Harold de Andrado
Last week the death occurred after a brief illness of Norton Pereira, the well-known broadcaster. Very few of the present generation know that he was a great sporting all-rounder in his day at St. Josephs in the mid Forties. A great cricketing all-rounder, a halfback at soccer and an excellent quarter miler in those great Josephian relay teams of yesteryear. Norton and I had been team mates from the age of twelve and we were also fellow Boarders at the wartime St. Joseph’s branch at Homagama, and later we were team mates at the Nondescripts though both of us were playing only in the Lower division.
In the four years that Norton represented St. Josephs 1944-47 they were twice champions under Malcolm de Costa and runners-up to St. Peters under Neil Weerasinghe. Norton had a big hand in those successes. Where St. Josephs dominated cricket, football and athletics, in that era our careers at school ran parallel but there the comparison ends. He blossomed into a superb all-rounder whereas I bordered more on mediocrity.
He was a versatile leg spinner with a well disguised straight through. He bowled very accurately without any waste and it was impossible to count the number of occasions he missed getting wickets by that proverbial coat of varnish. He was by no means a batsman of modest pretensions because he had sufficient success to retain his place in any team as a top-flight all-rounder. In the middle order he had many half centuries and he was also a brilliant gully fieldsman. His figures were always attractive but this is where statistics, despite their volume of eloquent accuracy, can be impotent and dumb. He gave up sports early, in the interests of broadcasting and to his dying day he held his own in that line. He was a better presenter of a programme than a commentator but his news reading was of the highest quality and calibre. His countenance bespoke equanimity of temperament and an inclination to pass through life without a single offering of offence to his fellow men. He had an embodiment of all these great qualities which cricket can teach better than any other game. At least at St. Josephs like most of the older schools like Royal, St. Thomas’, Trinity, Nalanda, Wesley and St. Anthony’s there was a strict code of conduct about on-the-field behaviour. No sledging or intimidation was ever tolerated, no challenging of umpires decisions and frivolous appeals which only incite the crowd would have only got you dismissed from the team. A few decades ago I observed a hostile crowd barracking a school captain. His answer to that was to make an obscene gesture at the crowd. Perhaps he was lucky to get away with it, as the school authorities did not observe his frailties, so the vulgarities were allowed to pass. Today, many years later, one can still observe the obscenities of this individual in his fictional scribbling, a lesson he never learned in school.
Today what passes for ‘great’ in modern Sri Lankan cricket is flamboyance of behaviour, arrogance, conceit, riling opponents, self-satisfaction and gamesmanship. Norton Pereira certainly came from the Old School type where cricket was more of a gentlemen’s game. Norton had his triumphs and disappointments but he accepted them philosophically. His passing away has left a void to his widow, children and only surviving sister in England. His elder brother Dodwell played for St. Peters with success in the mid-Thirties. His contribution to society was unreasonable and men of his calibre are rarely found today. I shall always treasure his memory and friendship with warm affection even if we did not meet more often in recent years. It is always a sad task to record the death of your friends and contemporary sportsmen. He has now joined several of his team mates, Eugene Chanmugam, Hubert Bagot, Malcolm de Costa, Dr A. Hazari, M. Sarathchandra, Ivor Bagot, Milan Kodikara, Douglas Fonseka, Tom Rodrigo, Marcus Perera, Ernie Philips, Vasantha Sinnetamby and Joe Abeysundera.
Observer 19th January 1997
In the pre-television age in Sri Lanka when radio was the only electronic medium, the word held sway over the airwaves. Unsupported by images the radio commentator in the grime and dust of the field had to evoke for his listener the drama and tension of the passing scene.
Among the favourite features of the day over the radio were Cricket commentaries at a time when Sri Lanka was not even knocking on the doors of the ICC. We were quite content to play the English and the Aussies on their whistle stop tours of Colombo on their way to and from the two countries. It was school Cricket which was King and the Big Matches were unfailing attractions.
Among the radio Cricket commentators Lucien de Zoysa (Royal) and Bertie Wijesinghe (St. Thomas) constituted the Brahmin caste as they commented on the Royal-Thomian in their impeccable accents. Not far behind came Norton Pereira (St. Josephs) and Maurice Perera or Anton Perera (St. Peters) in the Battle of the Saints. A little later the late Sirisoma Jayasinghe and Palitha Perera introduced the Sinhala Cricket commentary for the Big Match between Ananda and Nalanda. In rugger the big names were Bob Harvey and the late Lionel Fernando.
Norton was an athlete who excelled at football, cricket and tennis at his Darley Road school and took 50 wickets in his final season under the captaincy of Neil Weerasinghe. He was one of the first Head Prefects at St. Josephs during the time of the legendary Fr. Peter Pillai. A gold medallist in elocution it was inevitable that he should join the then Radio Ceylon as an announcer.
That was the golden age of broadcasting. Free of the stifling Government control which was to come later and presided over by understanding Civil Servants, the radio flourished in that pre-television age. Though the range and the intellectual scope of the English service as against the Sinhala was necessarily constricted by its upper middle class concerns, the age did produce great broadcasters in English such as Greg Rostowzski, Mil Sansoni, Livy Wijemanne, Leon Belleth, Jimmy Barucha and Mark Anthony Fernando. That was the time Norton flourished over the airwaves.
Though not an unsociable man, Norton had a natural reserve about him which sometimes made conversation with him difficult. This was a paradoxical trait because he did enjoy visiting the hostelries of the Fort (where he worked for the Swiss Embassy) and Nugegoda where he lived. I shall always remember him as the thoughtful man in the corner immersed in his dreams.