Saturday, June 17, 2023

Q&A with Colin Babb




Colin Babb is the author of the book 1973 and Me: The England v. West Indies Test Series and a Memorable Childhood Year. The book is now available in a revised and updated edition. He also has written the book They Gave the Crowd Plenty Fun.


Q: What initially inspired you to write 1973 and Me, and why did you decide to write this new edition of the book?


A: I was raised in a Caribbean household in Britain during the 1970s. I lived with my Guyanese mother, Guyanese great-grandmother, and my Barbadian father.


During the 1960/1970s in Britain, West Indian cricket played a central role as a medium of collective Caribbean self-expression. For Barbadians, Dominicans, Guyanese, Jamaicans, Trinidadians and more.


West Indian cricket tours also helped Caribbean migrants in Britain to renew their sense of connection with the countries they came from. Thousands of West Indians and their families attended the matches or watched them on television.


The first international cricket series I remember watching, on television, was the 1973 West Indies tour of England. This was my starting point. I was inspired to explore the events on and off the field of play during a series which, in my opinion, has not received a significant amount of attention.


Although cricket provides the main source of content for 1973 and Me, I wanted the book to reflect on patterns of Caribbean migration to Britain, and wider perspectives on comedy, history, music, personal identity, sport, and television during the 1970s.


After an “audit and review” of the original version of 1973 and Me, I felt compelled to update it, improve it, and include additional material from new and existing research and interviews. There are more complimentary quotes before the Foreword, additions, and changes in response to reader suggestions, a redesigned front cover, and a picture of me from the 1970s.


Q: Did you need to do much research to write the book, and if so, did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: The research and collection of material was completed in a variety of ways. Making notes from my own memory and experiences. Reading books, magazines, and newspaper archives in various libraries, and discovering some important research material in my own collection of books, magazines, audio, and video. Some of the most valuable material was gathered from recording and transcribing up to 60 interviews with contributors.


One of the pleasant surprises I experienced from my memory and research were (re) discovering events in 1973 which, directly or indirectly, connected with the themes developed in the book.

Including the formation of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Britain joining the European Economic Community (EEC), the 1973 Leeds v Sunderland Football Association (FA) Cup final, the 1973 Eurovision Song Contest, and The Wailers’ first major tour of Britain.


Q: The writer Simon Lister said of the book, “1973 and Me articulates, with a vivid authority, the journey made from West Indian boyhood to British manhood. And the guiding light on this twisting and sometimes uncertain road is cricket. Caribbean cricket. Colin sets out with humour and deep understanding how the game informed his identity.” What do you think of that description?


A: Firstly, I’m pleased that Simon Lister kindly described my writing as having a sense of vivid authority. He is accurate in suggesting that West Indian cricket was one of the ways I consciously and subconsciously connected with, and demonstrated, my Caribbean identity in Britain.


I don’t want to give too much away as a plot spoiler, but in 1973 and Me I refer to cricket partly underpinning my Caribbean identity as I slowly developed my journey towards a sense of Britishness. And, yes, 1973 and Me has some serious/thoughtful approaches blended with some light touches and humour.


Q: What do you see as the legacy 50 years later of the events you wrote about in the book?


A: There is a “compare and contrast/50 years on” theme towards the end of the book. That includes thoughts about my own personal/cultural identity, the way we consume television and much more.


With regards to cricket and, specifically, West Indian cricket, the 1973 tour was a pivotal moment in the development of Caribbean cricket. The West Indies 2-0 Test series victory in England helped to create a platform for future success on English soil after a period of poor results.


However, 50 years on, and for many reasons, West Indian cricket has a much-reduced significance as a barometer of community self-worth. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m working on my third book for Hansib publications. A collection of articles, experiences, interviews, letters, memories and observations. Some new and recent, and some from my personal archive of material – published and/or unpublished – before the birth of the internet! From cricket, football, film and identity to television, travel and more. Some of the content will be (partly) viewed from a British-Caribbean perspective.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I gained a vast amount of pleasure writing a From the Caribbean to the Balkans ( article for the Caribbean Intelligence website.


I’ve promoted my writing in Britain and the Caribbean but would welcome some interest in the US!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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