Thursday, 24 July 2014

Gray Nicolls Scoop - Bonus Features

If I may be as arrogant as to suggest that there is demand for more Gray Nicolls Scoop goodness following my feature in the Guardian yesterday (you can find it >>>here<<< if you missed it), I thought I'd upload a whole heap of goodies from the albums of Swan Richards, the godfather of Australian Scoops.

Swan was very generous with his time and these albums in helping me write this thing (as were Greg Smyth and Stuart Kranzbuhler from Gray  Nicolls), so I hope I successfully relayed the impression of Swan as a generous and engaging cricket identity. Someone told me that Swan was a "cricket tragic" but there is nothing tragic about his love for the game (he still coaches juniors, sells bats through his shop and runs The Crusaders) and that enthusiasm certainly helped propel me through the process of scanning all of these pics, many of which I'd like to have included were it not for space constraints. Mike Hytner from the Guardian sports desk was a gem for handling everything I dumped on him as it was.

So here's some more gold from the archives. I've tried and label things accurately but keep in mind  I didn't have Swan next to me, so I may have mixed things up on occasion. They've also just been pasted in alphabetical order as they appeared in my scans folder, rather than in any kind of logical sequence. There's quite a few of them so I'm sure you'll indulge me in that. Nearly all pics (bar the adverts) will be from one of two locations; the original Gray Nicolls factory in Robertsbridge, Sussex, and the first Australian factory in Mordialloc, south of Melbourne, which Swan set up and ran from 1973 onward.

My only regret with the original piece was that we couldn't include more pictures because no cricket artifact benefits more from the sensation of looking and touching than the Scoop, as the comments section of the article indicated. Cricketers of a certain age just love this bat and always will. I spent days on this piece but I feel like it was worth it in the end.

This is the Scoop's first appearance in the press - the Australian version of The Cricketer, Feb 1975. Swan reckons that he kept the first one used in a Test (by Chappelli) until Chappelli asked for it back to go in a raffle or charity auction. If the current owner is reading, I'm sure Swan would love to hear from you.

This came later in 1975 and is quite possibly nudged its way into my Top 10 cricket photos of all-time.

Poetry in motion from Chappelli. The minute I looked at this, I realise that a similar shot was later used on the cover of 'Chappelli', his first autobiography. That pic is from the same angle and in the same game though slightly different to this one.

Here is a 1974 price list for Kookaburra cricket balls on offer through A.G. Thompson. Cheap as chips.

This would be the makings of a very early Scoop, possibly while Swan was over at Robertsbridge in 1973. I should add that all of these memories would be lost without Swan's photos and compulsion to keep and document everything about the bat-making process.

Stacks of new blades at Roberstbridge, early 1970s.

The factory floor at Robertsbridge, circa early 1970s.

This was an early promotional flyer given to retailers and customers to explain the science behind the Scoop's famous 'perimeter weighting'. Myths still abound mind you. It's not a terribly complicated concept but is must have just seemed kooky back in the mid-70s.

Willow drying out at Robertsbridge, Sussex, early 1970s.

Okay, maybe "drying" isn't the word.

Another one from Robertsbridge. What a quaint setting in which such radical innovation took place. That is John Newbery, maker of the original Scoop, on the left.

Okay, we're in Australia now. That's Swan in the paisley shirt sitting with staff early on in the days of the Mordialloc factory. Love the Fosters longneck in the foreground. 

Willow being stored at Robertsbridge.

These albums were also a great insight into the way workplaces like the Gray Nicolls factory looked in the mid-70s. These people were producing bats with which some of Australia's greatest players produced some of their more memorable innings, but these shots are like a daggy family photo album. Love it.

Scoopy goodness drying off in racks.

Bats being polished.

I could be wrong, but this one's potentially just had its handle stuck in place.

If anyone has spotted themself, a friend or family member in any of these shots and wants to let me know, feel free in the comments below.

Around the time that the Scoop first launched, Gray Nicolls was also producing the 'Wisden' brand gear as well. This shot would be from Robertsbridge, because the Wisden never found its way out to Oz as far as I can tell.

This shot is a gem. It confirmed Swan's suspicion that the first 'Twin Scoop' was actually trialled via the Wisden brand. The one to the left is similar to Duncan Fearnley's 'see-through' bat, as modelled by Bob Willis, but Swan said the round holes were a fizzer and the bats would break easily. They ended up giving it a miss and sticking with the conventional Scoop.

This one is an 'indoor' Scoop. It looks a bit bizarre, doesn't it?

Swan also had some terrific scrapbooks full of articles relating to bats. This 1975 article from 'The News' talks about Len Newbery and Robertsbridge. 

This is a page from a 1984 Gray Nicolls Australia catalogue, featuring Swan, his off-sider Tony Fletcher and Victorian cricket great, the late John Scholes. There was a price list as well but it contained cost pricing so thought it would be bad form to upload. The cat's probably out of the bag 30 years later, mind you.

Australian distributors in 1984 - I wondered why Tony Steele's gear reviews in 'The Cricketer' were all so positive...

Magnificent back cover to the 1984 Australian catalogue. 

Swan had a huge block-mounted poster version of the publicity shot above. I did want to steal it, I'll admit.

1989 catalogue featuring the Dynadrive my oldest brother had, probably in the same year now that I think about it. I wasn't allowed to use it, obviously, so made do with a Kashmir willow Powerspot, as seen below.

