Exclusive Ted Dexter interview: English cricket's Renaissance man reflects on a life well lived

Nick Hoult
·9 min read
England cricketer Ted Dexter pictured at Wolverhamptopn cricket ground  - Paul Cooper
England cricketer Ted Dexter pictured at Wolverhamptopn cricket ground - Paul Cooper

Ted Dexter leans forward in his chair to get close to the camera on his computer as he breaks into an impression of the great Len Hutton.

“He always tended to speak in a very quiet, confidential way. He would say, ‘Aye...you know something.’ You would get closer to him. He would say, ‘That young player, he’s lacking. He is. He is lacking.’ What is he lacking Len? You would then have to wait for a bit. ‘Aye...he is lacking…concentration.’”

Dexter leans back into his chair laughing. “He was a hoot, was Len.”

Hutton’s name is one of many famous characters that populate Dexter’s autobiography, 85 Not Out, which details his colourful life, one that has certainly been well lived. In cricket circles, only Lord Botham can claim to have led a life as full as ‘Lord’ Ted. His cricketing career was stellar - 4,502 Test runs at an average of 47.89, England captain by 26, a controversial Chairman of Selectors and the inventor of the world rankings system - but it is his extracurricular activities which stand out. 

He stood as a Tory candidate at the 1964 General Election (his adversary was future Prime Minister Jim Callaghan), was a successful businessman, journalist and novelist, qualified to become a pilot and flew his family to the 1970-71 Ashes tour, taking a month over his journey.

He was also one of the first celebrity players, one half of a glamorous couple along with wife Susan, a model who showed dresses in private to the young Queen. He copped flak from, among others, Keith Miller, for bringing Susan on the 1962-63 Ashes tour. She had been signed as the face of Myer, the Australian department store chain, and Miller said she was taking the focus away from the cricket. “Susan was hurt but I don’t think anybody in the team felt like that," Dexter recalls. "We knew the public loved having Susan there. This gorgeous looking girl from London was very popular.”

England's Test side in 1963 with Dexter in the centre of the front row - Hutton Archive
England's Test side in 1963 with Dexter in the centre of the front row - Hutton Archive

As was her husband. In a long career with England, Dexter was a dashing batsman who loved to take on fast bowling and was never struck on the head. “I still believe batting is best if you are sideways on. In my day you used to judge players by how narrow they were. If you were narrow, you were a much smaller target. Kenny Barrington suffered agonies because he was so square on. He got hit so much on the body. I never ducked. I just swayed this way or that way.” 

He still avidly watches Test cricket. In his book he compares Eoin Morgan’s captaincy to Richie Benaud for his calmness under pressure and tells Telegraph Sport that he rates Zak Crawley as “easily the best newcomer I have seen.” 

“I watched him get out early but each time I thought he was a cut above the others. Then once he got going he played a superb innings. It had a rhythm to it, he was always looking to score, he was not just digging in, and he had the firepower to do it. He reminds me of a right-handed Graeme Pollock. Graeme would hit a length ball harder than a half volley and rip them through the covers. This bloke is the same.”

His love of attacking batsmen is perhaps why he is less impressed with England’s two openers, Rory Burns and Dom Sibley. “Frankly I just scratch my head. I don’t know, if you are a professional cricketer, able to bat every day and have a big broad bat, you ought to be able to get some runs standing on your head but they look so limited and so vulnerable. I am hoping Zak will set a new standard, and the youngsters coming up will say ‘ah that is what we have to do.’

Would Ted love to play today? “Oh yes. I think I would have been heart and soul. I think I would have been off to India in the IPL at the drop of a hat to earn hundreds of thousands. I am glad I didn’t, frankly, because the rest of my life would not have been so interesting if I was fairly cushy and had plenty of money in the bank as a player.”

Australia captain Richie Benaud, New Zealand captain John Reid and Dexter (right) as England skipper - Shutterstock
Australia captain Richie Benaud, New Zealand captain John Reid and Dexter (right) as England skipper - Shutterstock

Dexter's back is playing up at the moment and he has a few pains in the knee, a result of being hit by a Charlie Griffiths “thunderbolt” more than half a century ago, but overall he is in fine fettle. He is a scratch golfer, and shot less than his age only 18 months ago (83 in competition at Sunningdale).

Now living in Wolverhampton, Dexter moved back to this country from Nice to be closer to his son’s family. He spent more than 10 years living in France and reveals in the book how he and Susan were mugged twice in 48 hours on arrival, firstly being gassed in their train compartment and then, more terrifyingly, Susan suffering a broken arm when bag snatchers targeted them two days later.

