Graeme Swann and Henry Blofeld are ‘Dancing Down the Wicket’
When you spend time on tour with another person, it’s always useful to enjoy each other’s company. Cricket commentating legend Henry Blofeld and England spin bowler of great renown Graeme Swann are about to embark on Dancing Down The Wicket, their third live extravaganza as a duo. The appreciation is clearly mutual.
“He’s genuinely one of the warmest, most vivacious blokes,” says Graeme about Henry. “His ‘joie de vivre’ is the highest accolade you can probably give a man; he always looks on the bright side of life, always has a silver lining, and always has a tale to tell in a plummy Etonian accent: marvellous!”
As for Henry, he insists that Graeme is “great fun and a great friend of mine. We get on very well and make each other laugh and respond to each other well; he’s amusing and has a great zest for life which I think I have as well. And of course, he was a marvellous off-spin bowler.”
Across five decades, Henry Blofeld was one of the undisputed voices of cricket, debuting on Test Match Special in 1972. When he retired in 2017, he was given a standing ovation on a lap of Lord’s. Meanwhile, Graeme Swann made his county cricket debut in 1997 and became one of the top English bowlers of his generation. Among his many feats was equalling Jim Laker’s spin record of taking ten wickets in one match back in 2010. He retired from the game in 2013 and became a summariser on Test Match Special the following year. However, Henry is keen to get the message across that their new show is not just for cricket lovers.
“It’s a show with a tremendous background of cricket, of course, because we’ve both been hopelessly involved in it, but it’s not a cricket show per se. We may show things that have happened on the field of play which were highly amusing, and we may even show Swanny’s first ever Test match when he got a couple of wickets: only one other person has done that. More than anything, it’s a laugh, it’s anecdotal stuff. If you started to talk seriously about cricket you’d probably turn off half the audience. We have a broader compass than that.”
Since the pair performed The Great British Spin Offin 2017, a lot has happened to them. “I retired from cricket commentary though my life has never been busier,” notes Henry. “A lot of funny things have happened to both of us and we’ll have a great laugh and I’m sure the audiences will too. We spark off each other in a splendid way.”
In 2018, Graeme Swann made a further name for himself as primetime BBC audiences witnessed his thrilling run in Strictly during which he strutted some stuff on everything from the foxtrot to tango. “I most enjoyed the live shows on Saturday, which most people feared but that was part of the reason I did it. I missed having something in my work that made me worried, that pit of your stomach sort of fear. Just before you went on to do your dance, that’s what you get. There is a very real chance you could humiliate yourself in front of 12 million people! It gives you a sharp edge.”
Dancing Down The Wicketwill comprise two halves of around an hour each. “He’ll be talking a lot about Strictly,” says Henry, “and I shall be telling stories about a reality TV show that I can’t talk about just yet, but which was filmed in India a few months ago and will be shown in January.”
With such a vast background of experience both in and out of their sport, Henry and Graeme have enough stories to fill several tours many times over. With such an abundance of material at their disposal, they’re able to mix things up every night on the tour.
“The beauty of touring with Henry is that he has a story from every corner of the country,” says Graeme. “There is a rough outline we stick to but there’s always a story for the local audience and that’s the fun of it. We always try and keep it fresh and fun, and with Henry that’s guaranteed!”
“We always improvise,” insists Henry. “We don’t have a script, we have bullet points, but we do love to go off on tangents. We’ll tell our own stories and interject to pull each other’s legs.”
Being behind a microphone drawing pictures in words for the nation or excelling on the field of play for both county and country requires a type of performance that’s very different from the experience of talking directly to people in theatres. It’s a skill that they’ve both developed and are now at the peak of their live-performing powers.
“Since I started I must have done over 1500 performances and I wouldn’t do that if I didn’t enjoy it,” states Henry. “I felt nervous the first time because it was strange territory, in the same way you feel nervous for the first time doing anything: I was nervous when I first went into the commentary box. But nerves either kill or enhance and in my case it certainly enhanced my performance.”
“It’s a lot harder with a smaller audience where you can see everyone’s eyes, but that’s the fun of it,” says Graeme. “It’s a bit scary but when you’re working with an ultimate professional like Henry, you just have fun with it and the audience tends to join in. It’s always a challenge but it’s very rewarding when you get a good laugh and a nice ovation at the end of the night. That’s what we strive for.”
Graeme Swann and Henry Blofeld are touring UK theatres with Dancing Down The Wicket. Tickets: www.dancingdownthewicket.com