The world according to… Jonathan Agnew
The Test Match Special presenter, aka ‘Aggers’, 62, talks about life, cake and minding his language
Cricket is absolutely stuffed with double entendres. You mention something like a ‘leg-slip’ [a fielding position] or ‘full toss’ [a ball reaching the batsman without bouncing] and people assume there’s a hidden meaning.
I was commentating on a Test in 1991 and Ian Botham caught the stumps with his leg. I naturally mentioned that ‘he couldn’t quite get his leg over’ and the late, great Brian Johnston was helpless with laughter. We all were! It’s become part of cricket folklore.
Why so many double entendres? I don’t know. You slip one in and… ha ha! You see, it just seems to happen.
One of my favourite bits of Test Match Special is interviewing famous fans such as Stephen Fry, Lily Allen and Elton John.
I met Elton in his huge tour bus and he had this massive TV screen that seemed to be just for watching cricket.
It was only later that I noticed the cover of his 1977 Greatest Hits Volume II album – it’s a picture of him playing cricket.
I played my first professional game in 1978 for Leicestershire, where I stayed for more than ten years. Did I want to be rich and famous? Well, if I did, I wouldn’t have been playing cricket.
Even as a professional, I had to find extra work during the winter and got a job at Radio Leicester. The game has changed so much in the modern era; you even see cricketers on Strictly!
Having played three Tests for England, I retired at 30. I knew my career wouldn’t last for ever, so I made a practical decision. And if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be doing Test Match Special.
Unfortunately, cricket probably contributed to my divorce [in 1992]. You saw it happening a lot.
You were on tour for months at a time; if you had kids, it messed up the school holidays. Things are much better these days, with partners and kids allowed to join the team.
No place like home
At 62, I may not be able to bowl as fast as I could in my twenties, but I still look after myself.
Walking our three spaniels, Bracken, Bumble and Woody, with my [second] wife Emma seems to keep the weight off.
We actually met in the Eighties when we were both working at Radio Leicester but didn’t get together until years later, then we married in 1996.
Emma went through cancer treatment a few years back and it forced me to reassess my priorities a bit. I’d always been totally focused on work, but these days I love being at home with Emma near Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire doing… not very much at all.
[I love] playing the guitar, learning to cook. No cases of food poisoning yet, which has surprised a lot of people!
Price to pay
I’m proud to say that Test Match Special now attracts listeners from all over the world, but you can forget about watching an England cricket game on any terrestrial TV channel as current broadcast rights cost about a billion quid.
The likes of the BBC or Channel 4 simply can’t afford it. How is the next generation of young cricketers going to be inspired by Ben Stokes or Joe Root if they can’t watch them play?
It’s such a shame because the current England team is playing some really exciting cricket that is going to make this year’s Ashes series very interesting.
Icing on the cake
Let’s not forget the most important aspect of the Test Match Special experience: cake!
Johnners’ [Brian Johnston’s] face would light up when anyone sent in chocolate cake, but after he died, I didn’t want people to think I was trying to take his place, so I stopped talking about it.
The listeners changed my mind because they carried on sending stuff to the commentary box… pork pies, quiches, cakes with logos. My favourite? Who can resist a lemon drizzle?
Test Match Special Live – The Ashes Special, with Jonathan Agnew and Glenn McGrath, tours the UK from 5 April. For tickets and venue information, visit fane.co.uk/TMS
As told to Danny Scott.
This article first appeared in the March 2023 issue of Saga Magazine. Like what you’ve read? Subscribe to Saga Magazine today.
Written by Jonathan Agnew