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Backwords: An Appointment With Fear

Mike Shaw recalls the nights when he listened to spooky stories on the radio, introduced by the man in black.

In the dimly lit living room a young boy sits, alone and ill at ease.

Suddenly, the late-night silence is broken by a manís deep whisper.

ďThis is your story-teller, the man in black,Ē intones the voice.

So began another Appointment With Fear, the regular radio feature of 50 or 60 years ago, which set my pulse racing to fever pitch.

Valentine Dyall, the man in black, fired my imagination and that of millions of other listeners with his tales of terror.

Only occasionally was I allowed to stay up to keep an Appointment With Fear.

Maybe that was wise. Because some of the stories struck such genuine fear in my heart that I switched the wireless off without waiting for the end.

And it was a nervous young lad who dashed upstairs and lay in bed with the light on until the visions conjured up by Valentine Dyall disappeared.

At the other end of the day I was only 13 when I amazed my parents by announcing that I would be getting up at some unearthly hour in the morning.

On one never-to-be-forgotten winterís day I was even sitting beside the wireless when the BBC played their regular test tune, The Teddy Bearís Picnic, before the dayís programmes began.

My early rising had nothing to do with health and vitality, but everything to do with cricket and the 1946-47 MCC tour to Australia and New Zealand.

I had already decided by then that cricket was the greatest game on earth. A view, incidentally, which I still hold.

If I want to listen to an equivalent broadcast these days, all I have to do is flick the switch on my portable bedside radio.

But all those years ago the only wireless in our house was a solid piece of furniture, so heavy that there was no possibility of carrying it upstairs single-handed.

So, come the end of November, there I was. Crouching over the freshly lit coal fire and listening with eager anticipation for news of the First Test at Brisbane.

When it came it was not good. Australia were racing to a big score on what they said was a beautiful batting pitch.

Next morning, it was even worse. Australia had progressed to nearly 600, which on the third day was boosted to 645 all out.

Then, almost as if Australia could rule the weather as well as the match, down came the rain. In torrents. Followed, unbelievably, by hailstones as big as golf balls.

To cut a short story even shorter, England were bowled out on a sticky wicket for 141 and 172 to lose by an innings and 332 runs. Even with Hammond, Hutton and Compton in the team.

A deeply depressing situation at any time of the day. At half-past six in the morning it was much, much worse.

It was enough to consign me to bed for ever. No, I didnít go into permanent hibernation. But never again that winter did I desert my warm blankets for cricket news from the other side of the world, where MCC were thrashed 3-0 in the series.

Looking back, I suppose there was one thing to be thankful for.

The radio commentators in those days did a first-class job to recreate for us the dramatic happenings Down Under.

But just imagine having to watch all that humiliation on TV.

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