September 7 marks the anniversary of the death in 1956 of one of the most flamboyant players in Sussex cricket’s long and colourful history – Charles Burgess or, as he was better known, CB Fry.
Only John Langridge has scored more than Fry’s 68 first-class hundreds for the county, but Fry wasn’t just a fine cricketer, he was an exceptional sportsman. Imagine someone with the cricketing ability of Kevin Pietersen, the footballing skills of Gareth Bale (Fry was a defender) and the athleticism of Olympic champion Greg Rutherford and you have some idea just what an all-round athlete Fry was and why he was so feted at the turn of the 20th century.
He played cricket and football for his country and he appeared in the FA Cup final for Southampton. At one stage he was also the world long-jump record holder. He was also good enough to take part in an England rugby union Test trial and would amuse guests at country-house gatherings with his party trick by leaping backwards from a stationary position onto a mantelpiece.
At a time when the emergence of the popular press was raising the profile of Britain’s sporting heroes Fry was a nationally known figure. His cricket career spanned 30 years, most of them with Sussex, and when he retired in 1921 at the age of 49 he had amassed more than 30,000 first-class runs.
Educated at Cambridge University, Fry needed to be extended beyond the sports arena when injuries got the better of him and forced him into retirement. In 1922 he stood as a Liberal candidate in the Brighton constituency in the General Election. He lost by 4,000 votes to the Conservatives but the presence of Dame Clara Butt, a world-renowned opera singer and personal friend of Fry, brought glamour to the hustings.
Fry fought two subsequent elections but failed to get into Parliament although that wasn’t the end of his political career. His former Sussex team-mate Ranjitsinhji took him along as one of his assistants when Ranji took up the position of India’s representative at the League of Nations. At the time Fry claimed to have been offered the throne of Albania and although it was never proved it is unlikely Fry could have made it up!
In his later years Fry turned to writing and broadcasting but his legend was sullied somewhat by a misguided dalliance with Hitler’s Youth Movement in 1930s Germany. He once greeting the Fuhrer with a Nazi salute. In the post-War years his mental health deteriorated but he lived to the age of 84 before dying in London in 1956.
He was buried next to his old school Repton in Derbyshire. The inscription on his grave was apposite: C B Fry 1872-1956. Cricketer, Scholar, Athlete, Author – The Ultimate All Rounder'.