Berkhamsted Cricket Club - Peter O'Toole Memorial

It is with great sadness that Berkhamsted Cricket Club reports the news of the recent death from cancer of Peter O’Toole.

Peter was a major force in the Club’s cricketing fortunes from the 1960s onwards, and he has remained a Vice-President since his retirement from playing.

This photograph shows Pete in the centre, directly behind BCC skipper Ken Burling who is receiving the Gazette Cup trophy in 1967



…and this Gazette profile for the Final in 1975 encapsulates Pete’s unique contribution with bat and ball.




Running his greengrocer’s shop in the High Street often restricted Pete’s availability on a Saturday afternoon, but there was still plenty of cricket to be played in a full season and his contributions in the Sunday 1st XI, midweek matches and on various BCC tours became legendary. He then became a very successful 2nd XI captain in his later years with the Club.


In addition, comments from Colin Buckle:

I have known Peter since he was an alter boy at the Catholic Church in Berkhamsted in 1955. I played cricket with him for many years; visited his fruit & veg stall in the High Street on Saturday mornings and even met him at the races where he was a bookie.

He was a real character with an infectious smile and laugh, a sad loss.

I particularly remember him as a great athletic fielder with a very strong arm.

His batting was inconsistent but he could deposit you into the canal quite easily whilst his bowling was best described as eccentric.

He could bowl really quickly in the early days but he never knew where the ball was going!!.

A good man was Pete.


The original message to Berkhamsted CC from Andrew, one of Peter O’Toole’s twin sons (Jonathan being the other, together with elder sisters Debbie and Juliet)

Please could you pass on the sad news that my father Peter O’Toole passed away on the 14th August 2023.

He loved his cricket at Berkhamsted, and as a family we have so many great memories of growing up watching and playing in the same teams as him.

I’m pretty sure he will be remembered as a great character trying to hit sixes all over the ground and normally ending up in the canal!! (at the old ground…).

He captained the 2nd XI team for quite a number of years, which I knew he was very proud of.

Hopefully you could forward this on to your older members who I’m sure would remember him.

Kind regards,
Andrew O’Toole


Charlie Hussey

(Saturday 19th August 2023)

Phil Brown scored a century for Berkhamsted 3rd XI today (not an unusual occurrence as I suspect he has scored more tons than anyone else in the Club, or certainly is in the top 5). However I believe he is the last Club playing member to have played under Pete O' Toole and I think his first ton for an adult team was for Pete's Sunday 2nds against Finchley in an outrageous 9 wicket win - so I think that is all lovely symmetry and celebration, however coincidental. 

Phil Brown himself adds the following comments :

“What a character Pete O’Toole was, and I can safely say he made my Sunday games extremely entertaining whether in seeing some of the biggest hits ever made, in his unique style, or keeping us entertained in the bar afterwards.”


Back to Charlie :

I have gathered some further memories after a long chat with Andy O’Toole. Pete was 80 and only stopped working earlier this year . At his request, there won’t be a funeral, but his four children would be very pleased to visit BCC on a pre-arranged date during the summer of 2024 to make an opportunity to commemorate Peter’s life and his cricketing exploits.

For so many of us Pete made a huge contribution to our enjoyment of playing and understanding of competitive cricket, especially when the odds were stacked against us - dare I say he was an original Bazball exponent, in attitude and desire. 

I would be keen to help the idea of an opportunity in 2024 to mourn and celebrate a true one-off with unique sporting talents.

James Westley

I completely agree Charlie. Pete was a larger than life character and enormous fun to play cricket with. Although his calling when batting with him sometimes proved challenging….

He even kept smiling when I took some money of him at the races.

He will be sadly missed.

John Neal

I heard about Peter’s passing from Ben Mitchell.

Very sad news indeed and I am very pleased to hear that such an event is being considered and I would completely support it.

