In addition to being a cricket fan, I am a fan of collecting things. A few years back I was collecting Vanity Fair prints (caricatures that appeared in a weekly magazine in the Victorian era) when I came across a caricature and bio of Charles Burgess Fry. I was instantly absorbed with this character who was a freak of nature – an intellectual, a model and a superstar sportsman – football, rugby, cricket, athletics – he was a world beater in all of them! Among his many sporting achievements while at Oxford University was a casual breaking of the world long jump record in 1893! His god like status at the University can be seen from the epithets of the time ‘The Almighty’, ‘Lord Oxford’, and best of all ‘Charles III’.
A few years later when I started collecting cricket memorabilia especially old cigarette cards, I kept an eye out for CB Fry. I soon found a cigarette card version of the Vanity Fair print which was produced by Wills in 1902 (Image 1). Cigarette cards had their golden era at the same time as cricket had its ‘Golden Age’ in the twenty or so years before the start of World War I – a period that also coincided nicely with CB Fry’s cricket career.
CB Fry started his international career in the 1895-96 season around same time as a very famous card series appeared (Wills Cricketers 1896 – Image 2).
CB Fry dabbled with cricket for the next few years till he settled into a routine for Sussex and started playing regularly for the star studded English team of the time. After averaging 61 in the 1900 season, CB Fry went into overdrive with his annus mirabilis in 1901 when he scored a record 13 centuries and become the first person to score 3,000 runs in a season. Even more remarkably, he smashed the existing record of three consecutive first class centuries by scoring an utterly unbelievable six in a row (a record only matched twice in cricket history by Don Bradman and Mike Proctor – both many years later, on incomparably better pitches). If this wasn’t enough, Fry obtained an international cap in Football for England against Ireland earlier in the year!
In the next few years Fry’s non cricket commitments reduced the number of games he could play, and while the runs continued to come freely, he was not selected for the 1907-08 MCC tour to Australia. His controversial non selection was also a reflection on his “highly strung” nature (which occasionally ruffled the feathers of the game’s powers), as well as his often inconsistent batting at Test level.
In 1912 at the age of 40, Fry was still leading the national batting averages when he scored his 15th double century (another record). In this year, he was appointed captain of the English team for the triangular series against South Africa and Australia – England regained the Ashes and Fry had the enviable record of never having lost a Test as captain.
Fry’s fame meant he appeared on a steady stream of cigarette cards throughout this time as cricket was a very popular sport, making it ideal for this premium marketing product of the time. Some more cards from the time are shown in Image 3 – Gallaher 1912 Sports Series and Image 4 – Hill 1912 Famous Cricketers set.
Fry ended his cricket career shortly after the Great War in 1921 with a distinguished record of 30,886 runs and 94 centuries with a highly impressive average for the time of 50.22 – a record that would have been significantly greater had he not had such an active life outside of cricket.
At around the time the Fry ended his cricket career, an event befitting this unique individual occurred – he was offered the position of King of Albania! This absurdity did not come to fruition but Fry did spend some time walking the international stage as an assistant to his famous cricketing friend Ranjitsinhji (who really was royalty from the state of Nawanagar in India).
CB Fry then tried his hand at politics – standing unsuccessfully three times for the liberals in the early 1920s. Later in this decade Fry unfortunately suffered a mental breakdown which curtailed some of his public activity – it almost seems like a cliché that a man of such genius and brilliance should be teetering on the edge of sanity!
Notwithstanding his unstable mental health, CB Fry continued to live a meaningful life including a lifelong involvement in the operation of a naval training academy, writing and publishing, socialising and commentating on cricket and other subjects. In 1939, he published his autobiography with the appropriate title Life Worth Living.
Charles Burgess Fry left the world a poorer place when he passed away at the age of 84 in 1956.