The Yiddle in the middle
The Ashes mission of cricket’s Jewish patron
As the cricket season approaches, it is time to tell of a little-known episode of Ashes history - the encounter between the demon bowler and the Jewish knight.
In 1932, England went out to Australia and regained the Ashes with a thumping 4-1 win against a team that included the incomparable Sir Donald Bradman. The English triumph resulted partly from a new tactic, short fast-pitched bowling aimed at the batsman's body - hence the name, the Bodyline Series, by which it became known.
While England celebrated, the Australians smarted at what they saw as more terrorism than cricket. So before the Aussies arrived here for their 1934 tour, the chieftains of English cricket, the MCC, decided on a peace offering. They wanted the spearhead of the English bowlers, the Nottinghamshire ex-miner Harold Larwood, to sign an apology to the Australians. And to achieve that, they turned to the president of Notts Cricket Club, Sir Julien Cahn.
Sir Julien's father was an immigrant from Germany who established a successful furniture business: his son was a pioneer of HP and eventually sold out to Sir Isaac Wolfson's Great Universal Stores. Made a baronet in 1934, Sir Julien was a keen huntsman and sportsman who installed a bowling green, nine-hole golf course and a cricket pitch at his stately home, Stanford Hall, near Loughborough. He also had built an art-deco theatre with a Wurlitzer organ where he performed magic tricks for guests. "His wife bought him a performing seal which he put in the swimming pool," says Duncan Hamilton, whose biography of Larwood was published last year.
Sir Julien gave generously to the local Nottingham Jewish community and to Trent Bridge, the ground where he funded new stands and nets. Acccording to Hamilton, he also doled out money to players, helping Larwood buy a smallholding.
Julien Cahn never made it on to the MCC’s top table
He formed his own team, the Sir Julien Cahn XI, which he took on tours to the West Indies and elsewhere, having stocked up with hampers from Fortnum and Mason. To protect his legs, he had special inflatable pads made, which had to be pumped up by his chauffeur before he took the crease.
Calling Larwood to a meeting at one of his private cricket grounds, Sir Julien tried to schmooze him into appeasing the Aussies. "Larwood went home that night and found his mother reading a newspaper," says Hamilton. "She looked up and said if you apologise, you'll never see me again, and with that continued reading." Larwood declined the apology and never played for England again.
Hamilton believes that Cahn hoped his diplomatic mission would propel him into the upper echelons of the MCC. "Not only was he Jewish, he was in trade - a combination that would have excluded him although he didn't know that at the time. He never got on to the MCC's top table." But one success Sir Julien did have with the MCC was to arrange for worshippers at the Liberal Jewish Synagogue to be able to park at Lord's cricket ground.