Club Cricket Conference

Monday, 21st September 2020

Colin Milburn - reflections on a rip-roaring cricketing life


By Charles Randall

25 August 2016

The actor Dan Gaisford has been chosen to play the part of Colin Milburn in a new one-man play that is due to be staged at all the professional counties over a single month, November.

The busy tour of When The Eye Has Gone starts at a cricket club venue, Lansdown CC in Bath, for two days on 29 and 30 October.  Then the play goes around the shires, sweeping into London en route at the Oval, Lord's and Teddington CC on 17, 18 and 19 November.

The extraordinary story of Colin Milburn belongs to a passing cricket generation and will surely never be repeated. He was a man with colossal talent and build, weighing 18-stone at his batting peak. Yet in 1966 he forced his way into the England side for the first of his nine Tests, an almost unimaginable scenario in the present ECB era of intense physiology and fitness monitoring. There is nothing wrong with fitness, but can a fattie never compensate with runs?

Milburn seemed to confirm this was possible. Orthodox in method, he possessed sharp reflexes and incredible power of shot, dominating county cricket with Northamptonshire as a Durham exile, destroying one attack after another. In the field he operated effectively at short leg.

The genial Milburn could not be ignored. Maybe the selectors would have liked to impose a weight-loss ultimatum and insist he cut down his time in the bar, but they needed someone prepared to boss the touring West Indies, featuring  Garfield Sobers, Wes Hall and company.  The big man was run out in his debut innings - an ocean liner trying to turn about  - but his bravery and skill shone with a chaotic and rapid 94 in the second innings.

All too briefly he became a household name, and he even caused a sensation playing for Western Australia in the Sheffield Shield one winter, creaming 243 against Queensland at Brisbane on the first day before his dismissal just after tea. He was called up for the England tour of Pakistan and made 139 at Karachi in a Test cut short by crowd riots. The following May, in 1969, Milburn lost his left eye in a car crash in Northampton, an injury that effectively ended his career and life prospects. He returned to Durham, and his boozy decline ended with his death from a heart attack at the age of 48. He was buried in Burnopfield where he first caught the eye as a boy prodigy on the local cricket field.  Ian Botham was one of the pall bearers.

The play When The Eye Has Gone was written by the experienced playwright  Dougie Blaxland, nom de plume of James Graham-Brown, a former Derbyshire and Kent all-rounder. The production is a collaboration between the Professional Cricketers’ Association, Roughhouse Theatre and Live Wire Theatre. Gaisford was cast after auditions held in Bath. Interestingly no attempt has been made to suggest a physical likeness to Milburn, so that the man's personality becomes the key. Shane Morgan, the play's director, said: "In casting this one man show, it was important to me not to go down the route of producing a theatrical tribute act."

The play is set in the bar of The North Briton pub in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, during Milburn’s cabaret performance as 'Jolly Ollie', the character he  developed that concealed his insecurities and suffering.  With songs, anecdotes and a large gin and coke, the story swings backwards and forwards through Milburn’s life as he raises a glass to his triumphs and setbacks. The date is  28 February 1990,  the day of his death.

When The Eye Has Gone tour performances 2016

28 & 29: Lansdown CC, Bath, 30 Dorchester Arts,

1  Somerset  (The Cooper Associates County Ground, Taunton), 
2 Gloucestershire CCC (The Brightside Ground, Bristol), 
3 Glamorgan (The SSE SWALEC, Cardiff), 
4 Worcestershire (New Road, Worcester), 
7 Warwickshire (Edgbaston), 
8 Lancashire (Emirates Old Trafford), 
9 Derbyshire (The 3aaa County Ground, Derby), 
10 Yorkshire (Headingley Carnegie), 
11 Durham (Emirates Riverside, Chester-le-Street), 
12 Burnopfield CC
14 Essex (The Essex County Ground, Chelmsford), 
15 Kent (The Spitfire Ground, Canterbury), 
16 Sussex (The 1st Central County Ground, Hove), 
17 Surrey (The Kia Oval), 
18 Middlesex (Lord’s), 
19 Teddington CC
21 Hampshire (Ageas Bowl), 
22 Leicestershire (Fischer County Ground, Leicester), 
23 Nottinghamshire (Trent Bridge Inn, Nottingham), 
24 Northamptonshire (County Ground, Northampton).
25 West Hallam CC
Tickets £10 for adults; £8 concessions.

To book: