Glenn Gibbons: Self-effacement common in the truly talented

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The recently-marked 20th anniversary of the death of John Arlott not only recalled the uniqueness of an extravagantly gifted, authentic Renaissance man, but served as a refreshing reminder that the most colossal talent is often underpinned by the smallest ego.

rlott, the velvet-voiced sports journalist (and master of all aspects of the craft, from print to broadcasting) who authored enough books on myriad subjects to stock a mobile library, once revealed that, during his years as the Guardian’s peerless cricket writer, he never received a letter from the paper without thinking that, on opening it, he would learn that his services were no longer required.

This diffidence would seem to most people to be ill-suited to someone of Arlott’s accomplishments and towering reputation. But it will probably surprise many to discover it is not uncommon in a profession that has acquired a reputation for tawdriness and misplaced self-regard. Arlott had an absence of conceit as well as a number of other qualities in common with James Cameron, without question one of the most brilliant and influential reporters of the 20th century. As a first-hand witness to some of the most momentous events in modern history – including the first atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll, the Korean War and the Israeli-Arab Six-Day War – Cameron boasted matchless credentials as a communicator. Yet, every time he sat at a typewriter, he wondered if “this will be the piece where they find me out”. In the present day, running into the television sports presenter, Dougie Donnelly, is an unfailing pleasure. To the question of “How’re you doing, Douglas?”, the response is inevitably, “Amazingly, still getting away with it.”

As one of the most credible figures on TV whose gifts as an interviewer invariably persuade his subjects that the potentially tortuous exercise is actually a life-enhancing experience, Donnelly is a walking rebuttal of those who cannot debate the media without a can of vitriol handy.