Legends: Bertie Buse (1929 – 1953)

The following article is an extract from SOMERSET CRICKETERS 1919-1939 by STEPHEN HILL & BARRY PHILLIPS (Published by Halsgrove 2017)

He was generally referred to as Bertie. Punctilious, possessed of an air of serenity, and with a run-up that suggested a man carrying a tray of drinks, he was dubbed ‘The Butler’ by John Arlott. In many ways he was a natural successor to a very similar character, Ernie Robson, a journeyman all-rounder who had also won the hearts of the Somerset supporters.

Bertie was born in Bristol on 5 August 1910, the son of a self-employed provisions broker, Francis Buse, and his wife, Edith. Educated at the City of Bath School, he was an outstanding young sportsman. Although not naturally athletic in his movements he excelled as a cricketer, hockey player and rugby full-back, also proving outstanding at billiards, table-tennis (at which he was once West of England champion) and, we are informed, shove ha’penny. Working as a clerk in a solicitor’s office and already making waves at Bath RFC and with Bath CC, he was invited to play for Somerset as an eighteen-year-old amateur. He would also represent the county at rugby.

At The Oval, he was thrown in at the deep end when handed the new ball against Hobbs and Sandham, against whom he made no inroads. But this heralded a long career with the county in which he would play 304 times, averaging 22.69 with the bat and taking 657 wickets at 28.77 apiece. From the late 1930s he had given up his amateur status and played as a professional, once he had decided the life as a conveyancing clerk was not for him. He supplemented his meagre professional’s allowance with some journalist work for the Bath Chronicle. He was married in 1940 to Elsa Nash and they would have two sons together.

As a batsman, Bertie had an unusual style – ‘all bat and bum’, he called it – where he would crouch with his head low as he took guard. His batting was decidedly one-paced and he played along the ground, rarely going for a lofted shot and relying heavily on ‘Bertie’s dab’, a cut played well away from the body. Although unorthodox, he was good enough to score seven centuries. His bowling was equally unique. He would carefully fold his county cap (awarded in 1934), before handing it to the umpire. His run-up began with a short walk that looked more like a Sunday afternoon stroll, followed by a few hops and an increase in speed with the ball clasped in both hands and his chest turned away from the batsman until the last moment. He never rose above medium pace but he swung the ball and was very accurate. H. J. Channon, the Taunton-based journalist, stated that ‘he is the embodiment of steadiness, thoroughness and modesty’. If he beat the batsman and narrowly missed the stumps, he smiled and never snarled. When he dismissed an opponent, the smile turned into a broad beam of delight.

His benefit match against Lancashire at Bath in 1953, his final year of first-class cricket, was a disaster. Over in five and a half hours, Lancashire’s total of 158 on an unplayable track was enough to win comfortably by an innings, with Somerset mustering 55 and 79. It would have been little consolation to Bertie that he came away with bowling figures of 6 for 41.

In 1953 he was offered the chance to become the rugby and cricket coach at King Edward’s School in Johannesburg. The school was home to 1500 boys and so Bertie’s role was a demanding one. He would remain there until returning in 1963 to work within the brewery industry where his line manager was G. E. S. Woodhouse, who had captained Somerset after the war. Woodhouse offered Bertie the role of landlord of the St Peter’s Finger pub in Lychett Minster, Dorset, and he remained there for a number of years until his retirement. Here Bertie was able to demonstrate his skills not just as a host but in games of darts or shove ha’penny, where he had apparently lost none of the skills manifest in his youth. There is a certain irony in Bertie’s having become a publican, given his reputed aversion to ever buying a round. It is said by former teammates that he would even pretend to doze as his turn to buy drinks approached, rousing himself as the next in line reached the bar. His teammates invariably forgave him his parsimony.

A hugely popular figure whom it was impossible for anyone to dislike, he returned to his beloved Bath and died at the Royal United Hospital on 23 February 1992 at the age of eighty-one.