Peter was a huge support to me when I joined the club and he was my captain in the 3rd XI. He was always so positive and gave me a chance when others were less keen. He really was a BCC man and coined the term “the Club’s the thing”, always willing to do more than his bit on and off the field.

Julian Dent (BCC President)

 Peter was a lovely man, great fun on the racecourse or in the clubhouse. I only knew him as a Vice President and am sorry to lose such a large personality from our membership.

 Jim Niven, Berkhamsted CC colleague in the 1970s

“Sad, very sad. Another one departs the field for the great pavilion in the sky. Pete was a true character.

I still dine out on anecdotes from “when I worked for Peter O'Toole". Of course people, on hearing this, always thought I meant the actor !!

In the school and university holidays I worked in Pete’s greengrocer’s shop in Berkhamsted high Street, and some days even went up to Covent Garden to the wholesale fruit and veg market when it was there. We used to leave from Berkhamsted at 03:30 as I recall, and he used to come round to Anglefield Road to pick me up from the Nivens household. He would blast his horn to tell me he was waiting, much to Mum and Dad's annoyance.

At Covent Garden, his van was loaded up by 06:30 and we used to grab a breakfast and a beer at one of the market pubs which of course had a special licence to open at that very early hour for people on market business. Then we were back in Berkhamsted just after 08:00 to open up his shop, "Barbara's", the same name as his flower shop further down the High Street towards Bourne End in the parade of shops opposite the Rex cinema. Janet, his then wife, ran the flower shop.

Some days, Sheila Cook, the wife of landlord Maurice Cook from the White Hart pub across the road from the shop, would bring over a second breakfast as we opened up the shop. Result!

For midweek cricket matches, often we would alternate which of Pete & I played for Berkhamsted, thus leaving the other of us to run the shop. However Peter very rarely played on Saturdays as he always had to do that afternoon on his fruit and veg stall on Berkhamsted Market. However he generously used to let me off on those Saturday afternoons to play cricket if it was not very busy.

When we went metric in 1971, no way did Peter change his cash till. Too costly! That antique pounds, shillings and pence cash register was a wonderful object. I became very good at calculating old money into new, and vice versa as many customers weren't ready to switch to new metric cash.

I referred to my fruit and veg "apprenticeship" in Peter's shop during my interview process when I got my job and what turned out to be my main career at Shell. It was all I then knew about agriculture and farming !!

Peter was also an "unofficial" bookie taking one or two side bets in the shop, recorded into a little notebook he carried. He also was good friends with "Chalkie" White who ran the "official" betting shop, upstairs on the opposite corner of where Lower Kings Road crossed the High Street. I went with Peter some evenings after he closed the shop, to the greyhound / "flapping" tracks at Oxford, Slough, Henlow and other places I cannot recall. Even there he seemed to be taking a few side bets and got me to do some running for him ! Bless him.

I certainly played a lot of matches with Peter at Berkhamsted. As a batsman, he would fit in brilliantly with today's Baz-ball cricket with his totally abandoned batting style. He took only one batting instruction from his hapless skipper on match days, i.e. "How hard do you want me to hit every ball skipper? Very hard, or unbelievably hard ! "

I can also still recall his distinctive bowling style and action. Somehow I think you can't learn to play cricket like Peter. He just had a natural free style that was his and his alone, and a helluva personality to boot.

Further memories from elder brother Bob Niven, a Berkhamsted CC colleague of Pete’s in the late 1960s and 1970s

“Very sad news. Jim’s account of the excellent Pete O’Toole is spot on and I can’t usefully add much.

Peter was ebullient, cheerful, kindly and seemingly inexhaustible.

An abiding memory is a Wednesday home game when Peter had done a very early Covent Garden run, worked all morning, came straight from the shop to the Lower Kings Road ground and proceeded to bowl a dozen or more good overs with his fast slingy action. He took three wickets and also fielded very actively in the gully and in the covers (he had a strong arm). He later scored over 20 runs in his carefree, occasionally cross-batted fashion. We won. The subsequent session at the bar was as usual very cheerful.

