It was appropriate that a memorial service for Donald Carr, who died on 11 June aged 89, should be held at Repton School, where his cricket and football career was shaped. That career, straddling the amateur era as a player and the professionalism of the Seventies and Eighties as an administrator at Lord’s, was the stuff of boyhood dreams, with stories that would not have been out of place in the Rover and Wizard of his day.
A right-hand batsman of style and substance, useful slow left-arm bowler and an outstanding close-to-the-wicket fieldsman, Carr also demonstrated considerable leadership skills, captaining Repton and the Public Schools and then, after three years as an officer in the Royal Berkshires, Oxford University, Derbyshire, the MCC and England.
After his playing career ended, he became assistant-secretary of MCC and, from 1973 until his retirement in 1986, secretary of the Test and County Cricket Board (TCCB), forerunner of the modern England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB).
Public school, Sandhurst, Oxford, Lord’s and the MCC – you would be hard-pressed to find anybody with such Establishment credentials. But Carr, while upholding the finest traditions of the game and adhering to Corinthian principles, did not come across as that kind of man. Instead, he was the type of person who was equally at home whether dining at Chatsworth with the Duke of Devonshire, enjoying a gin and tonic at Lord’s or a pint in the local Miners’ Welfare.
Donald Bryce Carr OBE came to Derbyshire by a circuitous route. He was born at Wiesbaden in Germany, where his father John was a serving officer in the Royal Berkshires, on 28 December 1926. Other moves took the family to the New Forest and Folkestone before Major (later Lieutenant- Colonel) Carr was appointed Bursar at Repton School.
In 1940, Donald followed his brothers Douglas (a career officer in the Berkshires and later Derbyshire’s secretary) and David (who suffered a serious arm injury with the Royal Norfolks at Caen in 1944 and became headmaster of Yarlet Hall, a Staffordshire prep school) to Repton, where he developed into an outstanding schoolboy cricketer. During his final year he captained the Public Schools at Lord’s and on the first day of the match his side was in the field when a V1 flying bomb, coming from the Baker Street direction, exploded less than 200 yards way. His memories remained vivid: “I can still see the bomb coming towards us. We just flung ourselves to the ground as it passed over. It didn’t land on Lord’s but pieces of earth fell on the pitch. It was all very exciting.”
Play quickly restarted and the spectators, some of whom had thrown themselves under seats for protection, applauded the boys’ pluck.
A year later, in July 1945, Carr, aged 18 and now in the Army, appeared for England against Australia in one of the unofficial Victory Tests at Lord’s, where he found the pace of Keith Miller too hot. Following service in Burma, he left the Berkshires with the rank of Lieutenant and went up to Oxford to read History. Meanwhile, the career of high promise had stalled. He had to reassess and decided to concentrate on his batting.
The result was a torrent of runs which earned him his Blue, the captaincy of Oxford, appearances in several representative matches and selection for MCC’s tour of India in 1951-52 as vice-captain to Nigel Howard. In New Delhi he played what he described as the most difficult and tiring innings of his career, 76, in partnership with Allan Watkins for nearly five hours, as England successfully battled to save a game dominated by the Indian spin bowlers Shinde and Mankad. Howard was then taken ill and Carr captained England in the final Test at Madras, but although he averaged nearly 34 these were the only Tests in which he played. Judged on his batting alone, he never made the consistent weight of runs required to place him alongside his peers Peter May, Colin Cowdrey or Tom Graveney.
It was during this period that he was a participant in one of the most romantic of sporting stories. Carr’s football skills had developed at Repton, where he emerged as a skilful inside-forward with a powerful left foot and an eye for goal. He was awarded two soccer Blues at Oxford and was in the Old Reptonian side in three Arthur Dunn cup finals, a competition for the Old Boys of public schools.
