A wonderful caring human being
Sussex Cricket, the MCC, Lord’s Taverners’ and many others within our sporting fraternity mourns the recent passing of a wonderful, caring human being. At the height of the global pandemic, a true friend of cricket succumbed to the Covid 19 virus. John was admitted to University College London Hospital at the end of April displaying symptoms and with trouble breathing. JD had suffered with Parkinson’s for much of the past decade and even though that disease was under control, he was a high risk.
On Friday 15 May, John’s wife, Helen phoned my wife, Adell here in Cape Town to say that the inevitable had happened. We grieved together for someone so very dear to our family; it was such a tragic passing for a genuinely wonderful guy. Being a close friend to JD, Richard Barrow suggested that I share some reminiscences for the Sussex community, so here it is.
My Sussex era was 1970 to 1986 and in the early days I recall meeting this slightly mysterious figure, known only as “JD”. His regular beer sessions after a game with the likes of Peter Graves, Geoff Greenidge, John Snow and others, left me no doubt that here was someone to get to know. But who was this worldly man, with a quirky sense of humour and that perfect broadcasting voice?
Born and bred in Sussex
John Duncan was born and bred in Sussex, living next to Henfield Cricket Club in his youth. Much as he aspired to play for The County (or for The Albion) his focus soon turned to life in Hove with his growing family, and to stints as a part-time radio commentator alongside Des Lynam, Stanley Allen and others. He would often run across from his commentating position in the Gilligan Stand on a Sunday afternoon, to invite any available player for an informal chat on air. It was difficult to refuse him and was always generously rewarded in the Long Stop bar after play. Such different times back then!
He was actually a bank manager
I got to know JD as someone who fitted calmly into any conversation and a character whose love for cricket was unmistakable. No wonder he was so trusted and liked by the players who he regularly interviewed for Radio Brighton, and later Radio Sussex. A surprise it was for me to find out that JD was actually a Nat West bank manager who had written a book on the subject! One anecdote in the early 1970s, was of an interview he held in Tony Greig’s rented flat in Hove; as the cricket conversation paused, broadcaster switched to banker, as he enquired of this rising star of cricket, why he hadn’t yet invested in a house. JD not only arranged a very favourable mortgage, but helped to identify local properties for the Greigs to choose their first home.
He acted as an estate manager for the Greigs
JD found Greigy to be the perfect foil for his microphone and was never short of quotes! No more so than in 1977 when the only news of note was World Series Cricket and Tony’s link with Mr Packer. That friendship remained loyal, illustrated by the forward that AWG wrote for JD’s superb 2011 book “Cricket, Wonderful Cricket.”; Ian Greig fondly recalls meeting up with JD and Helen in Sydney, where Tony had welcomed them to stay at his home, treating them to Test Match tickets, sharing wine and earnest conversations on the game.
JD never bragged about his own cricket but he did let it slip that he could bowl a bit and, if required, could help out in the nets. Peter Graves remembers JD bowling to him before a county match, (with captain Greig’s full sanction). After a respectable medium-paced delivery or two, the next flew into a neighbouring net to the surprise of a young Jerry Groome. JD apologised profusely at such embarrassment but put it down to the pressure of bowling in the “heavies” net. Other bowlers such as John Spencer, Roger Marshall & Chris Fletcher clearly recall that incident, together with some outrageous ragging that followed JD for an eternity. “Spud” Spencer’s batting was given some strife by JD, for being “bounced out” by him in a club game in Portslade. The fact emerged that Spud was only 16 at the time and JD a seasoned “trundler” with Hove Aldrington CC!
A Life Member at Sussex
By 1985, my Benefit Year, JD had moved up to London for business but he still promised me assistance in any way he could. Knowing that after-dinner speaking was not natural to me, he gave invaluable guidance, including this: “Giving a speech is like drilling for oil; if you haven’t struck after 10 minutes, stop boring.” His sage advice helped me to stay sane and focussed; he also did commentaries at benefit matches, arranged sponsorship and penned a poetic piece for my brochure. I’m ever grateful for JD’s support at that time.
