To fairly review Miles Jupp’s Fibber in the Heat, I have to begin a little further back in the story, and explain why I was reading the book in the first place.
Firstly, I find cricket interesting. To me, it seems one of the purest sports still played professionally around the world, without the overt crassness of American football, basketball, or football (soccer). In American sport, only baseball seems to retain its pastoral roots and remain quite as immune to the increasing vulgarity and debasement of ‘culture’ in the way which, to me, cricket does. It is not a sport which is played professionally in America, but I have occasionally spotted people having a go, in their cricketing whites, even, on a Sunday in certain parks. I’ve caught matches on television, of course. So reading a book about touring India to watch Test matches isn’t outside of my normal sphere of interest.
Secondly and more importantly, I’ve been a listener to BBC Radio 4 for some years now, and Jupp has just taken a critical role in a very important programme. I suppose I’m ageing slowly in the general direction of what is claimed to be the Radio 4 demographic, but I’ve never particularly felt that listening to intelligently written and produced radio was a particularly age-dependent activity. (No, I don’t listen to The Archers.)
In the old days, when it was only possible to occasionally pick up programming on shortwave or on the World Service overnight feed, I enjoyed the whole spectrum of what was on offer, but my favourites were the comedies. And of the comedy, my favourite has always been topical events-based comedy, The News Quiz (itself a subject which deserves more attention at some point, but for now I’m going to assume that readers can find what they need to know via the vast and often tedious tendrils of the Internet). When listeners found out that the departing chair, Sandi Toksvig, was being replaced by Miles Jupp, I cast around to find out what I could about the new front man. I knew that he’d done some television, namely Balamory, a BBC Scotland programme aimed at pre-schoolers, and some radio as well. I wondered what it was that he had done which could have put him in the running to take charge of one of Radio 4’s most beloved institutions. One of the things which came up in my searches was Fibber in the Heat.
I ordered a copy, hoping to finish it and have formed a fuller opinion of Jupp before his first broadcast. In a way, I’m glad that isn’t how things worked out, because my reading of the book might have ruined my feelings toward one of my favorite radio shows. For that matter, it might still.
The story recounted in Fibber in the Heat is fairly simple, and goes something like this: Jupp decides, with his life at a loose end (having finished Balamory and a run in panto at the end of 2005), that what he really wants to do is become a cricket journalist. His love of cricket is entirely genuine, and his hero-worship of both the great journalists and great players involved in the game is almost painful. Using his connections at BBC Scotland and a family link to the Western Mail newspaper in Wales, he essentially invents his own journalistic accreditation, and blags his way into the press corps for a Test series in India. He books his travel, and sets off for an adventure.
Now, at this point, the book can go one of two ways: 75 pages in, you are either with Jupp, and find his antics to be exactly the sort of thing a smart, resourceful fellow would do, or you think he’s a bit of a juvenile sham and a fraud, and don’t understand what the hell he thought he was doing. And that feeling colours the whole of your perception of the remaining 275 or so pages of the book. “What on earth,” says Jupp at one point early on, “do I think I’m doing?” And this, pretty much, was exactly what I felt, and he never presents any argument for why, having done absolutely no real work in advance, he should suddenly be granted admission to the inner circles of the sporting world, or any other, on the basis of having done a degree in Divinity and then having spent a few years pratting around in a pink kilt.
This having been my feeling, every incident subsequently depicted was met with thoughts of “good: serves him right” on my part. The reader is supposed to feel sympathy, it seems, when his accreditation is the subject of repeated bureaucratic cock-ups: I simply felt it was justified. The reader is meant to see his side of things when he is treated with suspicion by other journalists: I merely felt “why the bloody hell wouldn’t they wonder who this odd interloper was?” When Jupp’s tenuous Welsh player connection, Simon Jones, is injured before the tour begins, and when his BBC Scotland contact steadfastly refuses to answer his emails (for what turn out to be only vaguely understandable reasons), the reader is meant, one supposes, to share Jupp’s pain and uncertainty, I couldn’t help but thinking that it seemed pretty much inevitable. And when Jupp repeated doesn’t bother to either know the address, or even the name, of his hotels, never mind looking at a bloody map of the city he is in to figure out which way to go to get anywhere… well, I couldn’t help thinking “good. Serves the blighter right.” The miracle, really, seems to be that he survived India at all.
Of course, every book must have a crisis, and it seems somehow fitting that Jupp’s involves some dodgy local food and the subsequent lavatorial consequences. Left incapacitated and missing several days of play, he is led to the author’s great revelation and flash of insight, which is that he really does not belong there. Jupp has been thrilled to meet his cricketing heroes, but has found that, like looking behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz, one’s illusions are easily dashed by knowledge of what actually lies on the other side.
This plan, such as it was, has been ludicrous, stupid, and lazy. This was not a clever, daring adventure; this is a pointless, ill-conceived, reckless, arrogant and lonely waste of time and money.
— page 281
At this point, a side trip to a nature sanctuary with his friend Alan is somewhat redemptive, both for the author and for the book as a whole, but nowhere near enough. Jupp is quick to point out that he loaned Alan the money to fly out to meet an elephant with whom the latter had become fascinated, although he makes certain to tell us that he was happy to do so. On safari near the park, they also see a tiger. It seems, in many ways, the best part of the trip, but the sort of aside which might have been better as an article elsewhere, rather than as padding for his cricket book. On their return for the final Test in Mumbai, while generously allowing Alan to stay with him in his very posh hotel, Jupp finds that, surprisingly, he is welcomed back into the fold by the journalists, who have noted his absence (probably more with mild curiosity than concern) and give some evidences of being pleased to see him again. The reader, if he has stuck around for all of this, is sure to be convinced… aren’t they?
Jupp’s final realisation, that yes, perhaps one really shouldn’t ever meet one’s heroes, and that what he most loved about cricket was being a fan, pretty much took the biscuit. It was the sort of finish that was so very predictable that it seems anyone could have saved him the expense of an India trip and just set out some hard truths about life. That for him such knowledge appeared to be revelatory made this reader despair all the more, and not merely because the author of such thoughts now helms this reader’s favourite light entertainment. Jupp is funny, and bits of the book will make almost anyone chuckle or smile. This book may give a thrill to the more anarchic personality, or those who somehow get a charge from public school boys flaunting the system. And the cricketing detail is good. But try as I would, I just couldn’t like this book. Well-edited and fluently written though it was, the story told just set my teeth on edge. Two and a half stars.
For the record, the new series of The News Quiz hasn’t been bad, and to date, as a listener of modestly long standing, I’ve enjoyed it. If my opinion of the new chairman is that he is somewhat callow, at least as evidenced by Fibber in the Heat, it is my hope that like most youthful types, he will grow out of it.
Reviewed 4 October 2015.
Find your copy on AbeBooks.com.