David Parkin on wit, wisdom and film noir

FAREWELL then Mike Carey.

You may well not have heard of him but his recent passing brought many tributes including one from former Guardian journalist and Wisden editor Matthew Engel who described him as “one of the most talented, versatile and prominent cricket journalists of his generation”.

Mike, who is pictured above on the right with former Derbyshire and England cricketer Mike Hendrick, was an old friend and colleague of my parents and another gifted writer forged at Raymonds news agency in Derby which produced a seemingly never ending conveyor belt of journalistic talent who went on to Fleet Street and media across the world.

Former colleagues, including sports journalist Neil Hallam, recall Mike as the most successful freelance cricket writer on the county circuit, cutting a dashing figure when arriving in his sports car at cricket grounds the length and breadth of England.

On overseas tours he was a regular member of the Test Match Special commentary team and became the host of the Sunday League coverage on BBC2.

His well informed and often witty approach saw him appointed cricket correspondent of the Daily Telegraph in 1982, inheriting the mantle of the great E.W. Swanton.

Engel describes the role as “arguably the most prestigious job in our business” but my Dad went further, telling me “it was the best job in Fleet Street”.

When I asked him why, he said it involved visiting cricket grounds across the country in the summer and then following the England team on its tours across the world during the winter.

“And you can live off your expenses and never have to touch your salary,” my father explained.

That was illustrated when I visited Mike’s cottage in a pretty village near Derby.

In my teenage years I developed an interest in film noir – the genre of dark thriller movies which emerged post the Second World War – and Mike was a true aficionado with hundreds of films and books alongside an extensive music collection.

I used to spend hours perusing his collection of books and films and Mike would record copies of his films onto VHS tapes – he had two video recorders which, to me, seemed incredibly futuristic.

When I admired a large mahogany drinks bar groaning with bottles and glasses in the corner of his living room, he nodded and told me that was what he bought himself after one of England’s tours of Sri Lanka.

I didn’t ask him if it was on expenses.

When Mike got the job at the Daily Telegraph his arrival contrasted with his public  school educated predecessors who were as comfortable in a cricket press box as an MCC committee room.

As Engel pointed out in a fulsome tribute on the Cricket Writers’ Club website: “Carey represented a massive change. He was a grammar school boy, rooted in Derby, who seemed to represent a complete cultural revolution.

“The Telegraph sports pages were spacious and thorough but their approach had not altered much since Edwardian times and Carey might have been a major contributor to its modernisation.”

But Mike only spent four years in this prestigious role.

His talented and witty writing won him the job but he also had a stubborn streak and it was that which prompted his departure from a job that so many others coveted.

Engel recalls: “In August 1986 there was a minor exchange of words involving Imran Khan and a drunk in the crowd at Worcester in a NatWest semi-final. The tabloids made much of it; the Telegraph suggested that Carey might include something. He told them he was the cricket correspondent not the drunks-in-crowd correspondent. This could and should have been a minor bump in the road but what happened next was worthy of Thomas Hardy. There was no communication between Carey and the sports editor, who thought he had resigned; Carey believed he had been sacked. And his name disappeared from the paper forever. “Sorry” really was the hardest word.”

He went on to freelance for The Independent, turning up at press boxes around the country, often accompanied by one or more of his beloved Labradors.

The stubborn streak continued when fellow members of the press complained that the dogs often didn’t follow strict press box etiquette.

There were more fallings out and eventually dogs were banned from press boxes.

Mike later fell out with The Independent, but former colleagues can’t remember why.

Engel’s tribute contains several stories which showcase Mike Carey’s quick wit and sense of fun.

I know fellow former sports writer Neil Hallam furnished Matthew Engel with much of his material and I wouldn’t be surprised if the funniest stories came from him given Neil’s incredible memory and sense of humour.

Mike wrote sports diary columns for The Guardian in the late 1960s and wrote cricket match reports for The Telegraph under the pseudonym ‘Henry Bevington’ (Bevington = bevy, which came after he had filed his copy).

Engel recalls: “The Observer sent him on England’s horrendous 1974-75 tour of Australia, where he came up with the notion that England’s embattled captain, Mike Denness, had scored so many noughts that he ought to move to the Sydney suburb of Woolloomooloo.

“He is also credited with the wonderful description of a Yorkshireman: ‘someone born within the sound of Bill Bowes’, who was a former Yorkshire and England bowler who went on to write for the Yorkshire Post.

As the son of a Yorkshireman, Mike probably thought he could get away with that quip.

After his cricket writing career ended, Mike went on to write books and present a weekly music show on Radio Derby which saw him impress a whole new audience with his knowledge and eloquence.

Mike wrote a biography called ‘I’ll Sing You A Thousand Love Songs: The Denny Dennis Story’ about an apprentice electrician from Derby who became one of the most popular romantic vocalists of the pre-war British dance band era and was recruited as lead singer with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in 1948, following in the illustrious footsteps of Frank Sinatra.

Publication of the book saw Dennis, whose real name was Ronald Dennis Pountain and was living in relative obscurity in Barrow-in-Furness, back in the media and publicity spotlight in the years before his death.

Mike Carey died last month aged 87.

He was rescued from the River Derwent near his home in Derby but later pronounced dead in hospital.

He had been walking his rescue Labrador called Max.

I hadn’t seen Mike for many years and I had heard he had become reclusive.

But friends who bumped into him walking his dogs always reported him to be in good spirits.

His sister Joyce told my Mum that Mike enjoyed our times discussing film noir.

This talented and vastly knowledgeable man was always generous with his time to an eager teenager who knew little.

One December he gave me a three-hour VHS tape containing not one but two classic but rare movies of the genre – remember it was a time before you could buy them on DVD or download them.

On the gift tag Mike wrote: “To David, hope you are dreaming of a Noir Christmas…”

I’ll leave the final lines to Matthew Engel (with a little bit of help, I suspect, from Neil Hallam).

“There were many women in his life in his younger days, though he never married. He lived alone with his music and his large collection of old films and his last Lab, Max. When he became frail, he was nursed by his sister Joyce. And it seems he was contented, without regrets, which is all anyone can ask.”

Have a great weekend.

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