In December 1975, John Woodcock and I were in Perth for an extraordinary trial between Australia and the West Indies. We were staying at the Weld Club, and one evening I told him that in a year we would be with England in India.
“Last time we went,” he replied, “Brian Johnston, Michael Melford and I decided to drive. In the end we didn’t, because the women didn’t think it was It was a good idea. But it doesn’t apply to any of us right now, Blowers, so why not do it now?
By the end of dinner, we had already selected our first travel companion, Judy Casey, a mutual friend who lived in Sydney and exactly the exuberant exuberant that this kind of adventure needed. When we got back to England, Wooders persuaded a Hampshire farmer friend, Adrian (Ady) Liddell, who collected old cars, to join the party, with his lovely burgundy-colored 1921 Rolls-Royce. Michael Bennett, one of my drinking buddies, was the fifth member of the group and brought along his new yellow three-litre Rover.
Famous cricket writer John Woodcock persuaded Henry Blofeld to visit India
Both cars left an underground garage near the Albert Hall in the rain at 6.30am on October 6, 1976. The Rolls had luggage and spare tires piled up on the roof and running boards, and both cars were covered in stickers from our sponsors, which included a famous Scotch whiskey maker.
Ady, in his cap, rode the Rolls all the way to Bombay, and spotless. I sat next to him in the assistant driver’s seat, which was lumpy and uncomfortable. When it rained, the top of the windshield leaked profusely. Wooders sat like a resting maharajah in the spacious back seat, protected by the window that separated the passengers from the drivers.
Michael drove the Rover looking over his horn-rimmed half-moon glasses, while Judy cheered him on, and sometimes spelled it out.
Our trip through Europe was diverted, due to sponsor demands, but without issue. We took Paris and Frankfurt, then crossed Austria in what was still Yugoslavia, then Thessaloniki in Greece. We crossed the top of the Aegean Sea to Istanbul, the Bosphorus and Asia, where we entered a different world. The driving got harder and harder, with huge, fast, long-distance trucks, lots of rather curious local traffic, lots of honking and scary potholes.
England toured India for a five Test series in late 1976 and 1977
We went to Ankara, where Turkish political parties held their annual conferences. The hotels were full, but at a gas station Wooders had a conversation with students, one of whom was the son of Turkey’s Judge Advocate General. We spent the night on a soft rug in the living room of her parents’ luxurious apartment. Our eminent host and Wooders might have been sailors on shore leave.
The following night in Sivas, in the most spartan hotel of all, was a great contrast, and marked by a lively discussion. The occupants of the two cars disagreed on whether the purpose of our trip was to take a ride or just get there. It was partly Wooders’ confident diplomatic touch that patched things up.
We stayed in Tehran with a friend of Ady, who was also the Shah’s personal lawyer. He put us up in a beautiful house just outside his patron’s Sa’dabad palace. We spent four days there, while Ady fully serviced the Rolls; we saw the Iranian crown jewels and attended a game of cricket organized by the British Embassy at Tehran airport, which started at half past six in the morning.
Wooders said a few words over dinner one night at the embassy, and in the end when he was talking to our ambassador, we weren’t quite sure who was who. Also in Iran, we ate caviar at Babolsar on the Caspian, from a barbecue on a roundabout in Bojnord, and discovered an unlikely cache of champagne in the holy city of Mashhad – all orchestrated by Wooders.
Tony Greig led England to victory in India as his side won the series 3-1
The next day, the hangover-ridden crossing from Iran to Afghanistan was by far the most difficult of the trip. The border post was run by a teenager, an aspiring dictator who met his match at Wooders. After a slight deafness problem, they quickly became great friends; when Wooders slipped him a bottle of whiskey, maybe it was a gold bar.
We were beaten up, beating furious truckers, some of whom had already waited at least four days. In Kandahar, we were greeted by a bearded thug who insisted on selling us cigarettes, certainly not stuffed with tobacco. Wooders was all for trying them, and we had a headache for three days. We then crossed the Kabul Gorge, more impressive than the Khyber Pass, towards the still beautiful and unspoilt Kabul, where we saw the magnificent Curzon Embassy, admired the architecture and bought sheepskin coats on Chicken Street.
After leaving Afghanistan, we arrived at Dean’s Hotel in Peshawar, where one of the porters greeted Wooders, who had stayed there once before, with great warmth. There were lots of hugs. We then went to Islamabad and India. In Delhi, Wooders met an old friend, Ashwini Kumar, a former Indian hockey player who was now their representative on the International Olympic Committee. He was also the head of India’s border security force, and arranged for us to spend two fascinating days at their base in Tekanpur, south of Delhi.
Finally, we pass through Rajasthan, then spend a night with the Maharajah of Baroda in his palace. Two days later, shortly after 1am on November 22, Ady drove the Rolls into the small semi-circular courtyard of the Taj Mahal hotel in Bombay. It was 46 days after we left Albert Hall. Wooders and I were in time for the start of Tony Greig’s winning tour. Cars, again good friends, caught a boat home.
Henry Blofeld, 82, started commentating for Test Match Special in 1972 and retired 45 years later.