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Memories of Ted Dexter

Some personal anecdotes

Ted Dexter, the former England cricketer and Renaissance man, has died aged 86.  Last year he published his autobiography 85 Not Out.  It's a great read for anyone interested in cricket of a bygone era, packed with anecdotes about a charismatic amateur sportsman who lived life to the full.  I first met Ted Dexter in 1987 and had the pleasure of working with him on a variety of assignments - but particularly the cricket rankings - for many years.  He was generous, thoughtful, and always curious. It was a privilege to know him.

Here are a few personal memories.

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April 1990. My employer Deloittes had been taken over by Coopers & Lybrand, and I was beginning to realise that I did not fit in this corporate world.  I decided the way forward was to set up on my own, but with a mortgage to pay and no guaranteed work, it felt like a huge risk.  I had known Ted for about three years at this point, and so decided to call him to ask if I could visit him and discuss my plans.  He invited me over to his home in Ealing.  Sat in his lounge, I explained my plans to go freelance. I wondered if I could offer my services, by helping him to develop new sponsorship proposals and to manage the cricket rankings (which Gordon Vince and I had helped Ted to devise).  In return, might Ted be able to pay me a retainer, to help me get on my feet? He listened intently, and at the end said warmly: "Yes, I think that would work. How about a glass of wine to celebrate?".  The security of knowing I had some income was a huge boost for me.  It gave me time to develop new freelance work, in particular with The Civil Service College down in Sunningdale.  It also gave me the opportunity to write my first book, 'What Is A Googly?', for which Ted wrote the Foreword.  In fact I was to remain one of Ted Dexter's Associates until he closed the business and retired to France thirteen years later.

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In 2001, Ted and I were in Leeds for a cricket evening, where we and a couple of others were doing an after-dinner presentation.  When the event was over, Ted offered us a lift back to our hotel in his Bentley.  He wanted to show off an exciting new device that he'd just acquired: a SatNav.  This was typical of Ted, he loved experimenting with new technology. He tapped in the hotel address and then clicked for directions.  The SatNav instructed him to take the next right turn, which he did.  It was a narrow cul de sac.  The next five minutes were spent doing a ten-point-turn to get back on to the main road.  Ted switched off the SatNav and nothing more was said of it.

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In 1999 Ted and I were booked to speak at a couple of cricket events in the Channel Islands.  The flight from Jersey to Guernsey was in a cramped 12-seater plane.  The weather was wet and blustery, and Ted and I were sat in the rear two seats, feeling the worst of the turbulence.  I noticed Ted lean out to look at the pilot.  "I'm just wondering," he said, "if the pilot were to pass out, would I be able to climb over the seats up to the front and take over the controls?"  

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In 1992/3 Ted was the Chairman of the England Selectors, and under huge pressure.  England were in the middle of a disastrous tour of India, and the media were blaming Ted.  I was in the Ealing office when Ted's secretary Pat took a call from the BBC, inviting Ted to appear on Newsnight that evening.  Sounding exasperated, Ted gave the three of us in the office a lecture on why the squad selections had been correct. I thought maybe I should make a suggestion. "The trouble is," I said tentatively, "the public think you are in denial and not listening.  I think it might help if you were to acknowledge that maybe in hindsight you might have done things differently."  Ted nodded thoughtfully and seemed to accept the suggestion. That evening I watched Newsnight with particular interest.  Grilled on why the tour had gone wrong and whether he had made mistakes Ted said: "Well, we might have put too much faith in Richard Blakey, the new wicket-keeper."  I felt rather flattered that he seemed to have taken my advice. Whether he should have done is another matter.  A friend of mine who had a senior job in PR used to have a mantra: "Never apologise, never explain."  A few months later, Ted resigned from the post.

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In 1995, freed from the burden of England selection, Ted hired a friend of mine, Sarah Wood, to be his PA for a new cricket sponsorship he'd landed with the whiskey distillers Whyte & Mackay.  Sarah's job included liaising with the press and distributing materials to them at county grounds.  On one occasion, she told me later, she was at Lord's cricket ground and Ted joined her on a visit to the press box.  He had turned up on his motorbike in full leathers.  Sarah was struck by how stylish and charismatic he was, and how much of a draw he was for the journalists.  Everyone wanted to come up and talk to him, find out how he was and swap stories, and he chatted with all of them.  "They love him," she told me.

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January 2019.  England were touring the West Indies, and their opening batsman Keaton Jennings was having a wretched time.  It was my son Adam's birthday party, and I was taking him and five of his friends to do an Escape Room in Bermondsey, South London.  I sat in the reception while Adam and team set off on their one hour quest.  The phone rang.  "Rob - it's Ted Dexter here. I need to get hold of Benedict Bermange [the Sky scorer] - can you ask him to call me.  I want to tell Sky about what Jennings is doing wrong.  He's not moving his head, he's lunging at the ball and he's a sucker for being caught behind every time the ball is just outside off stump."  I texted Benedict as asked.  I've no idea if the Sky team consulted Ted, but here was an 84 year old still theorising about cricket and still wanting to see players get better.  I hope I'm still as motivated and engaged as that when I'm 84.