Richie Benaud was a huge part of my childhood and young adult life. He was the voice of summer and long school holidays; of mid-morning custard creams and lemonade, and more recently of mid-afternoon pints and Twelfth Man hilarity. Much like when Rik Mayall was taken from us last year, it feels like I’ve lost a close friend I never met.
Through the good times and the bad, Richie was always a constant in my life. He was like a mystic father figure – a doyen whose wisdom I sometimes tried to apply to life in general. I was a bit of a fiery adolescent, so Richie’s dulcet tones (where every word seemed measured and thoughtful) provided something of a blueprint. Don’t fly off the handle: the most effective words are those delivered selectively and with dignity. Richie was a sage.
Of course, Richie was a brilliant cricket commentator. Probably the best of all time. When he spoke, people listened. Channel Nine seems to have changed its commentary philosophy in recent times – three ex-players now jabber on incessantly – and sometimes they even talk about the cricket amongst their matey banter. Richie’s method was famously different: he only said something if it added to the pictures. And boy didn’t he do it beautifully,
When Sky won the exclusive rights to televise live test cricket in 2006, English summers were never the same again. An old school-friend once said to me that summer wasn’t officially summer until Richie said ‘morning everyone’ at 11am on the first day of that year’s first test. In time I might feel the same way about Bumble, Nasser and Athers. I’m fond of these guys, but how do you replace the irreplaceable?
‘Time to Say Goodbye’ – Richie’s last words on English TV back in 2005 (it’s worth watching all of it, but skip to 4.55 mins for the goodbye)
I’m too young to remember Richie as a player (I hear he was an excellent captain, a good leg spinner and useful batsman) so I’ll always remember Richie purely as a commentator – sitting in the central commentary position like a statesman in his cream, white, off-white, ivory or beige jacket
In my humble opinion, TV cricket coverage these days tries a little too hard to be stylish and modern. Sky’s team often appear without jackets and ties and with their sleeves rolled up. There’s nothing wrong with this I suppose, but somehow they were never as effortlessly cool as our favourite Australian cricketing doyen.
Ask yourself this: how many kids try to imitate Nick Knight? When I was at school, the coolest kid in class was often the one who could do the best Richie Benaud impression. And this was before the Twelfth Man arrived on our shores.
Richie wouldn’t necessarily like it, but I can’t write a Richie tribute without mentioning Billy Birmingham’s side splitting parodies. Even though they were absurd, and couldn’t have been more different to the real man, Birmingham’s impressions took on a life of their own.
Once upon a time you couldn’t say the words ‘Richie Benaud’ without someone uttering ‘chew for twenty chew’ out of the side of their mouth, or launching a full rendition of Marvellous by MCG Hammer.
Some might not agree, but I always thought the Twelfth Man enhanced the cult of Benaud and added to his popularity. I hear that Richie wasn’t Birmingham’s biggest fan, but imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The Twelfth Man wouldn’t have been so popular had the public not loved Richie so much.
Although today is obviously very sad, take comfort in the fact that Richie is now in cricketing heaven. This summer he’ll be up in the sky watching the Ashes, looking down on us with a satisfied smile and a cheeky glass of chardonnay in his hand.
Richie matured like one of his favourite wines and was the ripe old age of 84 years old when he passed away. He didn’t just have a good innings; he had a truly a great one.
“Monty Lynch……………….it’s his birthday today…………………….here’s Marshal!”
Vale Ritchie, thanks for your massive contribution to my love of cricket.
Ritchie Benaud brings back very happy memories of watching cricket in an arm chair with my Dad who always had the big chair. It may have been blazing hot outside and perfect bike riding weather but cricket with my Dad and Ritchie always took priority.
actualy ritchie and birmingham were on pretty good terms if you dont publish before me in comments I will – Billies obit is the best of the lot
“Don’t fly off the handle: the most effective words are those delivered selectively and with dignity.”
I can never forget his response to Boycott’s support for 4 day tests. Boycott suggested it would make test cricket more exciting. Richie’s response: “Well, who made it boring?”
Very many fine tributes out there today. Russell Jackson has written a lovely piece in the Guardian and there are superb on-line tributes from, amongst others, Peter Miller and Gary Naylor.
