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Books and works on paper

Henry Blofeld, or ‘Blowers’, as he was nicknamed by fellow broadcaster Brian Johnson, has for many years provided those who listen to cricket on the radio with both vital information and odd digressions, all delivered in a distinctive Old Etonian style and with great humour.

It was inevitable that he would provide his own catalogue notes when, on March 1, Chiswick Auctions (22% buyer’s premium) sold cricket and other books from his library.

HB’s “pick of the sale” in west London was his copy of the deluxe edition on hand-made paper of KS Ranjitsinhji’s Jubilee Book of Cricket of 1897, though at £1500 it was well short of the low estimate.

This was one of only a handful of the 350 deluxe copies to be finely bound in Cosway style by Bayntun-Riviere, the green crushed morocco gilt binding sporting on the upper cover an inset watercolour portrait of the great ‘Ranji’ playing his trademark leg glance.

Australian spin bowler Arthur Mailey, who in a 1921 Ashes test set a still unbeaten Australian record of 9-121, was also a talented illustrator and cartoonist.

Sold for £480 by Chiswick was a 1958 first of his wittily titled autobiography, 10 for 66 and all that, given to his good friend George Duckworth. A former Lancashire and England player, Duckworth was an indispensable scorer when HB did his first commentaries for ITV.

Mailey’s affectionate presentation inscription is accompanied by a drawing of a somewhat portly wicket-keeper shouting ‘Owzat’ as he demolishes the batsman’s stumps.

A large handkerchief printed with a central illustration of the England XI of 1847 after Nicholas ‘Felix’ Wanostrocht and surrounded by vignettes featuring the rules of the game and various cricket strokes, sold at £400.

Bid to £1000 was a photograph taken just over a century later.

The latter shows Dennis Compton and Bill Edrich, captains of a special benefit match, in honour of Compton, played at Highbury stadium, where he also played football for Arsenal. It had been the pair’s amazing 1947 season, when Compton scored 3618 runs, including 18 centuries, and Bill Edrich reached 3539 runs, that first led HB into a serious interest in cricket.

Blofeld’s father, Tom, had been at Eton with Ian Fleming and many years later served as the prototype for Ernst Stavro Blofeld, one of the more memorable villains in the James Bond books. Blofeld senior’s copy of the 1961 first of Thunderball in which his fictional counterpart made his first appearance sold at £850.

HB noted that the fictional Blofeld’s date of birth was given as May 28, 1908, which was also Fleming’s birthday, and wondered whether this indicated “an association between the author and his arch-villain”.

A 1963 first of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the novel in which Blofeld attempts to shoot Bond but kills OO7’s new wife instead, made £660. These and other Bonds books all bore Thomas Blofeld’s impressive armorial bookplate.

Sold at £1000 – 10 times the high estimate – was a lot that offered a 2001 first of The Constant Gardener inscribed by John Le Carré for Henry Blofeld together with three other signed copies of his works.

“The best spy story teller of all time who had the misfortune to teach me German while I was at Eton…,” wrote HB, “which probably makes me his only real failure.”