A REAL LIFE COMIC BOOK HERO by Peter Wynne Thomas
Remember ‘Hotspur’ and ‘Wizard’, Biggles and Batman? Stories of fictional heroes to whom schoolboys aspired. Of course they didn’t really exist. You couldn’t go through life like they did. They never seemed to pass exams. They took on without fear of favour whatever foes they met and proved victorious.
In fact one such did exist – Arthur Carr, captain of Nottinghamshire and England. “The Germans can wait”, he thought, “I must first save Nottinghamshire.” A publisher wouldn't risk a story that began like that, but as the cliché goes, ‘Truth can be Stranger than Fiction!’
It was typical Carr. He was captaining Notts at The Oval and Surrey were completely dominating the game. As a reserve officer, Carr was in the first category to be mobilized as the First World War broke out. He received a telegram demanding his immediate return to barracks.
He decided that he would delay his country’s call until he had batted.
To remind those who don’t recall the situation. Surrey hit 542, with Jack Hobbs making a double hundred. 15,000 spectators were watching the game. Notts decided to take a cautious approach in their reply. The barracking got so bad, that police were called to arrest the worst offenders, ejecting them from the ground. It was in this atmosphere that young Carr (he was only 21) went to the wicket. He helped John Gunn add 54, then packed his bags, leaving Jim Iremonger in charge and went to deal with the Germans.
Five years later Carr was back to resume his cricketing career, as Notts skipper. He soon built a reputation as the most inspiring of county captains (by the way, he never passed any exams, was thrown out of Eton and failed to get into Sandhurst...it is believed he spent just a week at Oxford).
When England needed a leader to bring back the Ashes, after three successive failed rubbers, they picked Carr. That was in 1926. He had the most dis-spiriting experience. The First Test was at Trent Bridge – the first time a Notts player had led England on his home ground. The match was washed out, bar a few overs.
The next three Tests were also drawn and final match was at The Oval – the decider. The selectors sacked Carr. At least that’s his version. The two-faced Warner told him he’d been dropped due to worries about his health.
Carr was bitterly upset, but he continued as Notts captain and in 1929 led that county to the Championship – after a gap of 22 years. He was also re-appointed as England’s captain that summer.
Duncan Hamilton’s recent biography of Harold Larwood gives the impression that Notts managed to become County Champions whilst drunk! Carr, according to Hamilton, was the man who instigated the drinking culture in the Notts dressing room. Certainly I spoke to people who lived adjacent to Carr’s house – Bulcote Manor – who remember drunken, wild parties.
Speaking to Captain Brown about Carr, Brown recalled Carr having to be strapped into his pads and pointed in the direction of the pitch, but one feels that Lady Astor’s attack in the House of Commons that England lost the 1930 Test series through drink, she suggested that the Australians only drank tea, as hardly credible. Clearly for Notts and England there were days of celebration and they are remembered rather than the hard practice that went before.
The climax to Carr’s career was the famous 1932-33 Bodyline series, which is the nub of Hamilton’s book. The story is too well known to need repeating, but nowadays everyone agrees that Larwood was badly let down by the England authorities and to an extent by the Notts Committee, but his cause was not really helped by Carr’s gung-ho approach. Larwood trusted Carr and the latter acted as Larwood’s manager, unpaid. Going forth with all guns blazing might work in the ‘Hotspur’ or for Biggles, but not for Larwood trying to combat the MCC.
Carr continued as Notts captain through 1933 and 1934, but his use of ‘Bodyline’ in county cricket, soon produced adverse results. Both Lancashire and Middlesex complained and threatened to drop fixtures against Notts. The Notts Committee sacked Carr as captain. The membership of the County Club revolted and forced the Committee to resign en bloc. An election was held with the pro-Carr camp putting up candidates against the whole of the previous Committee. By rather dubious tactics the old committee members were re-elected, though Carr did win a seat. He was not reinstated as captain – Sir Julien Cahn paid for two of his team’s cricketers, George Heane and Stuart Rhodes, to be captain for 1935. Carr never played for Notts again. Instead he wrote (or had ghosted) his memoirs ‘Cricket with The Lid Off’, which probably succeeded in alienating the few in cricket’s hierarchy who still believed in him. Carr was a comic book hero to the end!
Carr retired to Yorkshire – his original family home in Nottinghamshire had been Rempstone Hall, which his father, a very rich stockbroker, had bought in order to join the Leicestershire hunting set. The family were heavily involved in horse racing and owned, among a string of race horses, ‘Golden Miller’ and ‘Solanum’, both potential Grand National winners. Arthur Carr often disappeared from Trent Bridge during a county game to watch the family’s mounts at Colwick.
Carr died in 1963, shoveling snow from his driveway brought on a heart attack. My own efforts to track down and interview all former Nottinghamshire cricketers unfortunately began the year after Carr’s death. All the Notts cricketers, who played under his command, are now deceased. We shall never really know how true the numerous Carr tales really are.
Voicing His Concerns
Nottinghamshire finished 8th in the 17-team County Championship in 1933, led by a frustrated coach in Arthur Carr.
A few weeks into the season, he wrote a letter to Nottinghamshire Secretary, Captain HA Brown, outlining his concerns about the quality of players on the Notts staff.
This is the most awful team I have ever had, the batting is awful and the bowling, my god. I have not got a bowler. Voce can hardly move and you know what the rest are like. We shall not win a match until Larwood is right. It’s most disheartening and I am feeling it very much. If anyone would like to take on my job they can have it. I wired Hogarth suggesting Larwood should see a specialist in London, he replies nothing can be done without the sanction of the MCC. I will see Findlay. He must be operated on at once or he will never bowl again. Will you arrange for a selection meeting next Thursday? I shall have a lot to say. I hope it rains for the rest of the season
Nottinghamshire First-Class Number: 305
One of Arthur Carr's bats is on display in the Long Room; Bat No 29