Luke Upward’s Wisden Obituary
UPWARD, Luke Constant Lee, whose death due to pernicious anomie was announced on 31 June, was once described as the David Gower of English literature, delighting his followers with a stream of effortlessly exquisite aphorisms and apophthegms. He also assisted many social and artistic cricket clubs as a right-arm purveyor of his own wrist-spun inventions, the zombie, the zamboni, the zephyr, the zipper and the zero (the variant which did nothing at all). When these deliveries went wrong, he self-deprecatingly referred to them as his “zakouski” (the Russian word for a help-yourself buffet).
Upward showed immense promise as a schoolboy bowler at Upvern, Reppingham and Halleberry, but missed his chance of first eleven colours due to a series of expulsions which inspired much of the narrative of Lindsay Anderson’s iconic Sixties film If…
Despite his final expulsion, Upward was invited to apply to read English at Oxford University, but he failed both of his interviewers and headed for London instead, with a mission to raise English prose to heights never before attempted, let alone achieved. Disdaining regular employment, Upward’s unique combination of talent and availability ensured that he was eagerly pursued by cricket teams, especially in the literary world where selection was frequently impeded by feuding and caprice. Upward once estimated that he had assisted over 500 different teams, although he did his best work for Harold Pinter’s Gaieties, assisted by the expert wicket-keeping of Tom Stoppard. Asked if he found Pinter a difficult captain, Upward said not at all, and that he had composed some of his finest aphorisms and apophthegms during Pinter’s long silences.
In his advancing years, Upward inserted a “climate clause” into his cricket commitments, which did not require him to play if the temperature fell below his age in Fahrenheit. He took to umpiring but in this he was less sought-after, because he gave all his decisions on the basis of artistic impression. Many unorthodox slow-left-arm bowlers owed their best figures to Upward’s aim of encouraging the dipping chinaman.
A Gaieties souvenir brochure, written by Pinter and Stoppard, left a vivid image of Upward in action and was the centrepiece of his lengthy funeral obsequies: “he walked back five paces, turned, shimmied sideways, and bounced up to the stumps. Two paces before reaching them his right arm began to whirl. It completed 540 degrees and then delivered the ball with a violent turn of the wrist, like a man attempting to open a stubborn jar of pickled beetroot”.
In a final characteristic gesture, Upward directed his ashes to be scattered in front of the open-air cricket nets in London’s Holland Park, to improve the bowlers’ run-ups.