All-rounder Nugget’s debonair ways hid a shy streak

All-rounder Nugget’s debonair ways hid a shy streak

ONE of Keith Miller’s sons tells of visiting his father in London while Miller snr was writing cricket for the Daily Express in the 1960s and finding that he spent the day not at the cricket ground but at a restaurant, where they had a long lunch, and at one or two pubs. Miller finally went to the ground late in the afternoon, spoke briefly to a fellow journo there, Richie Benaud, about the day’s play and, on the strength of what Benaud told him, dashed off his column for the next day’s paper.

The son, Bill Miller, tells the story in the second part of the ABC’s two-part Australian Story about Miller, to be screened at 8pm on Monday. The first part last Monday (it’s repeated on ABC1 at 3pm today) drew an average audience of 1,007,000, which was pretty good, especially since the Miller program was up against the debut of Missing Pieces on Channel Nine, a new show the network had been promoting heavily.

All in all, the viewers’ response to the program was stronger than the ABC could have hoped for, given that it was about a cricketer who last picked up a bat in anger 50 years ago. (In an odd sequel to his career, Miller appeared in 1959 as a guest player for Nottinghamshire against Cambridge, a first-class fixture. Although he was almost 40 and had played hardly any cricket since retiring three years earlier, he hit 13 fours and two sixes while scoring 102 not out.)

The second part on Monday will deal mainly with Miller’s life after he gave up playing, which, one suspects, might have lost a lot of its old purpose. In one sense, this part of Miller’s life is the hardest to track. One puzzling question: with so much going for him, why he didn’t make it big as a TV sports broadcaster?

He certainly had all the credentials. Not only was he a former superstar who happened to be outlandishly handsome, but he was articulate, universally respected, big-spirited by nature and popular with the masses, females included. He enjoyed classical music and spoke with a fruity voice, which everyone who knew him tried to imitate.

So equipped, he should have been a hit on TV but wasn’t. During a patchy TV career, Miller never really clicked with viewers. Why? His long-time friend and fellow broadcaster Norman May, who shared with him the nickname "Nugget", has an interesting explanation for this. May told Square Eyes this week that however debonair Miller might have seemed to cricket fans during his playing days, he was rather introverted by nature.

"He was actually a self-conscious sort of fellow," May said. "When the TV cameras were on him he was a bit shy … he wasn’t able to project his personality. You have to be a bit of a ham to succeed on TV, and Keith wasn’t that. He wasn’t a showman."

May knows of another handsome former superstar who didn’t make it big on TV for much the same reason – rugby league’s great ball runner, Reg Gasnier.

"Reg would talk you blind on the subject of rugby league if you were with him in a pub," May said. "On TV he never had much to say. I think he was a bit overawed by the medium."

Miller, a World War II fighter pilot, might seem an ideal focus for today’s Anzac Day remembrances, but he probably would not have welcomed this himself. May said: "I knew him for the best part of 50 years, but I did not ever hear him say a word about the war. Not one word."