New biography will cast fresh light on story of cricket legend Fred Trueman

Ian Botham once described Fred Trueman as cricket’s first ‘superstar’ and while there are others with equal claims on that title there is no doubt that the Yorkshire and England fast bowler attracted attention in a way that set him apart from most of his contemporaries.

Instantly recognisable for his unruly mop of black hair and fearsomely expressive features, Fiery Fred had a volatile temperament to go with his venomous pace.  His capacity to ruffle the cricket establishment as well as opposing batsmen won him an army of fans.

Given that he has been the subject of two biographies as well as memoirs that he penned himself, it might be thought there is little about him that is not already documented but a new life story written by journalist Chris Waters, to be published later in the year, promises fresh material and a more detached appraisal.

The Yorkshire Post cricket correspondent interviewed more than one hundred former players, both teammates and opponents, as well as members of his family and discovered that the brash persona and forthright views Trueman carried forward into his media career concealed a character who was somewhat less confident and more insecure than might have been supposed.

“There have been two previous biographies, one by John Arlott in 1971 which was Portrait of a Fast Bowler, which was exactly what it said in the tin,” Waters said.  “Don Mosey, who was a friend of Trueman’s, did another in 1991.

“It was a surprise how much new material there is about him that has not been written about, particularly about his family background, which has not really been covered at all.  To me that has been the most interesting part, to see where he came from, because the other biographies only scratch the surface of that.”

Waters said that almost everyone whose memories he sought was freely co-operative and willing to talk.

“One of the best contacts has been Bob Platt, the former Yorkshire inswing bowler who partnered Trueman many times.  They were very close to the extent that Platt used to take holidays at Trueman’s villa in Spain.  He has been able to offer me a really close insight into Trueman as a teammate.

“Fred’s widow Veronica has been extremely helpful and his sister Flo gave me a huge insight into his family background.

“The most interesting thing was to learn about the tough circumstances he came up from. He painted a rather bucolic picture of his background, almost as if he grew up in some idyllic Yorkshire country setting, where in reality his family came from a bleak, South Yorkshire mining community and in a way were almost perceived as part of a social underclass.

“The family lived literally on the edge of a pit yard, in a row of terraced houses, miners’ cottages, right next to the Maltby Main pit.

“That part of the story is very moving and emotive, really.  I think people looked at them strangely because they were seen as living in the middle of nowhere, removed from the rest of the community, this quite large family living in a cramped house with the boys in one bedroom, the girls in another and the grandmother sleeping in the living room.

“His father was a miner but not all the family worked in the pits.  Others were gardeners or gamekeepers, a variety of things.  But suffice to say it was an impoverished background, which was not the picture he described.”  (Continues after the video clip)
WATCH Fred Trueman in action in this video clip, which shows him taking five wickets without conceding a run against Australia at Headingley in 1961 and six wickets for four runs against West Indies at Edgbaston in 1963. The clip finishes with his 300th Test wicket at The Oval in 1964.

Waters says the book is more about Trueman the man than Trueman the player although the development of his character is set against the background of his career on the field with Yorkshire and England.  Every great sporting story has defining moments and Waters was particularly keen to dig beneath the surface of Trueman’s first venture overseas.

“His first tour,  of the West Indies, had a massive effect on the rest of his career because he was accused of various misdemeanours and came home with a reputation as a bad boy.  I spoke a lot with Trevor Bailey, Tom Graveney and Alan Moss, who were at the time the only three who had been there with him who were still alive.

“I’ve really tried to get to the bottom of what happened and what he was supposed to have done and my own view is that he was badly treated.”

Bob Platt provided much insight into Trueman as a colleague. “He was a very colourful character in the dressing rooms but also insecure as well,” Waters said.  “There were things that you did not necessarily expect to find out about him because he had this bravado and swagger on the field.  But he was not that confident within himself.”

Born in Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, Waters grew up in Lincoln and began his journalistic career in Worcester before returning home to a four-year stint on the Lincoln Chronicle.  From there he moved to the Nottingham Evening Post, for whom he covered his first season of cricket in 2000 and has been reporting on Yorkshire for the Post since 2004.  This is his first book.

“Trueman is perhaps a difficult subject to start off with,” he said.  “In some ways he is a great subject to start with because there are so many stories about him to but in other ways he is very challenging.

“He had a very colourful life and there was quite a bit of controversy and you have to try to do it as sensitively as you can without losing the impact.

“I did not want to write anything that was just a hagiography because there has been a lot of that about him.  You don’t want blind reverence and I don’t think people expect that now.

“At the same time you don’t want to just gratuitously upset people, but you want to be honest.”

Fred Trueman: The Authorised Biography is due for publication by Aurum Press in October. The preliminary cover design, featuring Trueman in his later years puffing on his ever-present pipe, conveys a wonderfully atmospheric feel of latent menace.

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