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McGilvray, Alan David (Allan) (1909–1996)

by R. I. Cashman

This article was published online in 2021

Alan (Allan) David McGilvray (1909–1996), cricket commentator, was born on 6 December 1909 at Birchgrove, Sydney, eldest son and second of four surviving children of Scottish-born Thomas Reid McGilvray, commercial traveller, and his wife Hannah Frances, née Craine, from the Isle of Man. Alan attended Sydney Grammar School (1925–28) and was selected in its first cricket XI when he was fifteen. In his final year he achieved a fine double against Melbourne Grammar School, scoring 129, and taking five wickets for thirty-seven runs. His younger brother Norman would captain the SGS side (1931) and represent the New South Wales Colts (1937–38).

An elocution teacher alleviated McGilvray’s childhood stammer, enabling him to develop a ‘clear, well-modulated voice’ (Haigh 1996, 1). After leaving school he joined T. McGilvray and Sons, the family shoe manufacturing and warehousing business, which allowed him plenty of time for cricket. A left-hand batsman, a right-arm medium-paced bowler, and a good close-to-the-wicket fielder, he played for Waverley and Paddington. He made his debut for New South Wales in 1933, playing twenty games, thirteen as captain. An astute leader, he successfully hatched a plot with M. A. Noble to dismiss South Australia’s captain (Sir) Donald Bradman for a duck, caught in the leg trap, at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 1936. With increased business pressures, McGilvray lost form and he was dropped from the State side for the last two matches of the 1936–37 season. Nevertheless he topped the grade batting averages, having led the bowling averages in the previous season.

Cricket broadcasting proved an attractive alternative pursuit to playing. In November 1935 McGilvray had been approached by (Sir) Charles Moses, general manager of the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC), to provide end-of-day summaries of the Sheffield Shield match between New South Wales and Queensland in Brisbane. Three years later he was recruited by Moses to join the ABC team that produced synthetic broadcasts of Tests played in England. In a Sydney studio, McGilvray created ball-by-ball descriptions, using cabled information and his knowledge of the game. His commentary was enhanced by making use of recorded crowd sounds and by simulating the sound of the bat striking the ball using a pencil on a block of wood. On 29 August 1936 he had married Gwendolyn Florence Griffiths, a stenographer, at St Jude’s Church of England, Randwick.

In mid-February 1942 McGilvray enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force for service in World War II. He was posted to the 1st Armoured Brigade in Western Australia (1943–45) and the 2/167th General Transport Company in New South Wales (1945). Occasionally playing cricket, he captained the Services XI in 1945. Having sustained a back injury, he was discharged as medically unfit in September. After covering the 1946–47 Ashes series in Australia, he travelled to England on family business and was seconded to the British Broadcasting Corporation as the ABC’s cricket representative for the 1948 series. English commentators, such as John Arlott, were critical of his straightforward, factual reporting, preferring a more lyrical and poetic style. However, McGilvray’s ‘measured delivery, absolute accuracy, unobtrusive Australian accent and total impartiality’ (Hodgson 1996, 14) would make him very popular in Britain.

Joining commercial radio in the 1950s, McGilvray anchored commentary teams for 2UW and 2UE. He had returned to the ABC before the celebrated West Indian 1960–61 tour. Believing that Australia was heading for defeat in the first Test, he left the Brisbane Cricket Ground before the conclusion, missing the first tied Test in the game’s history. He regarded this decision to be his ‘greatest error of judgment’ (1985, 137). After selling the family firm in 1961, he accepted increased ABC responsibilities. He edited (1963–85) the annual ABC Cricket Book and often travelled overseas with touring Australian teams. In Jamaica in 1978 he broadcast a fracas disrupting a Test match and then walked through rioters, an action he later admitted was foolhardy. Conservative by nature and a stickler for decorum, he was disheartened at how World Series Cricket divided the game and brought a decline in player dress and behaviour. In 1979 the ABC promoted its radio coverage with the song ‘The Game is Not the Same without McGilvray’.

A convivial man, McGilvray enjoyed drinking with his friends. His colleague Jim Maxwell recalled his prodigious capacity for alcohol, which did not impair his work. McGilvray retired in 1985 having broadcast 225 Test matches. Employing the theatre of extended pauses and modulating his voice, he delivered moments of drama into his listener’s lounge rooms. He prided himself on his ability to ‘describe the action before it happens’ (Milliken, 1978, 11), reading the secret cues that he had devised with several umpires. Professional and ‘meticulous in his preparation,’ he could also be ‘touchy with those he thought might compromise his approach’ (Hodgson 1996, 14). He disliked television because the medium diminished his ability to paint his own picture of the play. Appointed MBE in 1974 and AM in 1980, he received an Advance Australia award in 1985 and was inducted into the Sport Australia (1990) and Australian Media (2017) halls of fame. He wrote three best-selling books: The Game is Not the Same … (1985), The Game Goes On … (1987), and Captains of the Game (1992). On 16 July 1996 he died in St Vincent’s Private Hospital, Darlinghurst, and was cremated. He was survived by his son and daughter, his wife having predeceased him in 1976. An obituarist judged that no other sports broadcaster ‘sounded as rich or resonant as McGilvray, no matter how hard they tried’ (Derriman 1996, 1). From 1997 the ABC Radio commentary team awarded its selection of the best Test cricketer of the year with the McGilvray medal.

Research edited by Nicole McLennan

Select Bibliography

  • Derriman, Philip. ‘Stumps for Summer’s Velvet Voice.’ Sydney Morning Herald, 18 July 1996, 1, 4
  • Haigh, Gideon. ‘Power of Words.’ In McGilvray: The Voice of Cricket: A Tribute, edited by Norman Tasker, 1–20. Sydney: ABC Books, 1996
  • Hodgson, Derek. ‘Alan McGilvray: Obituary.’ Independent (London), 22 July 1996, 14
  • McGilvray, Alan. The Game is Not the Same …. Sydney: ABC Enterprises, 1985
  • Maxwell, Jim. The ABC Cricket Book: The First 60 Years. Sydney: ABC Books, 1994
  • Maxwell, Jim. ‘McGilvray, Alan David.’ In Oxford Companion to Australian Cricket, edited by Richard I. Cashman, 350–51. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1996
  • Milliken, Robert. ‘The Man in the Box.’ National Times, 30 December 1978, 8–11
  • Tasker, Norman, ed. McGilvray: The Voice of Cricket: A Tribute. Sydney: ABC Books, 1996

Additional Resources

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Citation details

R. I. Cashman, 'McGilvray, Alan David (Allan) (1909–1996)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mcgilvray-alan-david-allan-23421/text32506, published online 2021, accessed online 28 October 2021.

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