificent Grace Gates until much later. That needed an intervention from a man called Denys Taylor, though like many things that happen in life, neither of us had the faintest inkling where this chance meeting might lead. And the reason we met? I went on his umpire training course, which took place in the middle of winter in a chilly and miserable changing room at Cam Cricket Club. Now there’s entertainment!”
At the time, there were, effectively, two training officers in Gloucestershire – Basil Smith, who led the Cheltenham District offering and Denys Taylor, who covered the
rest. Stan’s memories of Denys are interesting for anyone involved in development work. “He wasn’t a great teacher, but he was a great example,” reflects Stan. “He would read from the law book as he began to inculcate the group with the knowledge they required; no real reasoning or thoughts of how things might be applied on the field of play, but in terms of standards, he was tops. Absolutely brilliant. Only the best was good enough for Denys, and this rubbed off on everyone else involved.’
At the end of the course there was a brace of exams, a two-hour written paper and an oral examination, conducted by an assessor from Bristol. Stan scored 99 out of a hundred in the oral test and in the high 90s on the written paper, the combined scores for which led to him winning the ACU & S (Association of Cricket Umpires & Scorers) Sims Training award. ‘For Gloucestershire?’ I ask, hugely impressed. ‘For England,’ comes the straight-to-the-point reply.
The presentation of this prestigious trophy took place at Lord’s, though due to an upcoming function, the Long Room couldn’t be used and everyone had to troop up several flights of stairs to the pavilion’s top floor. The engraved memento that Stan received that day is still affixed to the wall of his house and as he’s describing the event to me, he immediately locates and carefully removes a leather-bound volume from the bookshelf opposite. ‘Cardus in the Covers’ is its title and is the book Stan chose as part of his coveted award. The fact that he still knows exactly where it is, amidst a library of other titles, speaks (quite literally), volumes.
When drawn on how umpire training in 2020 compares to the time when he learnt the laws so precisely nearly forty years ago, his view is unequivocal. ‘It’s far better now,’ he says. “There is so much more fieldcraft and understanding of how you apply the laws in the training sessions nowadays,” he explains, “whereas back in the 80s, while people who passed the exams were extremely well versed in law, they weren’t necessarily so knowledgeable in the application of the content and how you might use your expertise in various, real-life situations.”
On returning from the Lord’s presentation, Stan joined up with Denys on the Stroud & District umpires’ quiz team, which played against the Worcestershire and Cheltenham & Gloucester sides each winter, and after initial success at intra-county level, Stan progressed to the Gloucestershire umpires’ side. This group competed in the Jarvis Cup, a national event for the country’s umpiring elite and the team enjoyed considerable success, bringing the silverware back to the shire three times in Stan’s last six years towards the latter end of the 90s. The adjudicator for the finals, which were held at Grace Road, Leicester, was a lady called Sheila Hill, who had been at the ACU & S presentation event some thirteen years earlier.
Stan takes up the story. “At the time, Sheila was Chairperson of the ACU & S technical committee and after the Jarvis Cup final in 1999, she asked me to join the group, which I readily accepted. Sheila, along with the first class and test match umpire Nigel Plews and John Jameson, the former Warwickshire opening bat who also served on the committee, each played a huge role in getting the ACU & S recognised by the MCC and in 2001, I received a call from Sheila, on behalf of the MCC, asking if I would join the full Laws Working Party.
“I said that I needed time to think it through and would contact her again soon. She asked why a delay was necessary; was there something that concerned me and, if so, perhaps she could help. My answer – and it would be exactly the same today – was that I was absolutely ‘gobsmacked’ to be asked, and such a feeling was not a good basis on which to make such an important decision (though I did wonder at the time whether ‘gobsmacked’ actually had a place in Sheila’s extremely precise vocabulary). I didn’t ask, but my eventual affirmative answer to the original question heralded the beginning of a seriously wonderful 19 years.”
The Laws Working Party soon became renamed the MCC Laws sub-committee, a more appropriate reflection of its importance and standing, and its purpose, in addition to responding to a raft of questions involving some of the more difficult interpretations of the various codes, was to suggest and advise on law changes, taking into account the potential knock-on effect of any such amendments (which can often be more problematic than the law changes themselves). “We would make recommendations regarding the laws, of which there might be a large number, as was the case in the months leading up to the changes and rewordings that occurred in the latest version, the 2017 Code,” Stan explains. “Those recommendations would then go to the MCC Cricket Committee, who would agree or disagree with our thoughts, or quite often return our offerings for further discussion. As you can imagine, there was quite a bit of to-ing and fro-ing before the 2017 version was finalised.”
