Preserving Our Literary Heritage: ‘They Gave The Crowd Plenty Fun’ 

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(Extract of an interview with Colin Babb, June 2014, Georgetown, Guyana. Babb is the author of a book on cricket: ‘They gave the crowd plenty fun.’ He has worked as a journalist for the BBC and as a radio and online content producer. Babb has Guyanese roots.)

PP: We devote a lot of time and attention to cricket, here in Guyana, in the Caribbean and other cricket-loving places but the list on the literature of the game is somewhat meagre. So this book – ‘They gave the crowd plenty fun’ is a welcome addition. I am intrigued by the title – what’s in the name?
CB: I sort of borrowed those words for the title of my book from a song penned by Lord Beginner who was a Trinidadian calypso-singer and he penned that song after the WI won their first test match in England at Lord’s in June 1950.
PP: This interview then is a sort of an anniversary.
CB: Yes, come to think about it.
So Lord Beginner wrote what is popularly called ‘Cricket Lovely Cricket.’
PP: What’s the song true title?
CB: ‘Victory Test Match.’
PP: I know only the popular phrase, ‘Cricket Lovely Cricket.’
CB: Well, some of the words go like this: ‘They gave the crowd plenty fun/Second Test and West Indies won/Cricket lovely cricket. The bowling was super fine/Ramadhin and Valentine.’
I borrowed those words because they were very symbolic to a lot of people from the Caribbean living in England and the game meant a lot to them, not only for political and cultural reasons, but for the sense of getting together and having fun. So that is why I wanted to have the word ‘fun’ in the title.
But the book itself is really about the connection between cricket and the Caribbean community living in Britain which has a very long and rich history. And it is not about the game only-it is about what happens beyond the game, the significance culturally.
PP: ‘Beyond the Boundary’
CB: I didn’t want to say it because I didn’t want to describe my book in the same breath with the great C. L. R. James; I wouldn’t be so presumptuous but a friend of mine said when he bought the book, he put it next to James’s book so in that respect, I am honoured.
PP: What motivated you to write-‘They gave the crowd plenty fun’?
CB: Cricket–West Indian cricket-is one of my lifelong interests.
PP: Started where and when?
CB: As early as I was able to walk and talk. As a young boy growing up in Britain of Caribbean descent, born in Britain.
PP: The connection to Guyana?
CB: My mother was born in Georgetown, Guyana, and migrated in the early 60s like many others in Guyana and the Caribbean did. Even though I was brought up in Britain, I was always aware of the three Ws – Worrell, Walcott, and Weekes; Ramadhin and Valentine; Hall and Griffith; and growing up in a Guyanese household, I was particularly aware of Kanhai and Lloyd. My mother went to Chatham High School in Georgetown, was a year below Clive Lloyd, I’m not sure if they were friends but that occurrence was usually mentioned.
PP: As a sort of honour– having attended the same school with Lloyd.
CB: Yes. My first experience with cricket was actually watching cricket on television – the 1973 tour when the West Indies came to England, I remember that very, very well because that was the first time a colour television came into the house and suddenly I discovered that the ball was red and the grass green. It was a wonderful discovery, the discovery of colour television. But I remembered that tour very well-that was when I connected to the West Indies team as a second generation of Caribbean descent in Britain. That team was led by Rohan Kanhai and the West Indies won that tour – I can never forget that, the scene of jubilation and all that at Lord’s and the Oval. The jubilation of watching a team coming from the West Indies representing West Indians in the Diaspora, who were at the time struggling with the usual minority migrants’ problems.
PP: Finding proper jobs, housing, getting a proper education.
CB: Racial discrimination.
PP: Some publishing houses were birthed from those very issues like New Beacon Books, Bogle-L’ouverture Publications and Hansib Publications, giving the minorities a voice.
CB: I can talk about Hansib which was set up in 1970 by Arif Ali who is Guyanese.
PP: Hansib has produced numerous books on cricket by Clem Seecharan and Frank Birbalsingh who are also Guyanese.
You said earlier that you are doing another book on cricket.
CB: What I’m actually doing is a revised edition of ‘They gave the crowd plenty fun’ which in my opinion will be bigger and better because it will include more interviews, more stories. The book is not just about cricket. It’s about me growing up in Britain, my experiences with cricket and telling that story. A lot of it is about fun, it not about the serious, sociological nature of cricket, or implications for the sport. It’s about me having fun with cricket and the joy of cricket and how that joy connects with the community.
The new edition will include an interview I just did with Basil Butcher here in Guyana. We had a real-real gaff, as you would say. I have also spoken at length with Lance Gibbs, Tony Cozier, Dicky Bird, so I am not talking to and about West Indians, I am talking to people who have a connection to West Indian cricket whether they are umpires, writers, players, commentators, and fans
PP: They all bring something to the table.
CB: I’ve also spoken to English fans in England and to find out what they thought when the West Indies was playing there – about the atmosphere and the noise because when the West Indies was playing there it was a different atmosphere from what the English fans were used to in terms of the chants, and the shouting and the type of foods they brought into the stadiums which is why the West Indians came to matches in England because they can recreate a sense of being West Indian in a cricket ground.
PP: And that’s the essence of your book – cricket giving the people plenty fun.
Let’s now close this book by starting from the top. The table of contents is divided into three parts namely ‘The Origins of West Indian Cricket,’ ‘The Rise of West Indian Cricket Dominance’ and ‘The Decline of West Indian Cricket Dominance.’
CB: Yes, this book is split into three parts but the next book will be expanded, there will be more chapters, it will be more diverse, for instance, I talk about how cricket has not regained that hold on the West Indian community in Britain, and there are many reasons for that, I can’t list them all but I will just focus on the more important ones.
PP: A quick summary will suffice.
CB: I think the results haven’t helped in the last 20/30 years especially in the test matches. The results produced by the West Indian team have been disappointing but there had been some success in the shorter formats of the game like the 20/20 World Cup win in Sri Lanka. This leads to another question of whether the West Indians would be more successful in the limited-overs cricket and not Test cricket and how that plays out in the Diaspora.
Also we have a situation not only in Britain but also in Canada and America where there are people of West Indian heritage who are second, third, fourth, fifth generation so their connection with the West Indies is rather limited. So when the West Indies come now to England, it doesn’t really connect to the current generation as it did in the past.
Additionally, the current generation looks to other sports for their thrills and spills, like soccer and athletics.
PP: So one of the reasons for the decline in the popularity of West Indian cricket can be found in the rise of interest in other sports by West Indian supporters.
Written By Petamber Persaud
(Responses to this author telephone (592) 226-0065 or email:oraltradition2002@yahoo.com)