Sidelines - Andrew Martin on Fred Trueman, the great northerner

Fred Trueman - the last of the great professional northerners

Whenever I see that advert urging you to "take the cricket with you this summer", I think of one of the funniest stories I've ever heard, which was told on Test Match Special by Fred Trueman. The story - Fred swore it was true - concerned a pompous senior RAF officer at the controls for the first time of a flying boat, which he insisted on piloting without any assistance from the junior officers in the cockpit with him. But when he seemed to be about to land on a conventional airstrip, they nerved themselves to remind him that a flying boat does not have wheels. "Of course I knew that," snapped the senior officer, as he pulled the plane out of its descent. He flew on, landing safely on a lake, whereupon he lambasted his fellow officers once again for thinking he'd be so stupid as to land a flying boat on concrete, and he was still spouting forth indignantly as he stepped out of the cockpit straight into the water.

Rain had stopped play, obviously. Or possibly not, thinking back, because cricket commentary was an even more laid-back business then than it is today.

There's some Lancastrian bloke on Test Match Special these days who sounds like Andy Kershaw's dad, but I haven't paid close attention to the programme since Fred left. He had a brilliant sense of comic timing, which improved still further as he got older, and it sat so strangely with his curmudgeonly reputation. Edward Heath has developed in the same way.

I also enjoyed Fred on Indoor League (and believe me, I am going to move on from him in a minute), a Yorkshire TV series of the Seventies, featuring men contesting pub "sports" such as darts, shove halfpenny and bar billiards. It went out at 5.20pm, in the children's viewing slot, so it was odd that a fulsomely sideburned Fred addressed the viewers while smoking a pipe and sipping a pint of beer - although I don't think this was any worse than a recent item on Newsround (a children's current affairs programme, and an emetic for anyone over the age of nine) in which the presenter announced that the winner of Big Brother will be picking up "seventy grand".

Fred Trueman was a brilliant professional northerner - he made all the others look like amateurs - and as such he was among the last of a dying breed. Alan Bennett, we read, has writer's block; Geoff Boycott lives (relatively) quietly somewhere near Bournemouth, Parky's gone global, Roy Hattersley I keep seeing in St James's Square, and although Melvyn Bragg kicked off his new radio series in York, his name would be triggered instantly in my mind if I were playing a word-association game and someone said "Hampstead".

This article first appeared in the 05 August 2002 issue of the New Statesman, Tony and Gordon want you to be happy