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Fender, Percy George Herbertfree

(1892–1985)
  • E. W. Swanton

Fender, Percy George Herbert (1892–1985), cricketer, was born on 22 August 1892 at Balham, London, the elder son (there were no daughters) of Percy Robert Fender, head of a wholesale stationery firm, and his wife, Lily Herbert. He was educated at St George's College, Weybridge, and St Paul's School.

Fender played first for Sussex in 1910, when a schoolboy of seventeen, and showed much youthful all-round promise. In 1913, aged only twenty, he played for the first time for the Gentlemen against the Players at Lord's. In 1914 he transferred his allegiance to Surrey and played a useful part in the championship won by them in a season cut short by the First World War. The article on him as one of the 'five cricketers of the year' in the 1915 Wisden quoted Tom Hayward, doyen of the professionals, as saying that 'he was the making of the Surrey eleven'. He enlisted in the Royal Fusiliers, then moved in 1915 to the Royal Flying Corps, which shortly afterwards became the Royal Air Force (RAF). He served also with the RAF in the Second World War, becoming a wing commander.

Though coming from a rugby-playing school, Fender preferred soccer, and as a goalkeeper won a winner's medal playing for the Casuals in the Amateur Football Association cup final of 1913. A broken leg playing football in the winter of 1918–19 necessitated fourteen months on crutches and prevented any cricket in 1919. The following summer he caught the limelight as an all-rounder and won a place in the MCC team which toured Australia under J. W. H. T. Douglas. Fender emerged well enough from the tour to play also against Warwick Armstrong's formidable Australians in two of the 1921 tests. In 1922–3 he toured South Africa with the MCC as vice-captain to F. T. Mann. In thirteen tests over his career his all-round contributions were respectable, no more. His true métier was county cricket and as an innovative, frequently daring, captain of Surrey. For them his feats with the bat, as a leg-spin and googly bowler and as a tip-top slip fielder, had a uniquely spectacular quality. With his horn-rimmed spectacles, crinkly hair, short moustache, and sweaters almost down to his knees, his appearance was as unusual as his cricket. He was the delight of the cartoonists, especially the famous Tom Webster.

Fender is remembered for the fastest ever hundred (apart from several contrived with opponents to expedite declarations), in 35 minutes at Northampton in 1920, immediately prior to Surrey's declaration at 619 for five. But there were many more meritorious feats of hitting against stronger opposition. He once took 24 off an over by Maurice Tate. He made a hit of 132 yards out of the Oval over long-off against Kent, and also cut another ball square out of the ground. The cricket historian Gerald Brodribb reckoned his big innings were scored at 62 runs an hour. (G. L. Jessop is rated by the same authority at 80 runs an hour and Fender is among his ten fastest scorers.)

Fender could play a waiting game, but Surrey's batting strength was such that he rarely needed to. His problem on the flawless Oval pitches of his time was usually to get the other side out twice, and here he ingeniously enjoyed full scope both as bowler and tactician. He was always prepared to buy wickets with his wrist-spin, sometimes by means of the dropping full-pitched delivery. In 1923 he made 1427 runs and took 178 wickets. Five other times he did the double and three times more scored 1000 runs. In his career he made 19,034 runs, including twenty-one hundreds (average 26), and took 1894 wickets at 25 a time. He took 598 catches, almost all in the slips. His ploys and love of a gamble meant that Surrey's cricket during his eleven years' reign was never dull. True, he never had the bowling quite to win a championship. Yet there may have been substance in the comment that he was the best captain England never had. There were undoubtedly times when he must have been a contender to lead England. He was however too outspoken—and even tactless—to suit the hierarchy at Lord's, especially as embodied in the fourth Baron Harris. While always highly popular with the teams he led, his relations with the Surrey authorities were also apt to be difficult. He was superseded as captain by D. R. Jardine rather than retiring from office in 1932, and the termination of his cricket for Surrey after 1935 was accompanied by some friction.

Fender was in business a wine merchant, founder, and, for fifty-four years until his retirement at the age of eighty-four, managing director of Herbert Fender & Co. He wrote on the game of cricket with discernment and a technical insight uncommon in his day. There were four books on test tours, two on the visits of the MCC to Australia in 1920–21 (in which he took part) and 1928–9, and two about the Australians in England in 1930 and 1934. He wrote regularly for the Evening News, and was the first man to use a typewriter in the press box, an innovation not at first well received.

Fender married first on 17 September 1924 Ruth Marion (d. 1935), daughter of William Clapham, jeweller and silversmith, of Manchester. They had a son and a daughter. In 1962 he married Susan Victoria Gordon (d. 1968), the daughter of Captain J. T. Kyffin, who had flown in the Royal Flying Corps in the First World War, and of independent means. Having been afflicted for several years with almost total blindness, Fender died at the Argyll Nursing Home, Argyll Road, Exeter, on 15 June 1985.

Sources

  • Daily Telegraph (17 June 1985)
  • The Times (17 June 1985)
  • R. Streeton, P. G. H. Fender (1981)
  • personal knowledge (2004)

Archives

Film

  • BFINA, documentary footage
  • BFINA, news footage
  • BFINA, sports footage

Likenesses

  • A. A. Mailey, caricature, 1920, repro. in Streeton, P. G. H. Fender, frontispiece
  • T. Webster, four caricatures, 1922–52, repro. in Streeton, P. G. H. Fender, 123, 140, 143, 178
  • photograph, 1940, Hult. Arch.
  • photographs, repro. in Streeton, P. G. H. Fender

Wealth at Death

£48,707: probate, 4 Oct 1985, CGPLA Eng. & Wales