This was a short tribute I wrote 10 years ago to a great man

Lord Runcie

by the Other Bob

About six years ago I was asked to speak at the Lords Taverners’ Christmas lunch with Sir Edward Heath. I had decided to try a little gentle humour at his expense. It fell flat and I quickly moved on to the usual jokes.

At that point I decided that public figures, not being universally popular, were not a suitable target for humour and that I would avoid such attempts in future.

Not long after I was asked to appear at the Eve of Lord’s Test Dinner with the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Runcie. I decided early on that he would not feature in my “turn”.

He went first and spoke brilliantly, even earthily in one story, and brought the house down. He had also done a fair amount of material on our mutual first name (“it’s not much fun being an Archbishop called ‘Bob’ ” he’d said) and on my far from adequate goalkeeping (“ ‘The Cat’ has brought hope to many young footballers by making even their weakest shot seem unstoppable. “)

During the break I went to the loo and felt, for the first time for some years, extremely nervous about following this chap.

When I returned I decided to respectfully include a few mentions at his expense and, unlike the Sir Edward experience, this worked. In fact someone was kind enough to write in the Long Room a few months later about the memorable evening of  “The Two Bobs”.

All of this helped confirm my view that audiences will laugh more at the expense of people they like. And everyone that evening certainly liked Lord Runcie.

You would, of course, expect a man in such a position to be a nice, decent chap. But he was more than that. He was a down-to-earth character who was able to separate the office from the real person and, after the Two Bobs evening. I got to know him a great deal better.

A few months afterwards I had a telephone call. On the other end was that distinctive voice that would be instantly recognised by just about the whole nation. But his opening line said everything about him. “It’s Robert Runcie here. I don’t know if you remember me?”

After assuring him that I had not had too many former Archbishops of Canterbury call me at home, we settled down for a chat about a speech he was making. From then on he would call from time to time asking for jokes.


One memorable occasion was when he was doing a Timeform lunch at York racecourse. How many Archbishops of Canterbury had spoken at such a function before, I asked him. He doubted that there were many. I told him that my only racing jokes were about infidelity and a jockey with a speech impediment. He decided, not surprisingly, that neither were suitable. “tell me them anyway,” he said.

When he was asked to speak at the St George’s Day lunch at the Grosvenor House, he called because he had seen my name on the previous year’s menu. He wanted to know what it was like. I told him it ran very late and was rather jingoistic. He called a few weeks later to tell me about it. “I told you it was jingoistic,” I said. “Jingoistic?” he cried. “It’s facist!” 

I also started to see him watching Kent at Canterbury and in various other places. In Antigua, during the Test series, when Laura and I were having dinner, she suddenly said, “there’s your pal over there.” Lord Runcie was having a meal with his son.

I went over and tapped him on the shoulder and suddenly that famous voice boomed out “Bob the Cat!” The whole restaurant went silent for a few seconds only to suddenly break into helpless laughter.

Listening to him conduct former Kent cricketer Hopper Levett’s Memorial Service, I was moved to feel that for such a normal, ordinary sort of chap to have attained such high office can only have been to the benefit of the Church of England.

Despite fighting prostrate cancer for virtually all the time that I came to know him, he remained to a jolly and engaging character. Right up until his death he continued to conduct cricket memorial services in Canterbury Cathedral.

His last two were for Godfrey Evans and EW  “Jim” Swanton. I was unable to attend either but I read his eulogy to Jim in the Cricketer. In it he used a memorable phrase – “Jim,” he said, “was not a man plagued by self doubt.” Amazingly, Robert Runcie was.

He certainly did not want to be Archbishop of Canterbury and took six weeks of deliberation before accepting the office.      

I shall miss his telephone calls and can’t help but wonder if he might have chosen as his epitaph: “It’s Robert Runcie – I don’t know if you remember me?”

I, for one, will never forget him – he was a “Class Act”.

After note: When he died his widow sent me a lovely note. “You’re a legend in our house with the Johnson Brothers and Lenin in Poland jokes”.

Grumpy old goalies


Bob 'The Cat' Bevan