BRIAN JOHNSTON was born at Little Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, the youngest of four children, on 24 June 1912. His father ran E. Johnston & Co., an international coffee business in the City of London, and his grandfather was a Governor of the Bank of England.
Brian was educated at Eton and New College, Oxford. He wanted to be an actor, but was persuaded to enter the family business instead, working in London, Germany and Brazil. During the Second World War, he joined the 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards, where he served as Technical Adjutant and was awarded the Military Cross.
In January 1946 Brian joined the BBC Outside Broadcasts Department. His first broadcasts were live radio programmes from music-halls and theatres. In the summer of 1946 he made his debut as a cricket commentator on BBC television and continued for the next twenty-four years, being appointed the BBC’s first cricket correspondent in 1963. After Brian transferred to radio in 1970, he became a national institution as a commentator on Test Match Special for a further twenty-four years, until his death in 1994.
Brian first established himself as a household name between 1948 and 1952 with his live feature ‘Let’s Go Somewhere’ on the Saturday night radio programme In Town Tonight. Among his 150 stunts, he spent a night alone in the Chamber of Horrors, rode a circus horse, lay under a passing train, was hauled out of the sea by a helicopter, and was attacked by a police dog.
He was one of the first broadcasters to work for both television and radio. In the fifties and sixties Brian presented children’s television shows such as All Your Own, Ask Your Dad and What’s New, while on radio he interviewed hundreds of personalities on Today, Meet a Sportsman, Married to Fame and many other series. He also broadcast from the Boat Race for forty-two years.
Brian appeared on dozens of quiz shows and panel games including Sporting Chance, Twenty Questions and Trivia Test Match and commentated on all the major state occasions such as the funeral of King George VI, the Coronation, and the wedding of the Prince and Princess of Wales. He officially retired from the BBC in 1972, but then turned freelance and presented the popular radio series Down Your Way for the next fifteen years.
At the age of eighty Brian achieved a lifelong ambition with his one-man show An Evening with Johnners, in which he told hilarious anecdotes to sell-out audiences around the country. The CD of An Evening with Johnners became the bestselling spoken word recording in the UK and even entered the pop album charts. It was awarded a gold disc for sales of more than 100,000 copies.
Many of Brian’s funniest stories were included on the CD The Wit of Cricket, which also features Dickie Bird and Henry Blofeld and is published by Hodder & Stoughton Audiobooks. This was the number one bestselling audio CD in the UK in 2007 and 2008.
After Brian’s death on 5 January 1994, a memorial service was held at Westminster Abbey. His widow Pauline founded The Johnners Trust, a charity which awards annual Brian Johnston Scholarships to promising young cricketers in need of financial support and also helps to sponsor cricket for the Blind. The charity has been administered by the Lord’s Taverners since 1999 and it has granted more than half a million pounds in cricket scholarships and awards.