Learie Constantine

(1901—1971) cricketer and politician

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West Indian cricket all-rounder, generally considered to have been the greatest fielder in the history of the game. After retiring from cricket he became a distinguished politician and campaigner for good race relations. He was knighted in 1962 and created a life peer in 1969.

Born in Diego Martin, Trinidad, the son of a sugar-plantation foreman who also played cricket for his country, Constantine soon showed a natural aptitude for the game. He joined the Trinidad team in 1921 and was selected for the West Indian team to tour England in 1923. He toured England again in 1928 and the following year became a professional in English league cricket; he continued playing professional cricket in England, apart from joining the West Indian touring team of 1939, until 1940. Because so much of his cricketing career was taken up with league cricket he totalled just five centuries in a modest first-class career of only 194 innings and 18 test matches, during which he toured England three times and Australia once. He was a fine batsman, always inclined to be unorthodox, and as a fast bowler was unsparing to his opponents. His fielding, both close to the wicket and in the deep field, was consistently outstanding.

Constantine remained in England during World War II. Always concerned about colour prejudice, against which he campaigned with great energy and dignity for much of his life, he worked in the Ministry of Labour as a welfare officer (1942–47) with special responsibility for West Indian workers. In 1944 he won a case against the Imperial Hotel, London, for their failure to ‘receive and lodge’ him. In 1954 he was called to the bar by the Middle Temple, and the same year published his book Colour Bar. Back in Trinidad, he was elected an MP in his country's inaugural democratic parliament and became minister of works and transport. In 1961 he was appointed high commissioner for Trinidad and Tobago in London, a post he resigned in 1964. He subsequently practised in the English law courts, as well as writing and broadcasting on cricket. In 1966 he became a member of the Race Relations Board.

Subjects: British History — Contemporary History (Post 1945).

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