In the main, however, the book is a joyful romp through his life, with some glorious name-dropping in every chapter: Douglas Bader giving him an early flying lesson, Harold Macmillan inviting him to Chequers for dinner, and contributions from Don Bradman, Hutton, Benaud, Miller, Fred Trueman and Geoffrey Boycott.

It is a peek back into a different time. An era when cricketers were not full-time, and Dexter could dabble in politics. He won 22,000 votes in Cardiff South East in 1964. 

“Looking back it was such an off-beat thing to do but I had nothing else to do that winter so rather than twiddle my thumbs I went for it. I thought, it can’t do me any harm but knocking on doors was not my favourite occupation. You knew you were intruding. The old tricks went on. ‘Oh yes. I will go and get my wife. Will you hold the dog?’ I would still be standing there 10 minutes later holding the bloody dog. 

“Jim Callaghan was a good bloke to get to know. We kept in touch, sending christmas cards to each other.”

England cricketer Ted Dexter pictured at Wolverhamptopn cricket ground in his England MCC jumper and England Turing cap - Paul Cooper
England cricketer Ted Dexter pictured at Wolverhamptopn cricket ground in his England MCC jumper and England Turing cap - Paul Cooper

Dexter apologises frequently for forgetting names, blaming his age, although he was a much younger man when, as Chairman of Selectors, he infamously referred to Devon Malcolm as “Malcolm Devon”. That period of his career, between 1989 and 1993, is the only part of the book where there is a trace of bitterness, specifically the criticism he received from the press.

He says the job was “a chalice of hemlock,”, and that he was “harpooned and lampooned” for what he thought were jokes which were taken too literally. It is true the team's record in that period was poor - England won just 10 of 43 Tests - but he did lay the ground for central contracts and four-day championship cricket.

“I think we were better organised by the time I finished," he insists. "We started some central contracts. It was low key but we started what were called winter contracts in those days. I detected in the way people were playing they were very uptight and did not seem to be giving their best and I slowly realised they were playing for the tour, rather than playing for the game.”

As a player, Dexter retired early, impatient to get on with life. He wrote for the Telegraph, among other papers, and was employed by the Sunday Mirror to cover the 1970-71 Ashes tour. It took more than a month to reach Australia, with around 20 stops on the way, flying on average 800 miles a day with Susan, son Tom and daughter, Genevieve, on board.

“We remember it through the children’s eyes, really. We still have all the photographs. Wherever we stayed, and we stayed in some rough places, little Genevive always found a cat to play with. We saw a lot of friends on the way in Pakistan and India. We went down to Malaya where I did national service, Singapore, then we got a bit lost down through Indonesia. 

"Susan got very ill with food poisoning and she was laid up in Jakarta and was still laid up when we got to Bali. I was having to look after the kids. I’ve got nice pictures, early morning down on the beach with them in Bali. 

“I don’t think the schools would be very pleased if I took the children out for a month nowadays. We took a lot of books. I was the maths and English teacher, Susan did arts and language. It was always a little bit tense in the air, and they called me Old Ratty.” 

Ted Dexter on...
Ted Dexter on...

Dexter does not have much memorabilia left but shows the camera an MCC touring sweater he believes was from one of his Ashes tours. “Yes, it has ER Dexter, still stitched in it,” he says. 

In Australia he got to know Don Bradman, and tells a story of how the great man was still angry about Bodyline, 30 years later. “I have one lovely picture of me walking down the steps of Government House in Canberra with the Don, Robert Menzies (Australian PM) and I. We are both immaculate in our whites. Those days no branding on your shirt. Anyway I cut Menzies out, I just keep the picture of me and the Don. 

“But he was a tough guy. You did not want to cross the Don. When he was the no1 Australian administrator he quietly allowed the chucking saga. 

“The reason was that he absolutely believed that Harold Larwood chucked it. He invited two or three of us for dinner at his house and said, ‘I can show you some film of the Bodyline series if you are interested’. He had some slow motion of Larwood bowling bouncers. There is no doubt there is a bend in his arm. He wanted everybody to know it. And I agreed with it. When I told Gubby Allen I had seen the footage, he said ‘oh you don’t want to believe a word he says. He had a perfect action.’”

Dexter laughs again. A very enjoyable 90 minutes is over. “Look it is half past one, time for a glass of red.”