I was lucky, I was introduced to books at an early age and was a confident, and voracious, reader by the time I was five and around that time my parents subscribed to the Children’s Book Club which supplied a hardback book every month from a selection they provided in a catalogue sent with the previous month’s book. The book club was run by the famous London bookshop Foyles, at least going by the address printed in the books I still have of 121 Charing Cross Road, there is no mention of the owner of the club in any of the books I still have from them. As well as books reprinted for the club there were also books from other publishers included in the selection and all editions were offered at a significant discount to the listed price. I know I was a member for at least five years judging by the dates of the books I retain and memory of the significant shelf space they took up and this weeks blog subject is one of the earliest from when I turned six years old.
It was great fun to read Mortimer Also again, probably for the first time in over forty years. Over those intervening decades the only time it has come off the shelf was to be packed in a box and then unpacked again after each house move. It was one of those not reprinted by the book club so this is the 1968 first edition printed by Worlds Work and sadly it would appear to have been the only edition as a search of abebooks and biblio only revealed this version. It seems odd it never got reprinted, the story is well written and beautifully illustrated by David Knight and I’m sure would have found a wider readership if it had been picked up for a paperback reprint, at 21 shillings for the hardback (roughly £18 in today’s money) it was quite expensive if not bought through the book club.
The story concerns Henry Lester, a leading cricket umpire about to start on his final season before retiring with the highlight being the Lord’s Test Match, The Ashes, England v Australia. Certainly in the 1960’s when the book was written this would have been the standout game of cricket that year however Henry has a problem, his eyesight is failing him and he occasionally has double vision so he is planning on quitting before his career grand finale. He also has another concern which he makes some notes of before going to bed one night and to his surprise finds replies added to his piece of paper the next morning
1. A mouse has taken up residence in the skirting board of my parlour THAT'S RITE! 2. Clean, tidy, quiet, no trouble at all THANKS I'M SURE 3. Listens to wireless, only on Saturday evenings SEE B.B.C. 6:30pm 4. During Summer WHO PLAYS CRICKET IN WINTER? 5. Sits in entrance to hole - backwards! YOUR FAULT? 6. Makes strange scratching noises and occasionally twitches tail SEE 5. 7. The sports page of my evening paper disappears every Saturday night YOU GET IT BACK ON SUNDAY 8. I am worried AWRIGHT I'LL GO.
And so Henry gets to meet Mortimer Also, a family name “Grandfather Mortimer; father – Mortimer Too; yours truly – Mortimer Also” a cricket mad mouse who notes the scores down on old bus tickets, hence scratching noises and sitting in his hole backwards to prevent them being blown about, and is also perceptive enough to spot Henry’s secret eyesight problem. He talks Henry out of resigning and between them come up with a plan where Mortimer Also will hide in his hat, observing the game through tiny holes and signalling to Henry what decisions he should make. The story is full of gentle humour with Mortimer reacting to the Australians initially in a highly partisan way especially after the fast bowler sees him on the ground and tries to hit him with a bat. Gradually though he settles down and the plan succeeds in getting Henry through the five days of the game with only a few incidents. In the final few pages where Mortimer Also steps up to defend the ruse to the Lords Committee after Henry confesses all after Mortimer was knocked out by a stray ball are beautifully written and that is probably why over fifty years after I first had this book it is still on my shelves unlike most of my original childhood library.
The book includes a few very thinly disguised actual cricketers including a large framed Australian fast bowler called Kelly who was probably based on Graham McKenzie and the captains of England and Australia from the early 1960’s, Ted Dexter and Richie Benaud respectively. Dexter is simply referred to as Ted Baxter but there is a quite an accurate summary of Benaud as Henry describes him to Mortimer before the start of the game.
Archie Renaud, Captain; all-rounder; slow spin bowler; lively bat; goes in 6 or 7.
This dates the year that this is based on to probably 1961 as by the 1964 series Benaud was no longer captain. Ah the serendipity of cricket, whilst looking that up I found that the Australian touring team in 1961 included a slow left-arm bowler called I Quick. Although he never played in the Test Matches I love that fact almost as much as I loved reading Mortimer Also, now will somebody please reprint it so that more people can discover this little gem of a book.
7 thoughts on “Mortimer Also – Jo Rice”
Hello. Thank you for writing this. I was thinking about the book today and just searched it on google. I agree with your sentiments – this is a wonderful book. Very luckily I got to know Jo Rice as a child. She took me to the Lords Test as a treat in 1976 (when I was eight) but sadly it was the Saturday which was rained off without a ball bowled. Jo was inspired to write the book by a lifelong love of cricket and a chance encounter with a mouse at Lords one day – scurrying between the seats. Her best cricket story though was being convinced by her brother that his box was a head protector
LikeLiked by 1 person
Does anybody know how to get in touch with Jo Rice, or indeed if she is still alive? I have spent forty years being given credit for Mortimer Also, merely because we share a name (although my Jo is masculine and short for Jonathan) and I write books on cricket. I was recently asked if I would grant the rights to Mortimer Also for an audiobook, but was sadly unable to do so. But how do we find out where Ms Rice is today? Any ideas?
Sorry I’ve no idea how to reach her
Jonathan. Jo was a Domestic Bursar at Imperial College in London. She lived in Ennismore Gardens in Kensington – she is no longer at that address. She wrote several other excellent children’s books. I would be surprised if she is still alive, but if she is she will be close to three figures
Also a childhood favourite of mine (got to know it because it was read on Jackanory – I then got the book from the library…. and forgot to take it back… must be 50 years ago now…. He came into my mind because of the obituary of Umpire Chester I came across today, found here: https://www.espncricinfo.com/wisdenalmanack/content/story/228433.html
Where you will see Chester picked up his stones from his mother’s garden. I believe Lester did the same, tho’ I seem to remember the garden was in Somerset not Bushey.
Thanks for the pointers on who the players might be. But Chester/Lester looks like a link and tho’ before my time I believe Chester was quite an umpiring character…
Yes sounds highly likely that he was the inspiration for Lester, even down to the mention of a dislike of Australian appealing
Pingback: The Ghost of Thomas Kempe – Penelope Lively – Ramblings on my bookshelves