Happy birthday, Frank Parr: the Gaffer!

May 30, 2008 at 10:58 pm (food, jazz, Jim D, whisky, wild man)

The patron saint of this blog, Frank Parr, is eighty on 1st June. We must get hold of him, and have an “event” (ie: piss-up), because he is/was The Master. Never mind amateurs like these: Parr is The Gaffer!

We’ve previously quoted the late George Melly on Frank Parr (jazz trombonist and Lancashire wicket-keeper), but the following is just great:

“It might…appear extraordinary that, far from playing cricket for England, the following summer saw Frank touring with a jazz band. The reason had nothing to do with Frank’s wicket-keeping, but it had a lot to do with Frank. From what I can gather, although the ‘gentlemen’ and ‘players’ labels have disappeared, the attitude of the cricketing establishment remains firmly entrenched. The professional cricketer is not just a man who plays cricket for money. He has a social role. He is expected to behave within certain defined limits. He can be a ‘rough diamond’, even ‘a bit of a character’, but he must know his place. If he smells of sweat, it must be fresh sweat. He must dress neatly and acceptably. His drinking must be under control. He must know when to say ‘sir’.

“Frank, we were soon to discover, had none of these qualifications. He was an extreme social risk, a complicated rebel whose world swarmed with demons and Jack O’Lanterns, and was treacherous with bogs and quicksands. He concealed a formidable and well-read intelligence behind a stylised oafishness. He used every weapon to alienate acceptance. Even within the jazz world, that natural refuge for the anti-social, Frank stood out as an exception. We never knew the reason for his quarrel with the captain of Lancashire, but after a month or two in his company we realised it must have been inevitable…

“Food and drink were the other weapons in Frank’s armoury. He was extremely limited in what he would eat for a start. Fried food, especially bacon and eggs, headed the list;; then came cold meat and salad, and that was about the lot. Any other food, soup for instance or cheese, came under the heading of ‘pretentious bollocks’, but even in the case of food he did like, his attitude was decidedly odd. He would crouch over his plate, knife and fork at the ready in his clenched fists, and glare down at the harmless egg and inoffesive bacon, enunciating, as though it were part of some barbarous and sadistic ritual, the words ‘ I’ll murder it.’ What followed, a mixture of jabbing, tearing, stuffing, grinding and gulping, was a distressing spectacle.

“In relation to drink he was more victim than murderer. He drank either gin and tonic or whisky and, once past the point of no return, would throw doubles into himself with astonishing rapidity, banging the empty glass down on the counter and immediately ordering another with a prolonged hiss on the word ‘please’. He passed through the classic stages of drunkenness in record time, wild humour, self pity, and unconsciousness, all well-seasoned with the famous Parr grimaces. His actual fall had a monumental simplicity. One moment he was perpendicular, the next horizontal. The only warning we had of his collapse was that, just before it happened, Frank announced that he was ‘only fit for the human scrap heap’ and this allowed us time to move any glasses, tables, chairs or instruments out of the way. 

“Frank’s spectacular raves didn’t stop him looking censorious when anyone else  was ‘going a bit’ – he used the same phrase for socks or drunkenness – but then we were all like that.

“If I think of him I can see certain gestures; his habit of rapidly shifting his cigarette around between his fingers, his slow tiger-like pacing, his manner of playing feet apart, body leaning stiffly backwards to balance the weight of his instrument.

“His music was aimed beyond his technique. Sometimes a very beautiful idea came off, more often you were aware of a beautiful idea which existed in Frank’s head. In an article on Mick (Mick Mulligan: Melly’s and Parr’s bandleader in the 1950’s -JD) in the Sunday Times, Frank was quoted as saying: ‘All jazzmen are kicking against something, and it comes out when they blow.”

“This was a remarkably open statement for Frank who, during a wagon discussion on our personal mental quirks and peculiarities, had once told us that he was the only normal person in the band.

“This gained him his nickname, ‘Mr Norm’, and any exceptionally Parr-like behaviour would provoke the conductor (ie: bandleader Mick Mulligan – JD) into saying: ‘Hello Frank. Feeling normal then?'”

George Melly – “Owning Up

Anyway: happy 80th, Frank. And keep on being normal!


  1. Jim Denham said,

    Oh shit! I’ve just heard (via Simon Spillet, himself a fine tenor saxist, on Radio 3) that Danny Moss, for my money the best Brit tenorist of them all, has died. He was a world-class player and widely respected in jazz circles, but sadly underrated. Another great has left us…

  2. Jim Denham said,

    Double shit! …And trombonist Campbell Burnap; R.I.P.

  3. Mikeovswinton said,

    Nice post Jim. I am slightly surprised that Frank Parr is still around, but here’s to him. Owning Up is one of the truly great books of the twentieth century, and the pages are literally falling out of my very battered copy, currently on loan to a workmate. I first read it in the late 70’s and shortly after got to see the great man himself- not Frank but George. At the Lancastrian Hall in Swinton. As they’d been billed as John Chiltern and his Feetwarmers Melly called Swinton Swine Town all through the concert. And he drank more that night than I’ve ever seen any one ever drink. People kept buying him drinks which were put on a card tanle on the stage. It was a mracle he could stand by the end of the concert, let alone drink. Happy days. I went to see George Melly with my late father, who had seen Frank Parr play for Lancs.

  4. Mikeovswinton said,

    Thats a card table. I have no idea what a card tanle is. Sorry And it should be a miracle and read “sing” for the second drink. But I hope you get the drift.

  5. Lobby Ludd said,

    Looks like Frank Parr is an inverted snob and a bit of a prick, to me, whatever his sporting and musical talents.

  6. Jim Denham said,

    I think that’s a bit unfair, Lobby: especially as (unlike this shower:


    for him, getting pissed didn’t involve abusing transport workers and innocent passers-by…nor did he try to make out it was some sort of political statement….

  7. Stephen Lalor said,

    I just stumbled on to your site while looking for cricket stuff for my son and thought I’d check any info on Frank. I’m a distant relative in Australia – my late mother Audrey and Frank were cousins. I only met him once – for a drink – back in 1982/3 in London on my first visit to England. Strangely, I am a musician in Sydney (www.stephenlalor.com) and was a wicket-keeper and batsman for the junior teams of Sydney’s St George Club in my distant youth. I’m surprised Frank is still alive – any contact details available?

  8. Jim Denham said,

    Hi Steven,

    These people should know how to contact him:


    If they can’t help you, get back in touch and we’ll have another think.

  9. Stephen Chalke said,

    I wrote an article on Frank for The Wisden Cricketer magazine last year and keep in contact with him.
    Email me at
    for further details.

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