Arthur Douglas Bruce Hamilton (1900-1974) is best known as a crime and thriller writer. His novels such as The Brighton Murder Trial¹ and Traitor’s Way² are tautly written and atmospheric works that have somehow been overlooked by subsequent generations. All the accolades have gone to his well-known brother, Patrick, for novels such as the remarkable Hangover Square. Sometimes, sadly, forgotten novelists are better forgotten. Not in this case, however.
Bruce Hamilton is a craftsman of a high order and, most importantly, his work is highly readable. Never more so than in his cricket novel Pro, An English Tragedy.
Pro concerns the life and cricket career of Teddy Lamb who plays for Midhampton, a middling English county cricket side, either side of World War One. The book dissects the relationship between amateur and professional, or “Gentlemen” and “Players”, as the two were often referred to. Students of the game will recognise oblique references to Larwood and Jardine as well as the relationship between several amateur captains and their professional players that appear obliquely in some memoirs or commentaries, where the power dynamics are never fully explored.
What Hamilton appears keen to assert is that there is a world beyond cricket and that cricket is part of that world and not immune from it. However dappled the shadows are on the cricket ground, however peaceful the rhythms and nuances of the game are, beyond the boundary is a world that cricketers are part of. What’s good in society impacts cricket but so does what is bad.
The cruel truth, which Teddy can’t see, is that however much Teddy may love the game it’s really just a job that enables him to live. For his captain and club committee he is useful as long as he can play. Once the pro is injured or worn out their usefulness is at an end. Teddy, then, is presented as a cog in the machine owned by employers who care nothing about his life beyond the ground. CLR James in his magisterial Beyond A Boundary made a similar point about the great Learie Constantine. Those who subsidised sport would gladly have given Constantine a job early in his career but “The Constantine they recognised bowled and batted and fielded. He had no existence otherwise.”³
Hamilton’s writing is crisp and fresh and his characters are complex and believable. If there are the odd stereotypes they are redeemed by his portrayal of Teddy who is presented as going through life in a bemused state, trying to come to terms with his situation as a professional cricketer and a human being. Just occasionally he sees his position clearly – during the 1926 General Strike he refuses to join the strike breaking groups of volunteers. Instinctively he knows which side he belongs on, but this instinct is not enough to help him cope with the emotional and physical realities of the life he is living.
There is a lovely, if disturbing, vignette in Barbados where Teddy plays as part of the English touring team. Hamilton had moved to Barbados in 1938 to take up a teaching post. Soon after he began writing on international matters for the Barbados Advocate newspaper. In 1947, shortly after this book was published he wrote Cricket In Barbados⁴ and his private papers at the University of Texas in Austin suggest he wrote regularly on cricket. They also contain what appears to be an unpublished manuscript Twelve Famous Tests.
Cricket, then, was dear to him but he threw away his rose-tinted glasses quite early on when writing about it. Hamilton argues that the game is rife with exploitation and, as the title suggests, there is no happy ending, as we see Teddy desperately struggling with life during and after cricket. Like the heroes of Greek and Shakespearean literature, Teddy is destroyed by a flaw in his own character and life does really seem to have it in for him. Yet, throughout everything, Teddy endures.
Hamilton ensures that we care for Teddy, sharing his happiness and pain. We watch with a sharp sadness, the suffering Teddy endures and feel powerless as fate inexorably rolls towards him. Once you have read Pro you realise that the “Golden Age” of cricket may not have been that “golden” for some who earned their living from the game. Pro must rate as one of the finest novels written about cricket and I urge you to read it.
This novel was first published by The Cresset Press in 1946 and that edition is quite hard to find. The New Zealand Cricket Museum has the first paperback edition (donated to us by Martin Donnelly) and copies of this are more common. Look out for it. You won’t be disappointed.
¹ The Brighton Murder Trial, Bruce Hamilton, London: Boriswood, 1937
² Traitor’s Way, Bruce Hamilton, New York: Bobbs Merrill, 1939
³ Beyond A Boundary (pg 106), CLR James, London: Stanley Paul/Hutchinson, 1963
⁴ Cricket In Barbados, Bruce Hamilton, Bridgetown: Advocate Press, 1947