Legends: Raymond Robertson-Glasgow (1920–1935)

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

Raymond Robertson-Glasgow was generally referred to within the cricketing fraternity as ‘Crusoe’. He is said to have earned the moniker when he bowled C. P. McGahey in 1920 with a full toss. On returning to the pavilion the Essex batsman observed in an expletive-laden aside that he had been bowled by ‘an old —– I thought was dead two thousand years ago called Robinson Crusoe’. McGahey’s sense of the timeline of history and the demarcation between fact and fiction might both have been decidedly suspect, but the name stuck. Others, such as his county captain, John Daniell, referred to him as ‘Glasgie’.

Crusoe was born on 15 July 1901 in Murrayfield, Edinburgh, the son of Robert Purdon Robertson-Glasgow and his wife, Muriel Barbara (née Wilson). Crusoe and his brother, Bobs, were brought up in some comfort, although they appear to have spent most of their time in the company not of their parents but of their chauffeur, Harry Plumb, while their father fished, shot and managed the estate. Harry was a man of firm opinions who resolutely refused to risk taking the family car above 19.5 mph and on hearing that his two charges were to be despatched to Hindhead Prep School informed them that if they were going to school they would need to ‘know cricket’. Harry was of the view that bowling was all that mattered in the game and set the boys practising with a tennis ball in the stable yard. Thus began Crusoe’s cricketing odyssey.

He later won a scholarship to Charterhouse where he excelled both intellectually and as a cricketer, winning an exhibition to Corpus Christi, Oxford, to read Classics. Always able to balance the academic and sporting aspects of his life, he became a successful member of the Oxford XI, attracting Somerset’s eye. As a Scot, he belonged to no county. Furthermore, Rev. Archie Wickham, Somerset’s eccentric wicket-keeper from the Golden Age, was his great uncle, and Crusoe’s cousins, the Foxcrofts, lived at Hinton Charterhouse. As far as John Daniell was concerned, here was a Somerset man through and through.

Crusoe appeared an easy-going fellow, extraordinarily bright but able to relate to anyone. He was also hugely disorganised, never learned to drive a car and was notoriously forgetful, once mislaying his kit and having to complete a game in his black, leather-soled shoes, which rather hampered his run-up and delivery. He would play for Oxford University for four years between 1919 and 1923 and for sixteen seasons for Somerset from 1920 until 1935. To his 146 wickets for Oxford University were added 238 for Somerset at 26.35 apiece, including seventeen 5-wicket hauls. Very much a tail-ender, he would recall that he was paired by his captain with Jim Bridges, and told: ‘You two clowns are Number 10 and 11 and you can sort out between you what order you want to bat in.’ He managed an average of 14.02 over the course of his Somerset career, surprising himself and his teammates with three half-centuries. In Cricket, Lovely Cricket, Frank Lee describes Crusoe the innovator and the eccentric. He is said – though the claim has surely been made for others – to have developed the notion of dampening one side of the ball to accentuate swing. On the other side of the coin, in a match against Glamorgan, there was much consternation when Somerset became aware that they had shrunk to ten men, only for Crusoe to appear shortly afterwards from behind the sightscreen, clutching an ice-cream and announcing: ‘This should put me right.’ He is also said on one occasion to have bowled a doughnut to Bev Lyon of Gloucestershire immediately after one tea interval.

For much of his career, Crusoe was only available during school vacations. After graduating, he had returned to teach at his prep school – Hindhead –and would remain there until being offered a job as a journalist in 1933, initially as a golf correspondent at the Morning Post. He had previously submitted poems and articles that had impressed the editor. Very soon he was covering other sports, including cricket, and working in turn for the Daily Telegraph, The Observer and finally the Sunday Times. He wrote with great wit and warmth, which some saw disapprovingly as flippancy. They were wrong. His writing has stood the test of time and remains as entertaining and readable as ever. Crusoe wrote to inform and not to impress and wore his erudition lightly. His work as a journalist was supplemented with income from the books he had authored – invariably engaging – with titles as various as How to Become a Test Cricketer and I Was Himmler’s Aunt.

Behind the wit and the gregariousness there lurked the spectre of manic depression that dogged him throughout his adult life. Friends were also concerned that during the 1920s and early part of the 1930s he was displaying the signs of alcoholism. Depression and strong drink: the one perhaps fed the other. He made the first attempt on his own life in the early 1930s and it would leave him with a scar on his neck. He was later at St Aiden’s Hospital in Northampton when he was nursed by Elizabeth Hutton, whom he was married to in 1943. Both by then in their forties, there was never a question of any children for the two soulmates who had found love and companionship late.

Crusoe was still writing with great verve and wit, still bringing joy to others. A. P. (Sandy) Singleton said of him that: ‘He carried a small red memo book which he referred to as ‘the washing book’ and in which he occasionally made notes. Wherever he was, one could hear his bellow of laughter, and the whole scene brightened up at once, and cricket became fun.’ But behind the joy were the tears of the clown. On 4 March 1965, snowdrifts had marooned him in his home in Buckhold, Berkshire, and Elizabeth went out to clear a pathway. By the time she returned, her husband’s life was ebbing away after another suicide attempt. The ambulance was called but could not make it in time in the atrocious conditions. Depression had claimed the last laugh. He was sixty-four at the time.