Actually, this would be an English catalogue because I specifically remember that my Powerspot had a red spot and the signature and endorsement of David Boon. I can think of no greater stamp of quality, to be honest.

Helmets probably not Gray Nics' strong suit at this point. Imagine how badly you'd get sledged wearing one of those. You'd probably be sledging yourself.

The cover to aforementioned 1989 catalogue. It's so awful I actually like it.

We've jumped forward to Lara era now. It was a weird anomaly in the history of the Scoop that BCL used it for his 375, don't you think? I had the commemorative poster that Gray Nicolls put out on my bedroom wall though, I remember that.

This was in a quite brilliant commemorative booklet that GN put out for their (I think) 150th birthday. It corroborated my research indicating that Barry Richards had used a Scoop in the 1974 County Championship season, which is obviously a vital information for a grown man to know.

We're back at Mordialloc now. I'm pretty sure this is Swan but I could be wrong, His offsider clearly doesn't want her photo taken.

Does anyone else want a time machine right now? Mordialloc, mid 1970s.

I think this one is from Robertsbridge, though I'm not sure who it is I'm afraid.

Stacks of willow and bats, Mordialloc, mid 1970s.

Gray Nicolls Australia factory at Mordialloc, circa 1970s.

Unloading precious cargo.


Post-Scoop. The principles of bat-making on display here have not really changed that much, which was the surprising thing I learned in my visit to Gray Nicolls new facility in Cheltenham, 10 mins from Mordialloc.

Choose your weapon.

This is Swan in his office / memorabilia cave at Gray Nicolls, 1979. Over the years he amassed an amazing memorabilia collection, much of which has since been donated to the MCC Museum at the MCG. He did bring in one of Clive Lloyd's Scoops for me to hold though, which was very kind. It really did have five grips on it, I assure you.

This must be late 70s as well, Swan second from right at the back and Tony Fletcher far right at the back.

This was one of my favourite pics of the Australian staff in Swan's albums. I'm pretty sure Peninsula Billiards are still going strong too, actually.

This shot of John Newbery was taken during a visit he made to Australia to check in on the Australian manufacturing and assist Swan. I guess Newbery didn't leave GN on the greatest of terms when he went out on his own, but he was recalled with great fondness by Swan and rightly ranks among the greatest of all bat-makers. 

Robertsbridge, early 80s.

Mordialloc, 1979. Swan is with Tony Fletcher, the man who had to race down the Nepean Highway to replace David Hookes' bat right as the latter went out to face the Vics in a Shield game at the Junction Oval. Hookes ripped the plastic cover off and proceeded to blast them all over the place in one of his finest first class innings. There's some press clippings a little further down. 

1974 pricelists for Gray Nicolls Australia in its first 12 months of operation.

You'll note that the Scoop is not on there. That's because Swan was only making them for professionals at that point. It wasn't until a season later that they were available to the public in huge numbers.

Hookesy relaxes after using the 'Hookes Hurricane' that Tony Fletcher had run though the gates with as the late, great South Australian was about to head out to bat.

More Hookesy.

Oh yeah, and he had a broken thumb as well. He had to switch to a lighter bat late in the day because the Hurricane he'd been given in the morning was an absolute monster.

The entrance at Robertsbridge, Sussex.

Original promo stills for a GC Master Scoop ad campaign.

More of the same.

I actually have a copy of the final ad somewhere, now that I look at this. I must dig it out.

Look, Brearley used them so the science must have been sound.

Not my greatest scanning effort but you get the idea. Swan only had good things to say about the Chappell's, who were both instrumental in the success of the Scoop, particularly in Australia.

Pure. Bat. Porn.

Though the advertising activity didn't need to be all that sophisticated when the Australian operation had a product as hot as the Scoop on their hands, this one featuring Peter King and Simon Davis probably didn't cause a stampede down at the local sports shops.

There you go, the aforementioned promo shot, from a fold-out flyer that was no doubt handed out to kiddies and cricket nerds.

You can see Swan grading bats in this promo flyer.

I want one of everything.

This is a much older shot from Robertsbridge and a beautiful pic it is, too.


Willow at Robertsbridge.


Okay, name the players in this photo. Go on.

This guy looks a bit Del boy Trotter, don't you think?

Stock room at Robertsbridge, aka Aladdin's Cave.

Clive Lloyd, Swan and Greg Chappell at a charity game. Nice appearance by Bruce Yardley over Chappell's left shoulder. 

Three wise men. I think Swan possibly took this shot, though I could be wrong. It was in his albums.

Greg Chappell batting in above-mentioned game.

Willow straight off the truck from JS Wright and Sons, probably at Robertsbridge, circa 1972.


Ditto. Magnificent.

The J.S. Wright and Sons truck delivering prime willow.

John Newbery after he'd left GN and gone out on his own. 

Len Newbery, John's father and once a partner in the Gray Nicolls business, can be seen at the right of this photo.

An old 'with compliments' slips from Len Newbery to Swan.

Yes, these are the original Scoop drawings by John Newbery. Swan was even more excited than me when he came across these in his albums. It was a terrific afternoon looking through his stuff. 

These were taken back to Oz for the local staff to use as a template for making the Scoop.

Brilliant stuff.

An article about Swan in that odd large-format era of 'Australian Cricket' magazine, when they made it the same size as a newspaper.

More on Swan

An article on Swan from The Cricketer, February 1987.

Another one on Swan, a great man and one of cricket's genuine characters.