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As Somerset set about surpassing Yorkshire’s total of 253 at Headingley, it was time to swap the press box for tea and cake with Mr Carson from the BBC’s Downton Abbey.
The afternoon event in the Premier Suite of Headingley Experience was in aid of Martin House Children’s Hospice; the amazing charity who provide respite care for children and young people with life-limiting illnesses and their families.
We all embrace our own charitable causes in our own way whether that’s a monthly direct debit, tipping ice-cold water over your head or hearing from a fine actor whilst powering through an earl grey lemon drizzle.
An early word for Yorkshire Pride Lottery, whose administrator Jane Ferguson can claim credit for dreaming up an innovative way to support Yorkshire County Cricket Club’s chosen charity for 2014.
Money raised from the Yorkshire Pride Lottery helps to increase youth cricket opportunities in the region with the aim of developing Yorkshire players of the future.
Lotteries and raffles continue to be hugely popular in cricketing circles with county fans and grassroots cricket clubs and the Yorkshire Pride Lottery offers weekly cash prizes, an annual jackpot of £12,000 and plenty of other ways to strike gold.
If you like a flutter then there’s a chance to win financially or through signed memorabilia and tickets as well as helping to support future Yorkshire County cricketers. Win, win you might say.
As it happens, the day before it required a fortuitous intervention with Michelle from the charity who was selling raffle tickets on the third floor of the Carnegie Pavilion.
It was a semi-typical conversation:
“Oh hey…looking forward to the charity event later.”
“Do you mean tomorrow’s Tea with Mr Carson?”
“Er…no…(doubt already leeching in), it’s on Tuesday, isn’t it…”
Cue a frantic call to Mrs Cricket Yorkshire who was seconds from getting on a train.
Anyhow, fast forward twenty four hours or so and the lift up to the fourth floor alerts us to our table, Lord Grantham, seated with the Chris White Jazz Trio and those from Martin House Children’s Hospice.
Introductions are made by BBC Look North’s Harry Gration and having been tactically abstemious with the press box lunch, the appearance of creaking cakes stands prompted a barely audible whoop.
As an Olympic tea guzzler, it’s a rare thing indeed when four sizeable teapots from porcelain to gold (perhaps not solid twenty-four carot) thunk pleasingly down onto your table.
Given the setting and Downton Abbey link to proceedings, the programme had a brilliant guide to proper etiquette to afternoon tea.
It’s fair to say I’ve plenty room for improvement on that front but let’s see how you all get on with a few handpicked gems.
Apparently, Jam is always to be spread first on scones. Controversial given the context of Somerset’s visit who tend to do it the other way round (as I do…a source of contrast in the Fuller household).
One should avoid unnecessary noise when stirring your tea; the spoon should never touch the cup and stirring is from six to twelve o’clock.
So there you go. No slurping your tea or reaching across the table to grab a handful of custard creams, so I understand.
Once the potted spiced ham and plum pickle sandwiches had been hoovered, it was time to hear from the main man, actor Jim Carter.
Dressed in a slate grey suit jacket with immaculate trademark eyebrows, Carter burst into life with all the firepower of an Aaron Finch innings.
First there was the nod to cricket with a young Carter remembering growing up in Harrogate in the fifties, watching Yorkshire on St George’s Road. Always seemingly against Glamorgan.
There was a wonderful story of asking for an autograph from Fred Trueman with colourful language the response before a steward disappeared to rustle one up so as not to disappoint a young fan.
It was only years later that it became apparent that the prized signature had been forged as Jim got hold of some genuine Trueman memorabilia.
As Chairman of Hampstead Cricket Club in North London who celebrate their 150th year in 2015, Carter was ready with the tale of an extraordinary match.
On 3 August 1886, Hampstead’s A.E. Stoddart gambled all night as ideal preparation for a one-day match the following day against The Stoics.
He went on to score what was then the highest individual innings in amateur cricket with a barely creditable 485. In a day.
With no declarations back then, the Stoics must have bowled until their legs were half their normal length as Hampstead mustered a gargantuan 813. In a day…seriously??!!
As it happens, I’ve a tenuous link with Hampstead Cricket Club.
When finding a London club at university, I was roped into play for Teddington 2nd XI who were away at Hampstead. It was rained off but not before trekking across London to watch it rain some more.
In the event, another Teddington club pinched the services of this left-arm opening bowler/beanpole so I never got the chance to return but it was the briefest insight of the enviable facilities of a Middlesex County Cricket League club.
Rather than some of the more dubious stomping grounds in the Morrant Thames Valley League which was to be home for the next decade.
You’ve never truly experienced it all as a league cricketer until you’ve run into bowl whilst planes descend nearby onto the Heathrow tarmac and perforate the eardrums. Shouting for LBW was pointless, put it that way.
Cricket famously made its own appearance in one episode of Downton Abbey with Dan Stevens, writing in the Guardian, recalling how Mr Carson nearly fell over with excitement at the prospect: “Have you heard the news?” the authoritarian basso whispered. “Cricket match. Episode eight.
Former Somerset and Leicestershire wicketkeeper-batsman Neil Burns was drafted in to advise as coach and keep the period credibility hence the welcome appearance of those cricket gloves with the sausage-shaped compartments for digits.
Highclere Castle has its own spectacular cricket ground that dates back to the nineteenth century and with the rarity of any cricket on our screens, whether Test match or costume drama, the fact that it cropped up in Downton Abbey sent Twitter into overdrive at the time, feeding off morsels that began with the character Matthew Crawley cracking a sumptuous cover drive.
Anyhow, the topic of cricket suitably satisfied, Mr Carson moves on to answer questions about all things Downton Abbey from the assembled audience.
An energetic, entertaining speaker, quick to joke and fulsome in his anecdotes, Carter is a whirling dervish with a microphone in hand and we learn all sorts in the ensuing hour.
They manage to crack through three to five pages of script on Downton Abbey each day of filming which equates to the same number of screen time minutes.
Contrary to what you might assume with Mr Carson’s eye for the meticulous, he didn’t immerse himself in silver service training for a year prior to becoming a TV butler. I’m not a method actor, darling.
There’s a half apologetic shrug of the shoulders before paying tribute to the team behind Downton Abbey who create that air of convincing authenticity.
There’s a guy, descended from Robert the Bruce no less, who ensures everything in the world of the period drama etiquette is exactly how it would have been.
A memorable example being how the ladies take their lead from the hostess as to whether they first converse clock-wise or anti-clockwise to the person sitting next to them.
A few courses later, the guests ‘turn’ to then give attention to the person on their other side. No firing boisterous questions across a crowded room then.
Some of the questions disappear as far over my head as (sadly) some of my Saturday bowling has done on occasion this season in the Craven & District League.
One lady raised the water bottle scandal – apparently it had a guest appearance in a scene – but the cast turned it to their advantage by subsequently promoting Water Aid to poke fun at themselves.
Filming for upstairs and downstairs takes place in two separate locations and consequently there is understandably a stark contrast in the feel and interactions between actors.
Scenes for the servants’ quarters and attic were filmed at Ealing Studios and to be a fly on the wall on what sounds like a rumbunctious place of work.
Jim Carter, as Carson, is only one of two actors who cross over between the two distinctive worlds (the other being Rob James-Collier who plays Thomas) with Highclere Castle being where the high society scenes ‘upstairs’ are filmed.
The director for season one of Downton Abbey, Brian Percival, is said to have likened the colliding worlds as: ‘a swan on the surface with the legs flapping wildly beneath.’
After a lively question-and-answer session then it’s time to make some money for charity, prior to which Sarah Tarpey from Martin House Children’s Hospice offers a brief but poignant reminder of the work they do and its role in supporting families.
There are many stories and absolute credit must go to those that choose to work to support those that face a terrible situation.
Mr Carson was soon whipping the room into shape with raffle prizes generously donated such as a Saks Hair and Beauty Voucher (“A shame it didn’t go to a balding man…”) and tickets to a 2015 Headingley fixture being drawn.
Carter was quick to quip about how the vagaries of a simple raffle can so often unravel – he’s absolutely right on that, it’s a weird one.
I had earlier cursed myself by admitting recent luck with raffles was bordering on the outrageous (including pulling my own ticket at a club function) which funnily enough happened again to a lady at this event.
So no joy bagging a flower arrangement but judging from the way one winner was staggering in the lift afterwards, almost entirely obscured by foliage, that was probably for the best given the journey home during rush hour at Leeds station.
It’s one of life’s mysteries…are raffle tickets bought then eaten? Where do they go? Had Harry Gration, who had to bolt early to present BBC Look North, scarpered with a host of winning numbers? The jury’s out…
The auction itself included Downton Abbey and Yorkshire County Cricket Club memorabilia, pieces of jewellery and a framed print of the original picture used to advertise the event.
If Jim Carter ever wants a job as an auctioneer then given how he good-naturedly nursed extra funds from his audience, he would likely fare very well indeed. Antiques Roadshow perhaps rather than Bargain Hunt.
He was one of the best public speakers I’ve come across full of indelible stories – an image of Maggie Smith being shown YouTube videos on set by her on-screen grand-daughters and chortling away is a personal favourite.
There was time for one quick-witted guest to hop up, grab the microphone and encourage guests to donate some money in exchange for grabbing a selfie with Mr Carson.
The line to do that morphed from a dozen to a great many more with camera phones juggled as people of all ages chattered away, pleased as punch, in the queue.
You couldn’t see Mrs Cricket Yorkshire for dust so fast was she into line.
I hope Mr Carson knows how lucky he is to have met true royalty although she’d like to thank him for the gracious way he was with the briefest of photo opportunities and in her excitement, hopes she remembered to say thank you.
I was a little preoccupied stuffing cakes into my suit pockets and weighing up the social etiquette of sidling to the Headingley lifts with a piece of cheddar the size of a family hatchback.
Here’s a few links to organisations referred to in this afternoon tea-infused ramble and if you get the chance, do have a digital meander.