Thursday, 31 May 2012

Heath Robinson

Fantasy Bob does not need to tell his worldwide readership that there are not many individuals who have the distinction of having their name enter the language as a common term such as Mr Hoover or Mr Biro.

While the term FB will in due course enter the language, meaning an unfunny joke often making irrelevant reference to empire biscuits, FB can think of no cricketers whose name continues to have a wider meaning.  Boycott is of course in wide usage, but the origins of the word do not derive from Geoffrey Boycott and the word does not mean to bat single-mindedly with an eye on one's average.  Instead it derives from the name of a 19th Century Anglo-Irish estate manager, Charles Boycott, whose high rents and evictions caused rent strikes and other protest action which came to be referred to as boycotts. It therefore has nothing to do with cricket.

Bernard Bosanquet,
7 Tests
 25 wickets @ 24.16
Nor can FB find any reference to Mr Googly, who sounds like he might be a stern Victorian who, perhaps after taking tea with Charles Darwin, invented a fiendish spinning delivery while wearing a top hat and sporting mighty sideburns.   Mr Googly does not exist.  However, at one time this delivery was called a Bosey in honour of its creator Bernard Bosanquet who first presented it to the world in 1903. The word googly is of uncertain origin and it is not clear why it replaced Bosey in usage.  FB suspects Australians had something to do with this.  The Bosey or the googly was immensely controversial, was at frist regarded as illegal and unfair. Bosanquet's obituary in the Times stated, 'no man probably has in his time had so important and lasting an influence on the game of cricket.' It is therefore a pity that his name did not survive.

In modern times Dilshan may have got near having his name outlive him - for a time the outrageous shot of his invention was described as the Dilshan scoop, but it now seems unlikely to be shortened to the Dilshan and most commentators now simply refer to it as the scoop.  So is poetry lost in favour of the prosaic.

Heath Robinson - top the Out Bell or the umpire's friend;
bottom, the wicket twister to save the fieldsmen
moving at the end of the over; the blocking bat,
and the the bat for scoring off wides
But today marks the 140th birthday of someone whose name continues to be in everyday parlance.  The cartoonist and illustrator W Heath Robinson was born on 31 May 1872.    He is reknowned for his cartoons of highly elaborate inventions and machines for accomplishing simple feats.  These machines are usually assembled from complex systems of pulleys and levers and powered by steam engines heated by candles or small burners.  His cartoons were so popular that the term Heath Robinson came to be used widely to refer to any apparatus or arrangements which seemed either over complex or held together with string or otherwise hastily improvised.

Anything therefore could be described as a Heath Robinson device or affair.  One of the more celebrated examples is one of the automatic analysis machines built for Bletchley Park during the Second World War to assist in the decryption of German message traffic was named Heath Robinson in his honour. It was a direct predecessor to the Colossus, the world's first programmable digital electronic computer.  At the other end of the scale, when critics describe FB's approach to captaincy as a bit Heath Robinson, the meaning is self evident.

FB is unsure whether Heath Robinson played cricket himself, but he certainly seems to have regarded it with affection for there are several cartoons in which he presents various ways of improving the game.   Happy Birthday.

'Some ingenious suggestions
for giving the bowler a better chance' 


  1. FB should certainly consider some of the options illustrated. The blocking bat looks particulary useful.