Rare Bodyline Footage
Rare Footage of the Bodyline Test Cricket Series
The NFSA is sharing rarely seen moving images from the infamous 'Bodyline' Test Cricket series of summer 1932–33. Curator Jeff Wray reveals the background to the clips, which were digitally preserved from our source 35mm nitrate film components, and explains why the footage they contain is so significant.
Infamous Ashes Series
The Ashes Test Cricket series between Australia and England played in the antipodean summer of 1932–33 remains one of the sport’s most endlessly discussed. The series has inspired documentaries, mini-series and numerous books written by historians, correspondents, players, umpires and even an English baggage handler!
Central to the drama was English captain Douglas Jardine’s contentious use of Harold Larwood to bowl 'fast leg theory'. Also dubbed 'bodyline' by the Australian press, the tactic sought to curtail the remarkable batting exploits of Australian run machine, Donald Bradman. Bodyline combined fast, short-pitched balls rising up at the upper body of the batter with a cluster of closely-positioned fielders on the leg-side. The tactic made scoring, and staying in bat, dangerous and risky.
Black-and-white film of the Bodyline Series, captured by newsreel cameras of the day, is among Australian cricket’s most iconic footage. However, on returning to digitally transfer select original 35mm films, we found less commonly seen sequences from the newsreels – including footage of Jardine speaking, Don Bradman bowling and Harold Larwood batting!
Known for his determination, tactical ability and desire to succeed, Douglas Jardine had previously toured Australia in 1928. Now captaining the English team on the 1932–33 tour, the decidedly aristocratic Jardine – known for wearing his Oxford University Harlequin cap while playing – was perceived by Australian crowds as cold and aloof. Players would comment that, while pleasant off the field, Jardine was single-minded on the field of play with his extremely competitive attitude setting high standards for his team to aspire to.
In this rarely seen interview from Cinesound Review No.58 (December 1932), the English skipper praised the Australian team’s efforts following the visitors’ victory in the First Test. Amusingly, the director has to remind Jardine to smile at the camera:
‘A new type of bowler’
Stopping Don Bradman from repeating his batting achievements of the previous Ashes series became of paramount importance to the English team. Jardine and others in England had noticed the champion batter appeared less confident playing short-pitched deliveries and so devised a strategy to best exploit this apparent weakness. As English tour manager ‘Plum’ Warner stated, ‘England must evolve a new type of bowler and develop fresh ideas, strategy and tactics to curb his almost uncanny skill'. An indication of the methods to be adopted was given by the selection of four fast bowlers as part of the English touring party. Of these four, Nottingham speedster Harold Larwood had the express pace and accuracy to cause the most concern for the Australians.
Bodyline made its first appearance in a number of tour games leading up to the Test matches and, not surprisingly, caused a sensation and divided opinion. While some saw it as within the rules of cricket and acceptable, others regarded it as unsporting and a dangerous physical threat to the batter. Test umpire George Hele wrote that he was afraid someone would be killed in the course of the series. For some batters, self-preservation became more important than protecting the wicket and scoring runs. Author Ray Robinson observed that, ‘once he (Larwood) got them ducking and hoping, they were easier prey for a sudden well-pitched straight ball'.
Third Test in Adelaide
Despite the polarising tactics, the two teams headed into the Third Test in Adelaide with the series tied at 1-1. It was hoped that bodyline had been tamed after a Bradman century against four English pace bowlers in the Second Test in Melbourne led to an Australian victory. Yet the series was set to ignite most famously in the City of Churches. Temperatures first rose when English captain Jardine barred supporters from watching his team practice before the Test. But what the newsreel cameras captured in the middle of Adelaide Oval would arguably become the most famous of all black-and-white moving images of Australian cricket.
In these sequences, filmed by Movietone News cameras, we see the infamous slow-motion shots of Larwood bowling to Bradman, plus Woodfull and Oldfield being hit by Larwood’s short-pitched bowling. This apparently unissued newsreel appears to feature commentary later added by Alan McGilvray:
The on-field incidents drew an outraged reaction from the Adelaide crowd. The English team contemplated using the stumps for self-defence should the locals jump the fence. ‘There are two teams out there. One is trying to play cricket and the other is not’, Australian skipper Bill Woodfull complained to English manager ‘Plum’ Warner.
Before the Test had finished, the Australian Board of Control had sent a telegram to the English Marylebone Cricket Club protesting about the use of bodyline and the unsporting behaviour of the English team.
As a consequence, the series was nearly called off following the Adelaide Test and only continued after the Australian Board of Control withdrew its accusation. The visitors were now ahead with two Tests to play.
Bradman bowls, Larwood bats!
The final two tests were just as dramatic, as English captain Jardine persisted in using bodyline tactics against Australia’s top-order batters. In this rarely glimpsed Cinesound footage from the Fourth Test, the first Ashes Test match to be played at Brisbane’s Woolloongabba ground, among the highlights are the very rare spectacle of Don Bradman delivering one of his leg breaks in a game the Australians would lose, relinquishing the Ashes:
The series now lost, Australia was playing for pride in the Fifth Test and scored 435 – their highest innings total for the series. Uniquely, Larwood the bowler is seen here batting on his way to scoring 98, helping to set up an England victory with bat rather than ball. Sadly, this would prove to be the great fast bowler’s last Test match, after sustaining a significant foot injury.
Equally rare is footage of Don Bradman rubbing his arm in Australia’s second innings, after being hit by Larwood for the only time, during a series that saw other Australian batters take numerous knocks and resort to wearing protective equipment. Dramatically, the winning runs are seen as Wally Hammond hits a six into the SCG crowd off the bowling of PK Lee to finish the Test.
England had regained the Ashes with a 4:1 series victory, which 90 years later remains among their finest Test cricketing achievements down under. As a means of curbing Don Bradman’s run-getting, bodyline had proven very effective. In stark contrast to his Test career average of 99.94 runs per innings, Bradman finished the Bodyline Series with a batting average of 56.57. Having dismissed Bradman only once previously, Larwood took his wicket in six of the nine times they faced each other over the five-Test series.
Despite the unpleasantness and increasing opposition to it, the use of bodyline tactics did not finish with the Fifth Test in Sydney in February 1933. Further controversy followed in the English Test series at home against the West Indies, which saw the first instance of a batter (Patsy Hendren) wearing protective headgear, and again while touring India. The Australian tour of England in 1934 only went ahead after guarantees that bodyline would not be bowled. Finally, in 1935, bodyline was officially ended when a law was introduced which allowed umpires to step in if bowlers were engaging in intimidatory bowling.
Of the three key protagonists, each would experience very different futures. Don Bradman played a further 15 years of Test cricket, cementing his name as the greatest batter of his sport. Harold Larwood moved to Australia soon after the Second World War, rejected by his home country and taken in by the nation whose players he had just terrorised. And while Douglas Jardine died young in 1958, today he is recognised as arguably one of England’s most successful cricket captains.
Main image: Harold Larwood bowls during the Fourth Test in Brisbane, 1933. Courtesy: Cinesound Movietone Productions. NFSA title: 64880