Worth the money and reading time

An odd set of circumstances surround the publication of Chris Waters' Fred Trueman The Authorised Biography. Waters is the first cricket correspondent for The Yorkshire Post who is not a Tyke, as Yorkshire folk take pride in calling themselves. Secondly, he met Trueman only once and of course he never saw the great man bowl a ball. Over to Ted Corbett.

At a time when England have their largest squad of fast bowlers — a round dozen who might fit into a Test side — it seems appropriate that we should see the publication of the story of one of the greatest of their trade — Fred Trueman.

An odd set of circumstances surround the publication of Chris Waters' Fred Trueman The Authorised Biography. Waters is the first cricket correspondent for The Yorkshire Post who is not a Tyke, as Yorkshire folk take pride in calling themselves. Secondly, he met Trueman only once and of course he never saw the great man bowl a ball.

None of these facts which are so important to Yorkshiremen — who have a greater pride in their broad acres than anyone save for the islanders of Barbados and the cowboys of Texas — seem to have made a scrap of difference to the quality of this book about one of the finest fast bowlers who ever lived. It is a fitting tribute to him; a fine book detailing the life of a fine performer.

You doubt that definition. Trueman didn't. He left instructions to his wife shortly before his death in 2006 from cancer that she should carry out two orders when he had gone. “He left no room for manoeuvre. These were not requests. They were orders,” Veronica told me.

The first was to make sure there was no memorial service. “I don't want any of those hypocrites who have been so rude to me in the past coming along and saying all those nice things,” he said.

At that point Veronica Trueman was given another command. “This is the way I want my death notice to appear.”

So the notice in The Times, a very posh paper indeed, began: “The greatest fast bowler who ever drew breath . . .”

I first met Fred — FS to his comrades in the Yorkshire dressing room — in my days as a Rugby writer on the evening paper in York where he had a home. Years later another paper commissioned me to write a piece about him having had elocution lessons. A different paper again appointed me to write his weekly column.

It was for more than 10 years a commission made in heaven. Fred was never short of an opinion or a yarn — some mild, many frankly tinged with the possibility of legal action — so that the weekly 600-word task was conducted on the basis of one 15-minute phone call.

We became close friends. I like to think I saved him a few shillings by advising him not to buy into a get-rich-quick scheme; he passed stories to me from which, as a freelance, I also earned a few bob. By the time of our second acquaintance he was already into his 70s, comfortably settled in a bungalow in the depth of the Yorkshire Dales, passing his time by observing the ways of the countryside, walking his dogs and travelling to his after-dinner speaking for which he had a natural gift.

He was in many ways a contented man. As Waters' book makes clear the national legend, fiery of temper, hard drinking and bluntly spoken, was a myth. His family came from the south Yorkshire coalfield area of Maltby but they were in the main employed around farms, horses and the great outdoors and not deep underground.

Fred loved animals with a passion. He owned an Old English Sheepdog which he had rescued from an animal home and when it died he was as overcome with grief as any man might be at the death of his child. He was due to broadcast that afternoon during a Test at Leeds.

“I'm sorry, I can't do it,” he told the producer. “I am so upset that I might break down on air and that would never do.”

His courtesy was — when people treated him with respect — another pleasant side of this mixture of a man. I used my last story about him to say that he had been taken ill and no doubt many people read the coded message that this was a serious moment.

Soon after he phoned. “I wonder if you could arrange for some friendly news agency to send out a message of gratitude for all the people who have written to wish me well,” he said. Of course I could. “I would like to write to them all, one at a time, but I have not got time left to answer to many letters,” he said.

It was true. A few days later — an unforgettable date of July 1, 2006 — I was sitting at the back of the Headingley Press Box watching England being carted around the field when my mobile rang. “It's Veronica, Ted. We lost Fred this morning. Can you be helpful again?”

She wanted the world to know that the greatest fast bowler who ever drew breath had drawn his last breath.

A few months later Waters was asked to write a biography of Fred. It has taken five years but the time has not been wasted. If you want to know how it was at any time with Fred Trueman, who wanted to be a knight of the realm like Alec Bedser and Colin Cowdrey but only received an OBE, who rose to the top of his profession but caused ordinary people to weep when he died and was a good friend to those who knew him best, beg, borrow or — at worst — pay for a copy of this book.

It will be money — and reading time — well spent.