Harry Mead finds himself unexpecteldy bowed over on a tour round Britain with a cricketing legend.

DICKIE BIRD'S BRITAIN (Hodder & Stoughton, £14.99): DICKIE Bird's Britain? Surely one 22-yard strip of heavy-rollered turf after another?

No. Here's Dickie grasping a king-sized onion at the North of England Horticultural Society's show at Harrogate. Here's Dickie at the Highland Games, urging on a tug-of-war team. Here's Dickie with a steam engine down in Paignton, and here he is in a chapel in Wales.

Ah now, Scarborough. Surely the world's most famous umpire will be at his beloved North Marine Road ground? Not likely. He's down on the front, leading the beach donkeys, slurping ice cream and devouring fish and chips.

A bit contrived? No. A lot contrived. And yet - a miracle like Dickie himself - it works. Dickie has plenty to say, a rich store of reminiscences to tap, and, aided on the page by his skilled ghost writer, Keith Lodge, he is an engaging companion. Excellent photographs by Derry Brabbs, of James Herriot fame, would dispel any dull moment if there was one. And of course there's plenty of cricket - including Dickie umpiring a boys' game at Carthorpe, near Bedale.

Touchingly, Dickie, patron of the Macmillan Nurses Appeal in his hometown of Barnsley, devotes several pages to the work of the nurses and the regional cancer hospital at Sheffield. His Britain also includes the unsung St John Ambulance Brigade, a group of whose volunteers is pictured reporting for duty. "There is hardly a public function that goes on without these lads and lasses being around to help if anyone is injured or ill," he remarks. "They do a magnificent job."

A simple (in the nicest possible way) man, Dickie has never got above himself. Long may he enjoy his Britain, and the rest of us enjoy him.

JOHNNERS: The Life of Brian by Barry Johnston (Coronet £8.99)

ANOTHER national treasure, still deeply missed ten years after his death, Brian Johnston is here warmly portrayed by his son. Though he had his darker moments - who hasn't? - the zeal and zest of the public figure matched the private man. Joy was Johnston's stock-in-trade, and his son communicates it with a keen feeling and enthusiasm that his father would heartily applaud.

CRICKET'S GREAT ENTERTAINERS by Henry Blofeld (Coronet £8.99)

JOHNNERS turns up here as well - one of five cricket "entertainers'' saluted for their "watching brief". But bat and ball dominate of course, with Blofeld profiling 43 of his favourite cricketers, grouped in five periods from the age of W G Grace to that of Michael Vaughan.

A YEAR IN THE SUN by Michael Vaughan (Coronet £7.99)

AND here is England's present captain, reflecting on his early experience in charge, during the year (2002) when his six Test centuries established him firmly among the world's premier batsmen.

Published: 22/02/2005