An anecdote from my holiday job working in Peter’s shop. The quality of the produce there was very good, but it was much cheaper to buy in Covent Garden mixed nuts in their shells in bulk all together, rather than individual sacks of specific types (walnuts, brazils, hazel nuts etc.). On a couple of occasions, Peter asked me to sort very large sacks of nuts into their various types. They were then displayed and sold in separate containers, each with a notice along the lines of: “Premium Hand-Selected Nuts”.

I didn’t ask about the price mark-up compared with the Covent Garden wholesale cost…

…and then Andy Niven the youngest of the three Niven brothers

Pete O’Toole was a Berko CC legend indeed. Although his sense of humour wavered sometimes between cheeky and a bit near-the-knuckle, he was always an upbeat, positive guy to have in your team with his 'unorthodox' batting style and he often swung matches Berko's way with a burst of hostile bowling.

Two anecdotes that have stuck in my memory.

The first is from the time he dropped an easy catch at short leg when Darrell Bodimeade was on a hat-trick, and watching Darrell turn crimson with one or two choice comments aimed at Pete, who then started laughing which only made it worse for poor Mr Bodimeade, but had the rest of us in stitches!

The other was when, with one wicket was needed to win the match, a delivery of Pete’s hit a young No.11 amidships, only to discover that the batsman was not wearing a box! The Umpire couldn't be persuaded that as the batsman had to retire hurt, Berko had won the match by default. Peter lightened the situation with a quip along the lines of... "Don't worry lad, we'll phone your Mum as you seem to be having difficulty speaking!"

John Waller

“Sorry to hear about Peter O’Toole, I remember him from Ashlyns School and when he went out with his wife-to-be Janet. Our paths never crossed that much because he was a good footballer and I was useless. I played with him in the Second Eleven, and when I told people outside Berkhamsted that I played with Peter O’toole, they always thought of the famous actor with the same name.

Peter really could hit a ball and played in the manner of a Cavalier, he always had a grin on his face and enjoyed himself at all aspects of cricket.

I remember the “Gazette Cup Final” at Berkhamsted on the 18th of July 1975. The First Eleven batted first, so they had the better of the light. Peter opened the batting with Norman Warren, a wrong move as Peter was never an opener but could be devastating lower down the order.  I then kept Norman company as he batted for most of the innings for 48, finally being bowled by Brian Collins. We only lost three wickets but the gloom got the better of us and we ended up over 40 runs behind.

Next comes a photograph of a Berkhamsted XI on tour to Barbados in November 1987.

Pete is in the centre of things as usual, in the back row of this image.

Don Rawson (Umpire), Andy Thoseby, Keith Booth, Norman Cowans (guest), PO'T,

Richard Eames, Steve Bateman, Doug Osbourne (guest)

Ian Putman, James Whitaker (guest + captain), Craig Anderson,

Derek Battrum (South Hampstead CC, a friend and former work colleague of Richard’s)

Comments from Richard Eames

I am pretty sure this was after first match, when Berkhamsted played Stevenage who had as a guest the England player Peter Willey. Keith Booth dismissed him with a cleverly-disguised slower ball mistimed to Steve Bateman at extra cover. A lovely moment, with a pro falling to a well planned and perfectly executed club cricketer’s dismissal that could have happened just as easily in the 2nd XI.

Earlier in the same game I was non-striker when Willey was bowling to Peter O’Toole. I faced the first ball of the over, played a forward defensive out of the middle of the bat and Peter called me through for a single (field spread, near end of innings). The next five balls, were pitched in about the same place, and Peter played exactly the same shot to all of them. Four were air shots, but the other one hit the middle of the bat. It was still going up when it hit a tree and brought down a branch!

Peter was laughing for the rest of the innings; he had said several times before the match that he was going to hit Willey for 6!