Gideon Haigh is of course a must:
And Dan Brettig (one of the very best young writers) has written this perceptive insight into one of the great man’s less acknowledged sides:
Penrith-born Benaud was deeply involved in two great Australian cricket revivals. The first occurred under his captaincy, when Benaud adopted an attacking approach missing from Australian Test cricket since the retirement in 1948 of Sir Donald Bradman. Benaud’s leadership in the 1960/61 series against the West Indies, which included the first ever tied Test, remains his magnificent legacy. The second revival occurred in the 1970s, when Benaud played a crucial role in the administration and presentation of Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket revolution.
An extroverted player, Benaud’s commentary style was spare and understated, and all the more powerful for it. He will be deeply missed.
Tim Blair just gets it as usual
Richie Benaud was (and always will be) the voice of cricket, in fact I’m still mourning his absence from terrestrial commentary, the game seemed somehow more compelling when he was on the mic.
He possessed a voice which could put every cricket viewer at ease and an Australian any Englishman would be happy to call their own.
During a back garden game of test match cricket my brother and I would often say the score in his voice eg. “253 for 2” and be instantly transported to the Lords turf.
Tony Cozier’s tribute to Richie:
Love you Richie. You were marvellous.
T was always my hope that Richie would get a standing ovation at every Test ground in Australia whenever he announced his intention to hang up the 50 Shades of Beige jacket once and for all.
But unfortunately that bloody Sunbeam Alpine got in the way!
It’s hard to put into words the way I’ve been feeling since I heard Richie “From The Body Of The Same Name” Benaud has passed away.
Very sad. Quite nauseous, actually. Struggling to find the right words. Disoriented.
What is the appropriate response to the passing of a man who has been such an integral part of your life, your career, your identity for more than 30 years?
How are you supposed to feel when the bloke with whom millions associate you has delivered his last “chew for chwenty chew”?
I know I won’t be alone in feeling this way. Richie has occupied a special place in our homes and our hearts for decades. The world changed so much over that time. Richie didn’t seem to.
The hair was always cut halfway over his ears and fastidiously swept across from one side.
The cream, bone, white, off-white, ivory and beige wardrobe was unchanging.
The “Welcome back to the MCG” intro was almost reassuring in its familiarity.
And the calls of “Marvellous!”, “Shuuuper effort, that!” and “What a catch! What. A. Catch!” were the soundtrack to summer for generations of Australians.
Richie certainly had some reservations about my 12th Man stuff over the years. My colourful use of language didn’t sit too well with a man who always tried to exude an image as white as his jacket.
That said, as an old media man from way back, he couldn’t fail to see how the 12th Man albums were transforming him into a cult hero, and Nine’s cricket coverage into one of the most iconic broadcasts in Australian TV history.
I was nervous about the first album. It didn’t have my name on it, because I naively thought that if I left it as The 12th Man, Richie wouldn’t know where it came from.
Then I got a call out of the blue from a Melbourne disc jockey called Kevin Hillier. He said he knew it was me on the record, he’d sent Richie a copy to listen to over the weekend and he was interviewing him the following Monday.
I’d hoped the record would have a bit more time to get some airplay and sell a few copies out in store just in case an injunction was slapped on me! But the horse had bolted. So I listened to Richie’s interview on Melbourne radio station 3XY.
It went something along the lines of: “My wife and I have been listening to it all weekend in the flat. We’ve just packed it in our bags before we head to England. We’re looking forward to playing it over there. I’m sure everyone will be rolling around with laughter.”
I was absolutely thrilled.
n the early days, I would send Richie a copy of each album upon release, figuring that attack was the best form of defence. He would write me letters in response – on that beautifully embossed “Benaud & Associates” letterhead of his – critiquing my work like it was a bloody Broadway stage production!
Here’s what he wrote to me after the Wired World of Sports was released:
“Thanks for the cassette and record of your latest creation.
“Plus mark, excellent entertainment as always. Minus mark, the same as last time. A bit too long, too much swearing for the sake of it and Chappelli’s voice still not right.
“But in a word: brilliant.
“Kind regards and good luck,
And this is what he wrote after The 12th Man Again was released:
“Thanks for the LP, tape and CD of the ‘12th Man Again’.
“The usual critique follows, the fee for which will be $A87,000 (to this day, I have no idea what this meant or where the amount came from).