As a Life Member, not only did JD watch Sussex whenever possible, he held one particular player of our era in total awe. In the late 70s through the ‘80s, Imran Khan of course, was the Sussex king-pin and JD was not alone in admiring his sheer cricketing brilliance of him as a cricketer. We all knew that the man, now Pakistan’s President, had it all. Also note that JD was as chuffed as any Sussex fan when Chris Adams lifted that 2003 County Championship trophy and held the legendary “Mushy” in similar high regard to Imran.
An Imran anecdote
This Imran anecdote dates to late July 1986 and a Nat West quarter-final. Sussex are at Headingly, JD has driven from London for the day and rain pushes the tie into the second day. We’re in a fair position batting first, but Imran is not happy! Rushing anxiously into the sponsor’s tent where Paul Parker and I are chatting with JD, Imran’s first words are, “JD, I need to get to London this evening, it’s very important!” So JD explained to “Imie” that he will gladly take him to London, but what about the next day’s play? Paul and I giggled as we were well tuned in to the eccentric behaviour by our star all-rounder. Imran was eventually persuaded by JD not to go to London but get a good night’s rest; sanity prevailed! We beat Yorkshire comfortably and lifted the Nat West Trophy at Lords a few weeks later. Imran, as usual played a huge role and JD had played his.
A visit to Cape Town
Very soon after that 1986 final, (me as “twelfthie”) I left Sussex and we moved to Cape Town (my second home & Adell’s first). JD was vehemently against the move, speaking out in his typical forthright way and warning of troubled times for RSA. Our minds were made up and it was not long before JD enjoyed some winter visits, usually taking in an England/SA match at Newlands. His visit in ’92 was to see our growing family and to take in the beauty of the Cape, which he found spectacular. On my 40th birthday, we celebrated at home with a raucous “Hippie Party”, of which we have wonderful family memories as well as some ridiculous pictures of JD with flowers in his shoulder-length wig and ensuring we played the right music for that era!
Marriage to Helen
JD married Helen in 1997 and they brought so much joy to each other. All the Phillipson family descended on their London flat for a week of magical hospitality and in 2011 we were warmly welcomed again to their beautiful villa in southern Spain. We all had such fun there, with JD showing total disregard for his Parkinson’s.
Many, many of the Sussex players from our era have recently sent respectful thoughts on how JD touched their lives as well as kind condolences to Helen. In June 2019, Adell and I visited the UK for our daughter’s wedding. A chance to see our Sussex friends was on the itinerary and we were so delighted that JD and Helen were able to join us for our ‘day at Hove’.
Also there was David Oliver or “Olly”, JD’s close, long-standing friend, as well as our dear family friend, Brenda Austin, a life-time Sussex supporter. It was a brilliant day with conversation flowing as if we’d never left. What we couldn’t have known, was that we wouldn’t ever see JD or Olly again; barely three weeks separated the passing of these two old mates. However it was a day that we’ll never forget, one of no regrets; Helen later confirmed that JD enjoyed himself so much; lots of mates, a few beers, top-class cricket and plenty of laughs.
John Snow, Johnny Barclay, Paul & Tress Parker, Peter Graves & his son Johnston, “Bluey” Marshall & Sybil (JD was god-father to their son), John Spencer, Colin Wells, Chris Fletcher and Simon Hoadley were all there. It was such a good gathering even with apologies from Alan Wells, Allan Green, Jerry Groome, Neil Lenham and Tony “Lester” Pigott, who was struggling with ill health at that time. So much for us all to be forever grateful.
So finally we say good-bye to a friend who gave so much. John Duncan will be remembered by the players of that era as someone who was as genuine and as caring as they come. “JD”, long remembered, for sure.
A Tribute by Paul Phillipson (12/06/2020)
You an see a video clip of John on the Parkinson’s Movement website here
You can contact Paul Phillipson by using the contact form below