Cricket journalist Brian Halford delved deep in his research to unearth a gem of a book with The Real Jeeves, one of the finest cricket biographies I have ever read.
Halford writes on Warwickshire cricket for the Birmingham Post and Mail, and it was at Edgbaston that Percy Jeeves developed into an all-rounder of England potential during his two Championship years at the club, 1913 and 1914.
But this is a story of as much interest to Yorkshire fans as to Warwickshire supporters, because Jeeves was born in Earlsheaton, near Dewsbury, developed his burgeoning talents for Goole and then professionally for Hawes – and was cold-shouldered by his native county after being given a trial at Harrogate.
Interest should not be confined only to the Midlands and to Yorkshire, nor exclusively to lovers of the summer game, because the very same Jeeves was the man who inspired P G Wodehouse to give the name Jeeves to Bertie Wooster’s valet, and the real Jeeves at the tender age of 28 went on to die a war hero in the bloody battlefields of the Somme.
Not a stone stays unturned in Halford’s meticulous research into his subject, and it was only by a remarkable set of circumstances that Jeeves came to the notice of Warwickshire, and was taken on by them.
When Jeeves’s family moved from Earlsheaton to Goole, young Percy’s cricket ability was soon spotted by his first mentor, schoolmaster William Appleyard, and after working his way into Goole Town Cricket Club’s second and then first teams Jeeves responded to an advertisement in Athletic News by Hawes Cricket Club who were seeking a professional.
He got the job. He was taken under the wing of the rich and cricket-obsessed Hugh Arden Crallan, who had bought the land and paid for the development of the club. He treated Jeeves like a son, and it was he who arranged the trial with Yorkshire…but when weeks went by without any follow-up it seemed as if Jeeves would have to remain a league professional.
Then Warwickshire’s influential secretary, Rowland Vint Ryder, visited Hawes while on a walking holiday – and would have left the village next morning had he not cut himself so badly while shaving that he had to call upon the local doctor, who suggested that he spend the day relaxing at the cricket match.
Ryder took his advice, was enthralled by the bowling of Jeeves, and promptly asked him: “How would you like to play for Warwickshire?” Jeeves said “Yes”, and was taken on by the very same secretary who years earlier had declined to give Wilfred Rhodes a contract. This time, his judgment could not be faulted.
So the fascinating story of Jeeves rolls on. His ability was such that as the war clouds gathered in the late summer of 1914 he was selected to play for Players v. Gentlemen at The Oval, surely a sign that an England place was not far away.
By this time, inevitably, Jeeves had scored a career-best 86 not out against Yorkshire at Edgbaston, and had made the White Rose further reflect upon what might have been by scooping up 16 wickets in four matches over the two seasons.
Cricket was about to give way to the horrors of war, and Jeeves needed no convincing that he should enlist, quickly joining the 2nd Birmingham Battalion, C Company, part of the Birmingham Pals. The remainder of his days leading to his death on July 22, 1916, are most movingly told.
His name is engraved on Goole’s Cenotaph, one of 452 of the town’s casualties in the First World War, and it is also one of 72,000 names on the Thiepval Monument, situated on the Somme battlefield, which remembers soldiers with no known graves.
The Real Jeeves: The Cricketer Who Gave His Life For His Country and His Name To A Legend, costs £16.99 and can be obtained from Pitch Publishing, A2 Yeoman Gate, Yeoman Way, Durrington, BN13 3QZ, or from Brian Halford at firstname.lastname@example.org
— DAVID WARNER