“There are some wonderfully funny and brilliant sequences again and the production is excellent.
“Demerit marks: too much swearing just for the sake of swearing. In this, I’m right on the side of your daughter with her published remark about Daddy using the F-word … and possibly your mum as well! (I used to record at home and my daughter heard me swearing and reported it to mum. Mum then had to explain that it was part of daddy’s work!).
“Some of the voices don’t seem quite right, particularly Chappelli’s again. It seems I have a voice that is easy to copy. But in general terms, other than Greigy, they don’t seem quite as spot on this time.
“I see you’ve hit Number 1 again. Perhaps I should reconsider my retirement!
“In a word, as the tautology kings would say, wonderfully amusing.
“Cheers and salaams,
I found it interesting that he always signed in fountain pen and spelled his name in all lower case letters. But what a fabulous piece of correspondence for me to receive from the great man.
For a bloke who spent so much of his life in the media, he remained a private man. Richie wasn’t a fan of people fussing over his work or accomplishments. I remember getting a call from 60 Minutes once asking whether I’d be part of a story they were wanting to do on Richie. “Sure,” I said. No sooner had I hung up than the producer was back on the blower to tell me Richie had no interest at all in the idea of being on 60 Minutes! The flagship program on his own network!
I must admit that I was quite shocked to see how his health had deteriorated when we shot his brilliant Australia Day “lamb” commercial together at the start of the summer.
The first thing I noticed was that his always impeccably coiffed hair had succumbed to the ravages of chemotherapy. Then, when I put my arm around him and felt just how much he had wasted away, I was profoundly shocked and saddened. The recovery from the accident in the Sunbeam had clearly taken it out of him but he was now facing an even bigger battle as his years of playing cricket hatless had resulted in skin cancer.
There was something in his eyes, too. If you asked him how he was, the reply was always along the lines of, “Pleased to report I’m on the mend.” But you knew that was stoicism, not reality. I was bloody amazed that he even had the strength to show up at all.
How thrilled I was to have been able to catch up with the great man one more time and to be a small part of his fabulous TV ad.
I took the piss out of him for more than 30 years and now here I was working with him on what turned out to be his last major project.
t’s hard to imagine there is another Australian out there as universally loved as Richie. It was a kind of affection that isn’t conditional on cricketing skills or commentary work. People just adored the man.
That’s why everyone gives their mate a knowing nudge when the scoreboard ticks over to 2-22, why entire sections of the crowd don silver wigs and beige jackets at the Sydney Test each year, why reciting Richie’s commentary gems has become a national pastime.
Rest in peace, Richie.
Incomparable, irreplaceable, the one and only (he didn’t like the word ‘doyen’).
Thanks Billy, that was a preciously humourous memory at this sad time
Think that’s a statement Billy B made public yesterday. Not sure if he’s seen this blog and posted it here himself, or whether someone else has done it to clarify his relationship with Richie. Either way, great words and a real insight! It’s a sad time.
My favourite story about Benaud was the one told to me by my father about how he got the Australian captaincy. Initially given to the much younger and vastly more inexperienced Ian Craig, guys like Benaud, Davidson and Harvey all did their best to help out the young tyro even though they much have felt a bit slighted by Craig getting it. After Craig was injured it finally went to Benaud, where it should have been all along, but even after much success in the role he never commented on the strangeness of the original decision to overlook him.
It should by rights have gone to Harvey – he was on the 48 tour after all…
Just in case someone hasn’t seen it, Ian Chappell has written an article too —
“”After you, Ian.” They were the first words spoken to me by Richie Benaud.
It was 1962 and South Australia had just enjoyed a rare victory over a star-studded New South Wales line-up. Benaud, as the not-out batsman, magnanimously stood back to allow Les Favell’s team to walk off the Adelaide Oval first. I was on the field as 12th man and wasn’t about to leave ahead of the Australian captain and a man whose leadership style I’d admired from afar, but he insisted.
That story is indicative of Benaud. He was a thorough gentleman and meticulous in his preparation – I was staggered he knew my name.”
In Richie Benaud, cricket lost a real legend. The man was a great prodigy, a cricketer, a captain and perhaps the best commentators ever. In him we have surely lost one aspect of cricket. RIP Richie!