‘Calypso at Lords! The Turkey Trot on the hallowed turf! “outrageous sir”, said an old member, “Just outrageous.”’
When the West Indies first beat England at cricket at Lords in 1950, hundreds of West Indians living in Britain had obviously turned up to support them…
Their numbers at Lord’s in June were relatively small, not more than 100. But they made more of an impression than this statistic would suggest:
“The West Indian supporters created an atmosphere of joy such as Lord’s had never known before”. The Times, snooty as ever, described West Indian supporters as providing “a loud commentary on every ball” and, after the last English wicket had fallen, invading the field armed with “guitar-like instruments.” In Jamaica’s Gleaner, the match report noted that West Indian fans had been “beating out time on dustbin lids” and that “one enthusiast scraped away on a cheesegrater with a carving knife.” Not surprisingly, “bottles of rum were produced like magic,” reported the Gleaner, while England’s Daily Telegraph and Morning Post ran a story under the headline “Calypsos sung at Lord’s”. When the final English wicket fell, the Windies supporters rushed onto the pitch to party. Lord Kitchener (Aldwyn Roberts), a famous Trinidadian calypso artist, led them in singing victory songs:
‘”I went there, with a guitar. And we won the match. After we won the match, I took my guitar and I call a few West Indians, and I went around the cricket field, singing. And I had an answering chorus behind me, and we went around the field singing and dancing. That was a song that I made up. So, while we’re dancing, up come a policeman and arrested me. And while he was taking me out of the field, the English people boo him, they said, “Leave him alone! Let him enjoy himself! They won the match, let him enjoy himself.” And he had to let me loose, because he was embarrassed. So I took the crowd with me, singing and dancing, from Lords, into Piccadilly in the heart of London. And while we’re singing and dancing and going to Piccadilly, the people opened their windows wondering what’s happening. I think it was the first time they’d ever seen such a thing in England. And we’re dancing in Trinidad style, like mas,” and dance right down Piccadilly and dance around Eros. The police told me we are crazy. So, we went a couple of rounds of Eros. And from there, we went to the Paramount, a place where they always had a lot of dancing. And we spend the afternoon there, dancing and having a good time.”
You can imagine what the stuffed shirts of the MCC made of it: one diarist sniffed it was “unnecessary”. Generally the British press congratulated the West Indies side with generous condescension. Only the Evening Standard managed to come up with its usual lovely turn of phrase (consciously racist or just stupidly ignorant?) “the blackest day for English cricket”.
Written later that day, the Victory Calypso immortalised the spin bowling pair of Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine:
Cricket lovely Cricket,
At Lord’s where I saw it;
Cricket lovely Cricket,
At Lord’s where I saw it;
Yardley tried his best
But Goddard won the Test.
They gave the crowd plenty fun;
Second Test and West Indies won….
Chorus: With those two little pals of mine
Ramadhin and Valentine.
Walcott, Weekes and Worrell held up their name
With wonder shots throughout the game
But England was beaten clean out of time
With the spin bowling of Ramadhin and Valentine.
West Indies was feeling homely,
Their audience had them happy,
When Washbrook’s century had ended,
West Indies voices all blended…
Hats went in the air,
People shout and jump without fear,
So at Lord’s was the scenery,
It bound to go down in history
There’s a dispute about whether Lord Kitchener or fellow calypsonian Lord Beginner (Egbert Moore) wrote the song. Lord Beginner certainly later recorded it and had the hit, but some present on the day remember Kitchener coming up with some of the lines.
The occasion could not help but have enormous significance. All the Caribbean islands from which the Windies team were drawn were British colonies, and the prevailing opinion in the UK, from Labour government, the press, to vast sections of the population of whatever class, felt that this the way things should be and would remain.
But pressure for change had been building in the Caribbean. Nationalist movements had been developing since the 1920s and 30s; black trade unions had been increasingly active in many parts of the region. ‘Moderate’ politicians, taking tentative steps towards possible independence, were being jostled from below by more radical voices.
Also significant was the nature of many of the West Indian spectators, present in London at the time, early movers at the start of the process of migration that would bring thousands of Afro-Caribbeans to the UK and change society here forever. A number of them – including both Kitchener and Beginner – had come over on the Empire Windrush in 1948, widely seen as heralding the birth of that change.
By the time the 1950 touring side arrived, there were around 5,000 Caribbean-born people in the country. The victory was celebrated enthusiastically both here and in the West Indies. In the Caribbean, the victory sparked scenes of delirium with public holidays in Barbados and Jamaica. Undoubtedly it had an impact on self-confidence which influenced the increasingly unstoppable momentum towards independence from British rule. Ironically, as with all West Indies sides until the 1960s, the team was captained by a white cricketer, John Goddard, and dominated by a white clique. Goddard himself was known for anti-black comments. Its also true that although to some extent cricket played an integrating force in West Indian region, there were also intense rivalries and resentments between the islands over the make-up of the team.
I was also always told that of old a number of the West Indies cricket team would always come down and hang at the Coach and Horses in Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, the first black-owned pub in modern Britain, in the heart of one the first areas afro-caribbeans first settled in, and still an area with a strong black community – also that some of the crowd that day ended up there that evening. Though I lived over the road, and used to drink there (in its last incarnation with a West Indian landlady before it was closed for several years and translated into a succession of soulless hipster shite-spots), I have never found out whether this is myth or truth.
An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online