The MCC class members of the 1970’s/80’s are now spread far and wide so a rare telephone call from Beefy (Alan Pullin) these days, or in this case a knock on the door, is always met initially with a feeling of unease and so it was that I learnt of the sad passing of John Kitley, aged 92.
President, Chairman, Opening Batsman and Medium Pace bowler John was a key member of the club over sixty years ago and helped lead it through its transitional period from The Withy to Broadleys and into future years.
My friendship with John stretches back for most of those years and my time spent with him, indeed my knowledge of him, relates almost entirely to cricket.
Having said that my earliest memory of him is from my childhood seeing him stride through The Withymead of a Saturday morning, basket in hand delivering freshly baked loaves for the Family Bakery.
It was some years later when I joined the Cricket Club that I became aware of JK the cricketer.
In those days John divided his playing time between Marshfield and Bath Cricket Club, something that was met with the occasional grumble from one or two diehards in the club. In later years I was also met with the disapproval of one or two as I also chose to play at the Bath Club.
John and I also enjoyed a few years playing together for The Bath Buccaneers, a nomadic team made up of players from a number of Clubs in the area playing mid- week matches against local villages.
John was always a gentleman on and off the field of play but of course as with us all there was the odd time when his winning instincts sometimes got the better of him. As a bowler John would always politely albeit strongly appeal should he feel an LBW or caught behind decision was his for the asking. It was only after a number denials by the umpire that he could upgrade his appeal from ‘Owzat’ to a slightly more forceful and some might argue with a note of sarcasm to a, ‘Well how about that one then’
As John the batsman I have fond memories of watching him opening the innings in particular for a few brief years with Chris Watson. John the steady determined resolute defender of his wicket with Chris the flamboyant stroke maker readily accepting his role as the run maker.
I do however recall one occasion when Gentleman John did show his more aggressive side when being asked by the skipper, who shall remain nameless, to push on, open his shoulders, in short take a few risks in the interests of perhaps scoring a few quick runs for the team. John not being accustomed to receiving this type of instruction decided to make a point and throw all caution to the wind expecting no doubt to be clean bowled the very next ball. In fact, he slogged the next three balls out of the ground before being bowled. It rather justified the skipper’s instruction but to the best of my knowledge nobody felt the need to take that up with John.
Always a keen and valued member of the Clubs annual tour of North Devon to the likes of Instow, Sandford, Crediton, Braunton and other exotic haunts John was always the sensible one, on occasions nudging the more excitable tourists amongst us into line with a casual aside or two before returning to his Times crossword.
They were happy and memorable times for us all and I can only imagine The Ship Inn at Crediton, The Lamb at Sandford and The Yeodale Hotel in Barnstaple along with other stopovers remember us with the same affection as we remember them.
It was my privilege to follow John as Chairman of the Club and it was watching and listening to him manage meetings that was always of help to me not just in the club but also in other areas. I often talk of John as the Master of Sub Committees. Whenever things got a little tricky during a meeting, he would often propose the setting up of a Sub Committee to deal with the matter and the meeting would move on.
John of course was somewhat older than me and our playing time together was relatively brief but no less enjoyable for that. On his retirement he gifted me his cricket bag which stayed with me for a number of years.
His distancing from the club was a sadness to me and many others and his later struggles with failing health equally so.
I did say my first memories of John were with basket in hand delivering bread in The Withy.
My latest recollections were of him cycling around the village for as long as was able and that is how I will remember him.
Our thoughts are with his family at this the saddest of times.
Rest in Peace my friend.
March 5th 2021