He’s a living embodiment of the English summer: a stalwart of the airwaves whose mellifluous tones evoke swards of green grass, warm beer, lengthening shadows and platters of home-made cake for tea.
Yet behind that gentlemanly façade, the BBC‘s cricket commentator Jonathan Agnew turns out to be as foul-mouthed and abusive as a proverbial navvy who has stubbed his toe.
How else, one wonders, can right-thinking fans respond to yesterday’s revelation of the appalling behaviour of this pillar of Test Match Special.
Yet behind that gentlemanly façade, the BBC’s cricket commentator Jonathan Agnew (pictured) turns out to be as foul-mouthed and abusive as a proverbial navvy who has stubbed his toe
In an aggressive, expletive-ridden rant, Aggers — as he’s universally called — used Twitter to call sports writer Jonathan Liew a ‘sad attention seeker’, a ‘disgusting individual’, a ‘coward’, and a ‘disgraceful’ journalist whose coverage of cricket was ‘stupid’.
Then, at around 9.30pm on a week night, he messaged him directly, calling him a ‘c**t’ three times in eight minutes, and on one occasion in block capital letters.
For almost three decades, the 59-year-old broadcaster has enjoyed national treasure status. Indeed, Aggers is best-known for one of the most memorable episodes in British broadcasting history.
While commentating on a match in 1991, he observed that Ian Botham had hit his own stumps because he ‘didn’t quite get his leg over’.
This sparked several minutes of uncontrolled, juvenile hilarity with fellow commentator and fellow national treasure Brian Johnston.
However, this recent meltdown is different gravy, as they say in Geoffrey Boycott’s native Yorkshire. And it places Agnew’s BBC bosses in choppy water.
In an aggressive, expletive-ridden rant, Aggers — as he’s universally called — used Twitter to call sports writer Jonathan Liew (pictured) a ‘sad attention seeker’
Last week, they summarily sacked Radio 5 presenter Danny Baker for posting an image online which compared Prince Harry’s new-born mixed-race son to a chimpanzee.
Baker was told it was a ‘serious error of judgment’ to share something which went ‘against the values we live and breathe on this radio station’. Agnew’s foul abuse, surely, goes against those values, too.
Yet he has merely been ‘reprimanded’ and told to write a letter of apology to Liew.
He’ll retain his licence-payer-funded job, on a salary of between £180,000 and £189,999. All of which begs an awkward question: do BBC chiefs apply one set of rules to Baker, a docker’s son, and a different set to Agnew, brought up on the sports pitches of Uppingham public school?
At around 9.30pm on a week night, he messaged him directly, calling him a ‘c**t’ three times in eight minutes, and on one occasion in block capital letters
First, let’s unpick Agnew’s falling out with Liew, which (much like the Baker affair) involves the issue of racial politics.
The spat centres on whether a young bowler called Jofra Archer ought to be selected to play for England. Archer, 24, has a British passport but was born and largely raised in Barbados.
He qualifies for England via residence only because the cricketing authorities recently cut the minimum qualifying time from seven years to three.
Some in the game fear Archer’s potential inclusion may cause disharmony because more established players might be elbowed aside to accommodate him.
Among those critics is Agnew, who has said picking Archer would be a ‘huge call’, adding that ‘morale and camaraderie is a big part in team performance’.
For his part, Liew suggested that such remarks were partly motivated by racism.
‘Who doesn’t love morale and camaraderie…?’ he asked. ‘Until you begin to ask why Archer is deemed such a grave threat to it. And why no other player, foreign-born or not, is ever subjected to the same standard.’
Danny Baker was sacked by the BBC for a tweet about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s baby
Liew then added: ‘There’s an incendiary word you could posit to describe all this, but I’m not going to use it.’
Agnew, who played three Test matches for England, reacted furiously, accusing his fellow cricket journalist of ‘playing the race card’.
Then came a series of private messages to Liew, who writes for the Independent news website, in which he adopted the hectoring tone of an East End gangster.
