Comfort, happiness and much needed escapism was dispensed with little fanfare by the many organisers and volunteers who gave their time to the Make an Ashes Cricket Wish Foundation.
|A retired scorer made legal history in 1981 when he became the first person in the United Kingdom to be imprisoned for creating a wish montage.|
Umpires in clown outfits performed magic tricks, groundsmen signed orthopaedic casts, and cricket legends - perched atop hospital beds - retold stories normally peddled as expensive after dinner entertainment; or, simply watched the Morecambe and Wise Show with a companion too sick to listen.
Sadly, history - of the selective type that is prepared for popular consumption - has a habit of skimming over the good and dwelling on failure.
So it seems inevitable that the Make an Ashes Cricket Wish Foundation will forever be remembered for a relatively small number of mistakes, and poorly judged good intentions.
These were usually minor mishaps that beneficiaries were quick to forgive; and the authorities were happy to overlook.
At least that was the case until 1981; when an incident occurred that was serious enough to force a reluctant Charity Commission into disbanding the organisation.
Notable 'Ashes Wishes'
1964: The parents of thirteen-year-old Mary Dunnock ask the Make an Ashes Cricket Wish Foundation to arrange a surprise visit from an umpire. Soon afterwards their daughter develops a taste for blood and takes to sleeping in a coffin during the day.
1968: An umpire is convicted of child cruelty after granting the wishes of a twelve-year-old boy who asked to be hand fed mealworms, fat-balls, and other suet based wild bird food.
Notable Unintentional 'Ashes Wishes'
1975: On the morning of his execution, a Texan prisoner makes his final request: one last cigarette. Moments before he is strapped to the gurney a Make an Ashes Cricket Wish volunteer hands him a signed photograph of Umpire Arthur Fagg.
1977: Hospital regular Arthur Clam orders stew for his tea. He is forced to settle for a hard boiled egg and a visit from an MCC steward.
Having already been forced to follow on, England was reduced to 135/7 by mid afternoon on the fourth day. They needed a further 92 runs just to make Australia bat again so an early finish to the Test Match seemed a certainty. Perhaps in an effort to salvage some good from a miserable situation, the TCCB seized the opportunity to honour a long standing promise.
As there was little likelihood of play on the fifth day, Geoffrey Boycott would instead - barring a miraculous reversal of fortune - visit Basil Duddlesmith, an invalid and resident at the nearby Gloomy Meadows Nursing Home.
The Make an Ashes Cricket Wish Foundation, who had approached the TCCB at the request of Mr. Duddlesmith's wife, wasted little time in informing her that the English opener would be joining her husband for a special surprise lunch.
But Mrs. Duddlesmith's delight was to be short lived. An Ian Botham led fight-back dragged the match - and Boycott and his team mates - into day five.
England's famous recovery - and eventual series turning final day victory - brought much needed relief to a country blighted by high unemployment and recession. Yet Mrs. Duddlesmith wasn't the only English supporter cursing the brilliance of Botham, and the resilience of Graham Dilley and Chris Old.
As Botham's taming, then mastery, of Dennis Lillee and Terry Alderman continued to exceed all expectations, staff at the Make an Ashes Cricket Wish Foundation, were feeling as much pressure as the Australian captain Kim Hughes.
Each Botham boundary increased the likelihood that they would be denied the opportunity to repair some of the damage caused by a string of highly embarrassing and well publicised blunders.
Even worse, earlier optimism had turned into fear that the organisation's reputation would be further tarnished if they disappointed the Duddlesmiths. An increasing state of irrationality pervaded the mindset of the assembled decision makers.
|Tension mounts as staff view a presentation on the probability of play on day five.|
A hopeful media sensed that the surprise lunch might provide yet another debacle, and fully intended to descend upon Gloomy Meadows en masse.
Try as they might, the beleaguered charity was unable to find a suitable replacement for Boycott. All hope seemed lost until they received news of an unbelievable spot of luck: Mrs. Duddlesmith had died in a boating accident earlier that morning. They were now free to remove all mention of Boycott from her 'My Ashes Wish' letter.
Fortuitously, Sir Tristram Hairpenny, Chairman of the Make an Ashes Cricket Wish Foundation, was a master of deception and concealment; skills he had honed during a distinguished forty year public service career.
|The extent to which Sir Tristram Hairpenny (pictured right) altered departmental letters, contracts, archives; and Parliamentary records - including Hansard - remains the subject of speculation as he was never officially caught. However, he is believed to have 'doctored' a 1937 edition of the Wisden Cricketers' Almanack held in the British Library, in which Hairpenny is named as one of the five 'Wisden Cricketers of the Year'.|
He was a product of the long administrative era that preceded the information technology revolution - a fraudulent world of paper and shelves and secretive opportunities. It was the golden age of bureaucracy and civil servants adept at altering and falsifying documents were highly valued. In many ways they were the 'spin doctors' of their time and the very best garnered political favour and influence. None were better than Hairpenny who was privately known to many as 'De Face' of Westminster.
Removing all references to Boycott was a simple assignment for a man as talented as Sir Tristram: a deftly controlled razorblade, a little thought, a few choice pen strokes, and a little time.
But this was more than a mere technical exercise. He had consciously manufactured an alternative 'wish' that - given Mr. Duddlesmith's recently changed circumstances - had greater practical and emotional value than a fleeting visit from an English cricketer. Indeed it was what his wife would have most likely wished for had she known of her impending doom.
Impropriety aside, it appeared to be one of those rare and satisfying occasions where everyone stood to gain.
So, it was with renewed confidence that on the 21st of July 1981, Sir Tristram Hairpenny, visited the ailing pensioner and announced: 'Here is the boy cat you have always wanted. It will be good company now that your wife is dead'.
Mr. Duddlesmith who was unaware of his wife's demise, was inconsolable and died of sadness within the hour - he had always wanted a girl cat.