The Laws committee was augmented on a number of occasions by representatives of the world’s other main cricketing nations – Australia, India, South Africa and suchlike, but of the main group that regularly sat around the big wooden table in the Lord’s committee room, Stan expands on a few. “Sheila Hill had a command of the English language that was second to none and was the most impeccable writer imaginable. She would often scribble down a few notes on a piece of paper and say, ‘I’ll take it home and polish it up a bit later.’ Occasionally she’d leave the notes on the table and we would all marvel at the sheer quality of her writing – and this was before any of it was ‘polished’, so to speak.”
The umpire Nigel Plews is a man that Stan has often quoted. “Nigel would always say, ‘If you’re not sure what to do, do what is best for the game. Not necessarily the game in progress, but for the game as a whole,’ which is wonderful advice to umpires the world over.“ Plews also offered an erudite explanation of the mythical Law 43 (common sense), suggesting it is not a discrete entity, but instead that, ‘Law 43 is the common sense application of Laws 1 to 42.’ Wise words indeed.
“John Jameson provided immense input and his knowledge and experience of the first class game as player, umpire and administrator was invaluable throughout the entire process. In contrast to Sheila, he wasn’t the greatest with words – most of the things he wrote were followed by around twenty exclamation marks – and he never took anything home to polish, so to speak. He was the committee’s chairman for a few years, during which time meetings just about finished before nightfall (or beyond in the winter). John was succeeded in the chair by another John, the former Essex and Hampshire all-rounder, John Stephenson who, in stark contrast to Jameson, ran the committee’s fastest-ever gatherings – two hours, straight to the point and finish in plenty of time for lunch. The current chairman, Russell Cake, sits somewhere in between the two timewise, but is really excellent,” Stan concludes.
Stan finally retired from the MCC last year, after a 19-year contribution to how the game of cricket is played the world over. During this time, he attended well over a hundred meetings at the Home of Cricket and missed only two (he was in hospital for one and in Bavaria for the other). For almost two decades, Stan was an integral part of the most important changes to the Laws of Cricket this century, but as he relaxes at his home in Quedgeley, with a Beethoven quartet playing soothingly in the background and ‘Cardus in the Covers’ safely tucked away in its usual spot, one question and one thought remain. The question: “Why me, amongst all that talent?” And the thought: “Thank-you, Denys.”
Sheila Hill MBE: A former player for Kent who umpired the first de-facto Women’s World Cup Final alongside Anne Garton, when England defeated Australia by 92 runs at Edgbaston in 1973. Sheila received the MBE in 2011 for ‘Outstanding Services to cricket’ and finally stepped down from the Laws Committee in 2015, aged 87.
John Jameson MBE: Played 4 tests and 3 ODIs for England (including facing the first ball in World Cup cricket history; England v India, 1975). Appeared in over 500 matches and scored over 23,000 runs for Warwickshire; first class umpire 1984-1987, ECB pitch inspector, Sussex coach and MCC Secretary.
Nigel Plews: One of only 4 test match cricket umpires since the war not to have played first class cricket. An ex-detective sergeant in the Fraud Squad, Plews spent 17 seasons umpiring county cricket, where he was often referred to, for obvious reasons, as ‘Serge’.
John Stephenson: Former Essex and Hampshire all-rounder, who scored 22,000 runs and took over 650 wickets in 600-plus first class and one-day matches. Played a single test for England, in which he aggregated 36 runs and didn’t bowl.
Russell Cake: Current Chairman of the MCC Laws committee. Played 37 first class matches for Cambridge University, following up being dismissed for one on his debut against Derbyshire, by scoring a fluent century against the touring Australians soon afterwards.
Denys Taylor: Former GACUS cricket umpire and trainer, after whom the association’s current Training Award is named. Neil ‘Stretch’ Saunders was the 2019 winner.
In a 2008 interview with 4barsrest.com, the world’s most visited brass band website, Alan Jenkins, doyen of brass band critics, conductor, writer, arranger, composer, tuba player and general man of letters, was asked to name his ultimate, all-time, Brass Band Dinner List. And in at number nine:
‘9. Stan Bennett has been my closest friend for more than 60 years. We each used to play in the Stockport Citadel Band and after evening practice we would both get off the bus at the same stop. The service would then close down for the night and, when morning broke, the buses would start up again. Soon after the engines burst into life for the start of a new day, we would finally bid each other ‘goodnight’ and make our way home.’
Stan Bennett: Cricketer, umpire, trainer, law-maker, trumpeter, cornetist & conductor. Thank-you for taking the time to share your brilliant story.