‘You have really bad issues. [I’m] About to tweet that, by the way,’ began his tirade. ‘Apologise now.’
Four minutes later, when no reply was forthcoming, Agnew continued: ‘I am going no further on advice of people I have heard back from who know you and think you are a c**t. I know you are. Think on.’ Then, a further two minutes later he wrote simply: ‘C**T.’
After another four minutes, he added: ‘You are so strange. I don’t know if you’d be upset to know those who think you are a c**t. Or not. But your racist slur on me is truly shocking.’
Aggers — as he’s universally called — used Twitter to call sports writer Jonathan Liew a ‘disgusting individual’, a ‘coward’, and a ‘disgraceful’ journalist
If the insults weren’t enough, Agnew is understood to have then formally complained about Liew’s article to the Cricket Writers Club, a sort of informal trade union for cricket correspondents.
It refused to intervene in what it described as a ‘personal spat’.
Agnew responded by threatening to resign from the club then withdrawing his threat 24 hours later saying ‘old heads and friends’ had talked him down.
However, apparently upset at a lack of support from colleagues, Agnew resigned.
It was at this point that Jonathan Liew made public copies of the abusive messages.
Agnew is on holiday with second wife Emma, so is yet to publicly comment on the row. Friends say he initially expected to be sacked by the BBC, so is relieved to have avoided such sanction.
But he remains outraged both at Liew’s article, and the fact that what he considered private remarks have been made public.
While the whole palaver will understandably shock genteel Test Match Special listeners, it’s interesting to note that it has come as little surprise to many of Agnew’s colleagues in the Press box, where he has for years been regarded as thin-skinned.
He also crossed swords with Gary Lineker, for using Twitter to moan about Brexit
Barney Ronay, a sportswriter from the Guardian, remarked this week: ‘Having also been sent abusive personal messages by Agnew, I would suggest talking it through [is] not his strong point.’
Another colleague says: ‘The fact that very few of his peers have rallied to his defence speaks volumes.He can be rude, self-important and touchy, which is never a good combination, especially if you are in the habit of mouthing off on Twitter late at night.’
In the somewhat incestuous world of cricket journalism, Agnew has been ruffling feathers for some time.
Six years ago, for example, he fell out with The Cricketer magazine, saying he would never read it again.
In the somewhat incestuous world of cricket journalism, Agnew has been ruffling feathers for some time
In 2016, he rebuked BBC sports editor Dan Roan for conducting an interview in prison with Allen Stanford who embarrassed English cricket chiefs by carrying out the second largest investment scam in U.S. history. Agnew said the interview was waste of time.
He also crossed swords with Gary Lineker, for using Twitter to moan about Brexit.
He said: ‘Gary. You are the face of BBC Sport. Please observe BBC editorial guidelines and keep your political views, whatever they are and whatever the subject, to yourself. I’d be sacked if I followed your example. Thanks.’
Not long ago, as a castaway on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, he revealed that he’d also been involved in domestic conflicts, saying he has a strained relationship with his two daughters from his first marriage, which ended in 1993, and would like to ‘stand up for men who want to play a part in their children’s lives’ following divorce.
While few colleagues have been brave enough to publicly criticise him, Jonathan Liew occasionally has. While working for the Daily Telegraph, he called Agnew the ‘most over-rated broadcaster on planet Earth . . . A man entranced by the sound of his own voice, drunk on his minor–celebrity status, adding virtually nothing in terms of insight.’
Perhaps, it’s no wonder that Aggers retaliated.
It remains to be seen whether the fallout will damage his highly-lucrative and gentlemanly brand. He writes best-selling books and fills provincial theatres for talks (indeed, he left England’s game in Dublin early last week to make one such theatre gig in Paignton).
But whatever happens, Agnew can’t say he wasn’t warned.
Not long ago, a well-known radio commentator gave an interview to The Full Toss, a cricket blog, to complain about the growing levels of ‘vitriol’ on Twitter, urging users of the microblogging site to be ‘polite, courteous, respectful, interesting and pleasant’.
His name? Jonathan Agnew.