Posted by: Sarah | April 4, 2006

Penguins Stopped Play

I want this book. Very badly. It’s called Penguins Stopped Play: Eleven Village Cricketers Take on the World and it’s by Harry Thompson. And I Will Have It, for Number One Son came up trumps and presented me with book tokens for Mother’s Day. Hurrah! One of them has PSP written on it, already.

Here’s the Amazon blurb because I couldn’t do it better myself even if I’d read the book yet:

This is a hilarious odyssey in which an amateurish bunch of English eccentrics go cricketing across the globe. It seemed a simple enough idea at the outset: to assemble a team of eleven men to play cricket on each of the seven continents of the globe. Except – hold on a minute – that’s not a simple idea at all. And when you throw in incompetent airline officials, amorous Argentine Colonels’ wives, cunning Bajan drug dealers, gay Australian waiters, overzealous American anti-terrorist police, idiot Welshmen dressed as Santa Claus, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and whole armies of pitch-invading Antarctic penguins, you quickly arrive at a whole lot more than you bargained for. Harry Thompson’s hilarious book tells the story of one of those great idiotic enterprises that only an Englishman could have dreamed up, and only a bunch of Englishmen could possibly have wished to carry out.

In September 2005, I posted a review of Harry Thompson’s novel This Thing of Darkness. It was my favourite new novel published that year. It was also longlisted for the Booker Prize, which delighted its author who, shortly after finishing it was diagnosed with an aggressive form of lung cancer. He talked to his friend Victoria Coren about his illness for an article in The Observer in June 2005. He died in November 2005, having just completed the final edits on Penguins Stopped Play. He also wrote biographies of Peter Cook, Richard Ingrams and Tintin and his creator Herge. And if that wasn’t enough, with his TV hat on he was the original producer of hit comedy panel games Have I Got News for You and They Think It’s All Over.

On 26 March, The Sunday Times printed an extract from Penguins Stopped Play, which made want to read the book even more.*

It’s sad to think that there won’t be any more novels from this gifted author. And no more cricket matches involving The Captain Scott Invitation XI, at least not with Harry at the helm.
Here’s his obituary in The Times.

*If you’re not already registered to access The Times/Sunday Times, you can use to maintain your privacy.


  1. I had the good fortune to be at school with Harry Thompson – I was in the year below him. Even then his cleverness and sense of humour were very obvious. He masterminded a takeover of the Highgate School Local History Society, and renamed it the Lemming Heritage Society, which evolved into the Grand Order of Lemmings, led by the fearsome Grand Lemming (a friend called Michael Michael, with a pillowcase over his head, I think. The Grand Lemming’s catchphrase was the snappy “You will Diiiieeeee!!!!!” – well, we were only in our mid teens at the time).

    He also produced a school magazine, along the lines of Michael Palin’s Ripping Yarns, which was where Lenin of the Rovers first appeared, before it morphed into a Radio 4 comedy series starring Alexei Sayle. I rather lost touch with him when he went to Oxford (I went to the other place), but I followed his career with interest, and bought This Thing of Darkness only a few days before reading of his death.

  2. Hello Stephen

    Lucky you! Thanks for sharing this. I hope you enjoy(ed) “This Thing of Darkness” as much as I did.

  3. Sarah/stephen
    I am one of the current players in the Captain Scott xi.

    Things will never be the same without our beloved harry, but we are determined to keep his memory going in the only way-keeping the team going strong.

    We are playing a charity match against Lashings cc (a team of famous international cricketers!) on june 2nd to raise funds for the roy castle foundation and in memory of H.

    It would be brilliant if you could come. Please email me on if interested.

    ps I am the idiotic welshman mentioned in the book who dressed as father christmas in buenos aires on new year’s eve!

    Thanks also for your kind comments about the wonderful books.


  4. The book is one of the best I’ve ever read. I read it during the summer and enjoyed it immensly. Brilliant book. Wish I had been lucky enough to have know Harry Thompson. Absolute genious!

  5. I was bought “Penguins Stopped Play” by good friends who know how fanatical I am about cricket, and village cricket in particular.I read the book in 2 days and never stopped laughing and saying to my dis-interested wife “My God! this is just like us”.It’s nice to know there are many other “cricket lunatics”, cluttering village greens all over this beautiful country.A truly fantastic read!written by a bloke I would love to have played against……….or have I???

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  7. I just read the book … I absolutely love it… I’m from India so cricket crazy too…
    Expected a funny end to it cause it kept me in splits through … got a little weepy reading the last chapter …

    I hope Paul and the rest of captain Scott does fabulously well! let me know how the charity match against Lashings goes

  8. wow sorry didnt realsie i was a year too late 😛

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