Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Cardus, Sir John Frederick Neville (1888–1975)

by Sally O'Neill

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Sir John Frederick Neville Cardus (1888-1975), writer and critic, was born on 3 April 1888 at Rusholme, Lancashire, England, son of Ada Cardus (1870-1954). He never knew his father who may have been a violinist. Fred lived with his unmarried mother and aunts in the home of his maternal grandparents. His grandfather was a retired policeman and the family took in washing. By night Ada and her sisters worked as genteel prostitutes, frequenting Manchester's theatres and music-halls.

An imaginative and nervous child, Cardus attended the local board school for some five years, drifted through various jobs and in December 1904 was employed at Manchester as a clerk in a marine insurance firm. Resolving to 'live by my pen or perish', he began a rigorous scheme of self-education in literature, philosophy and the arts. In 1907 he discovered that he could memorize whole scores without effort and added music to his curriculum. He admired the music- and theatre-critics of the Manchester Guardian, and set out to acquire their writing style.

Cardus dated his passion for cricket from 1901, when he saw A. C. MacLaren play at Old Trafford. He developed his own skills as a bowler and in 1912 became assistant cricket coach at Shrewsbury School, Shropshire. Rejected in 1914 for military service because of his short sight, he stayed at the school as secretary to the headmaster until 1916. Back at Manchester, Cardus briefly worked as music critic for the Daily Citizen. In March 1917 he was taken on by the Manchester Guardian as a reporter and became a writer on the editorial staff. He called himself Neville; his articles appeared over the initials, 'N.C.'

Sent by chance to report on the resumption of first-class cricket at Old Trafford in June 1919, he soon attracted a wide readership with articles which he signed as 'Cricketer'. 'Before him, cricket was reported', John Arlott wrote, 'with him it was for the first time appreciated, felt, and imaginatively described'. Cardus created folk heroes of the players; his prose was rich with allusions to music and poetry. In 1920 he became assistant to the paper's chief music critic Samuel Langford and in 1927 succeeded him. On 17 June 1921 at the register office, Chorlton, Manchester, Cardus had married Edith Honorine Walton King (1881-1968), an art teacher and an enthusiastic worker for amateur dramatics; they were to remain childless. He covered concerts in London, and in Vienna and Salzburg, Austria, and mixed with leading musicians and composers. His approach to music, as with cricket, was intuitive and personal, rather than academic and technical.

One of the heroes from his youth was Victor Trumper. Late in 1936 Cardus realized an ambition to visit Trumper's home country when he covered the Marylebone Cricket Club's (England) Test tour of that season. Australian Summer, Cardus's fifth book on cricket, appeared in 1937. Next year he returned to Australia on a private visit.

As war in Europe approached, Cardus feared that he would lose his job. When, in December 1939, Sir Keith Murdoch invited him to cover Sir Thomas Beecham's forthcoming tour of Australia, he accepted at once, arriving by flying boat in February 1940. He went to Melbourne to write for the Herald, but found that he could not review concerts for an evening paper and negotiated a post as music critic for the Sydney Morning Herald.

Making few concessions to what Lindsey Browne was to describe as the 'woefully self-important provincialism' of Sydney's cultural life, Cardus initially aroused some resentment. Yet, the humour, authority and literary craftsmanship of his reviews—written, he claimed, on the backs of telegram forms at the General Post Office's all-night counters—won him respect. He helped to lift the standard of musical criticism in Australia. In its turn, Australia, he later said, 'rejuvenated my heart and mind'.

His precise and fastidious voice, with its 'fluent but not fast, polished clergyman's tones', became familiar through radio programmes for the Australian Broadcasting Commission. His hour-long feature, 'The enjoyment of music', presented on Wednesdays in the winter of 1942 (and later on Sundays), enlarged the audience for classical music across the country. From January 1941 Cardus gave a weekly, ten-minute talk on music, illustrated by records, for the children's Argonauts' Club; in 1942-47 he also wrote regularly on music and cricket for the A.B.C. Weekly.

Early in 1942 Cardus rented a small flat at Kings Cross. There he wrote Ten Composers (Sydney, 1945), with its acclaimed essay on Gustav Mahler, his Autobiography (1947) and Second Innings (1950). In 1942 his wife joined him. Cardus described her affectionately as 'a great spirit and character, born for sisterhood not marriage'. She lived in a flat in Elizabeth Street and was soon active in local women's organizations, and in art and drama groups. Edith and Neville dined together on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Undecided whether to remain in Australia, Cardus returned to England for a few months in 1947 and again in 1948 to cover the Test series. In April 1949 he eventually left Sydney to make his home in London. Edith followed him in June. In 1951 he rejoined the Manchester Guardian as its London music critic and occasional cricket writer. He revisited Australia to cover the M.C.C. tours of 1950-51 and 1954-55 for the Sydney Morning Herald. Appointed C.B.E. in 1964, he was knighted in 1967; he was granted honorary membership of the Royal Manchester College of Music (1968) and of the Royal Academy of Music (1972). Among his many honours, he valued most his presidency (1971-72) of the Lancashire County Cricket Club. He published eleven books on cricket and nine on music. His autobiographical Second Innings and Full Score (1970) included accounts of his time in Australia.

Slight, lean and bespectacled, with a gnome-like appearance in his last years, Cardus was a familiar sight at Lord's or the Garrick Club, pipe in mouth and book under arm. Roger Covell recalled him in Sydney as a 'marvellous raconteur and monologuist with his all-weather overcoat'. Sir Neville died on 28 February 1975 at St Marylebone, London, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • The Essential Neville Cardus, selected and introduced by R. Hart-Davis (Lond, 1949)
  • Dictionary of National Biography, 1971-80
  • R. Daniels, Conversations with Cardus (Lond, 1976)
  • K. S. Inglis, This is the ABC (Melb, 1983)
  • C. Brookes, His Own Man (Lond, 1985)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 26 May 1936, 11 Dec 1937, 31 Jan 1938, 31 Aug, 23 Nov 1940, 11 Jan, 15 Nov 1941, 15 May 1942, 30 Aug 1945, 11 Mar, 31 May, 30 Aug 1947, 3, 4 June 1950, 28 Nov 1954, 5 Feb 1966, 9, 10, 15 Mar 1975, 28 Dec 1976, 19 Oct 1985
  • Times (London), 17 Apr 1970, 1, 7 Mar 1975
  • Guardian (Manchester and London), 1 Mar 1975
  • Guardian correspondence (Guardian Archives, John Rylands University Library of Manchester)
  • ABC Archives, SP 1011/0 and 1011/2 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Sally O'Neill, 'Cardus, Sir John Frederick Neville (1888–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cardus-sir-john-frederick-neville-9689/text17103, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 23 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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