Legends: Malcolm Douglas (‘Dar’) Lyon (1920–1938)

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

Dar Lyon’s teammate Raymond Robertson-Glasgow was in no doubt that Somerset’s maverick wicket-keeper-batsman should have represented England, though ‘Crusoe’ admits that Lyon’s ‘wisecracks played sharply round Marylebone’. His irreverent humour and qualities as a ‘wind-up artist’ are evident in his short, easily digested and occasionally provocative book Cricket in which, for example, he lists sports in order of difficulty to master, with cricket at the top of the pile and lawn tennis a lowly thirteenth, behind ludo and spillikins. As it happens, he was a superb tennis player. As well as his cricket manual, he also wrote a novel entitled A Village Match & After. With wags such as Dar Lyon and Crusoe in tow, the team was able to laugh in the face of adversity.

Born in Caterham Valley, Surrey, on 22 April 1898, Dar was the son of Jeremiah Lyon, a financial adventurer who made a fortune in the rubber industry but was later declared a bankrupt after two expensive divorce settlements, a stock market collapse, a failed business venture named Wireless Music Ltd and overly generous donations to the Irish League of Nations Society (set up as an attempt to avert the First World War). He finally overreached himself with the purchase of Sudbourne Hall in Suffolk, which proved too great a drain on resources. Jeremiah Lyon could have added to his woes the cost of educating Dar at Rugby School.

Dar served as a second lieutenant in the Royal Field Artillery during the First World War and was wounded in action. After going up to Trinity College, Cambridge, he won blues as a wicket-keeper batsman. He was also president of the Footlights group, revealing his irreverent side. Able to display his talents as an accomplished piano-player who could adopt a multiplicity of styles, he also composed humorous songs.

Dar and his brother, Bev, were both fine cricketers and it is said that their father, Jeremiah, was based in Bristol when John Daniell persuaded him to toss a coin and decide which son should play for Gloucestershire and which for Somerset. Perhaps Jeremiah was aware that his sons would benefit from playing for different counties. David Foot describes their rivalry as ‘single-minded … when the brothers were locked in combat’. Where Bev won renown as an innovative captain, Dar was always regarded as something of a rebel. His ability remained unquestioned. The Bath Chronicle of 1920 describes him as ‘the most promising young batsman who has played for Somerset since P. R. Johnson and Lionel Palairet made their debuts’. The excitement was heightened by Dar’s century on his Championship debut. This would prove to be one of fourteen first-class centuries (including two double-centuries), twelve of them for Somerset. In 123 matches for the county he would average 30.98 and he would often share wicket-keeping duties, though Robertson-Glasgow states that ‘Lyon’s wicket-keeping varied from the brilliant to the blandly inattentive’. He writes elsewhere that ‘he was a powerful man, over six feet in height … a supreme artist, revelling in his triumphs and laughing at his failures’.

He worked in the legal profession, becoming a barrister and making a name for himself when he defended John Robinson in an infamous ‘trunk murder case’ that dominated headlines for a while in 1927. Robinson had attempted to dispose of the dismembered body of his victim – Mini Bonati – by leaving it in a trunk at Charing Cross Station. Dar’s defence failed to convince the jury and Robinson was sentenced to death by hanging.

Dar’s personal life was at times a tangled web. He caused great stirrings and mutterings among the Somerset committee when he conducted an affair with Helen Alice Earle, the wife of teammate, Guy Earle, a popular and affable Old Harrovian. It should be added that, judging by the correspondence around the time of the divorce, Earle seemed rather more relaxed about the episode than some members of the Somerset committee. In 1928, Dar and Helen were married, although they would in time divorce.

In 1929, he stood as a Liberal MP for Bury St Edmunds but failed to be elected. Never a man to be pigeon-holed, he scripted a film entitled Ashes which was enjoyed by the public but caused consternation at Lord’s. One review summarises the plot, noting that ‘Test Match peculiarities are burlesqued in clever and amusing fashion’. Lyon himself appears as the Australian captain in a match of no predefined length that lasts for sixty years until the final two men, confined to bath chairs, collapse and die. Lyon was by now also sending broadsides to the press, referring to ‘the old dears’ on the MCC Committee.

He continued to practise in law and was appointed a magistrate in Gambia in 1932. He would then become a magistrate in Kenya between 1945 and 1948 and Chief Justice in the Seychelles from 1948 until 1957. This period of his career was a particularly unhappy one. Dar was outspoken in his criticism of those in authority – notably Governor Selwyn-Clarke about whom he made remarks in court. He let it be known that he wanted out. The powers that be would have liked to have seen him replaced, too, but there was a stalemate. As one Foreign Office letter states: ‘nobody would have him and it would be unfair to move him to play his organ in some other street’.

His final stint was as a judge in Uganda. In the meantime he had divorced Helen and was married in 1941 to Doreen Healey, a colliery examiner’s daughter from Cheltenham, nineteen years his junior. He was serving at the time as a major in the Second World War.

Dar Lyon (second left, back) turns out for Cambridge in 1922.

He died at St Leonard’s-on-Sea, Sussex, on 17 February 1964 at the age of sixty-five.  Peter Roebuck wrote that ‘Lyon could never see a balloon without wanting to pop it, and sometimes those balloons contained water, so that he was drenched’, adding that ‘his life was more diverting if less fulfilled because of it’. On his career as a cricketer, Wisden noted that Lyon was ‘considered by many to be among the best batsmen who never gained a cap for England’.

Dar Lyon himself once wrote that ‘cricket was my first love and will be my last love’.