He was also a prominent member of Pegasus, the combined Oxford and Cambridge team which was formed specifically to compete in the FA Amateur Cup. With a maximum football wage of £15 there was little incentive for an amateur with a good job to turn professional and this was an important competition. The rise of Pegasus captured the imagination. In 1951 they lifted the trophy with a 2-1 victory over Bishop Auckland before 100,000 spectators at Wembley and in April 1953 thrashed Harwich and Parkestone 6-0, Carr scoring two goals. His football career more or less ended after this, mainly on medical advice following a leg injury, but eight prep school soccer teams still visit Repton annually to compete for the Donald Carr Trophy.
In 1955-56 Carr captained an MCC A team which enjoyed a happy and successful tour of Pakistan – with the exception of a major incident. A high-spirited bunch of young players amused themselves by taking part in water fights, involving buckets and water pistols. It became a sort of initiation ceremony and no harm was done until they picked on an umpire, Idris Begh. Half-a-dozen players, Carr amongst them, gave him a dousing. It was a misguided prank which went too far and MCC held Carr responsible but his career and those of others involved remained unaffected.
By now, Carr was fully established in the Derbyshire side. He married Stella, a niece of a Repton master Bill Blaxland, in 1953 and the couple made their home at Aston-on-Trent. That year Derbyshire appointed him assistant-secretary to Will Taylor so he was able to retain his amateur status while earning a living and also learn the administrative ropes from Taylor, which stood him in good stead in later years at Lord’s.
Carr’s career with the county –1946-63, captain from 1955-62 – contained many highlights. It coincided with the dominance of Surrey and later Yorkshire and although Derbyshire mounted challenges in several seasons they were never quite strong enough, lacking a high-quality batsman alongside Carr and Arnold Hamer. The bowling was another matter and Carr was unstinting in his praise for Les Jackson, Cliff Gladwin, Derek Morgan, Harold Rhodes and Edwin Smith, along with the wicket keeping of George Dawkes and then a young Bob Taylor.
With Alan Revill and Morgan, he excelled in Gladwin’s legendary leg-trap and his bowling, whether orthodox or unorthodox spin (the Chinaman, which turned from the off as opposed to the slow left-armer’s stock ball, a leg-break) took some useful wickets, indeed Morgan and Smith each felt he should have bowled more frequently.
During the hot summer of 1959, he smashed the county’s batting record with 2165 runs (2292 in all first-class matches), also taking 21 wickets and holding 35 catches. The 2165 remains a seasonal best for Derbyshire and is likely to remain because in the modern era not enough matches are played for a batsman such as Wayne Madsen to approach it, unless his figures are Bradmanesque.
His administrative career at Lord’s – the family moved to a home in St John’s Wood – tested all his diplomatic skills during several world cricketing crises. He also managed three England overseas tours and played club cricket until he was in his fifties, skippering Repton Pilgrims to victory in the first-ever The Cricketer Cup for the Old Boys of public schools. Carr also devised the bonus points system which, with modifications, remains in use in the Championship today.
In 1974 Donald and his family moved to a beautiful house in the Hertfordshire village of Radlett and it was here that he and Stella enjoyed golf in his retirement. He remained eager for news from the County Ground and was delighted when Derbyshire won the Second Division title in 2012, particularly as three members of the team had been at Repton – Ross Whiteley, Paul Borrington and Tom Poynton.
Four years later, in Repton that Saturday afternoon, the November leaves were thick on the ground, sodden after heavy morning rain. In the school chapel, the service was conducted by the chaplain, Fr Neil Roberts, with memories shared by Donald’s son, John (formerly of Repton, Oxford and Middlesex and now the ECB’s director of England Cricket Operations), Tim Lamb, former chief executive officer of the ECB and Mike Smith, the former England and Warwickshire captain, with a reading given by Donald’s daughter Diana.
That day, too, Old Reptonians recorded a 5-0 victory in the Arthur Dunn Cup.
John Shawcroft’s biography of Donald Carr, Derbyshire’s Corinthian (ACS Publications), with a foreword by Tom Graveney, was published in 2014.