C J Burley

Obituary of John Burley    by Rob Batisite       13th December 2023

John Burley acknowledgement to ITV News

JOHN BURLEY was many things to many people, but in the art of public oratory he was arguably Guernsey’s No 1. For any event organiser in search of a speaker, this big man from Kent was your go-to man for four decades after retiring to the island in 1978.

Arguably the island’s most entertaining after-dinner speaker, he was in much demand, his knowledge of most things – notably cricket and horse racing – always guaranteed a silent room readily prepared to burst into laughter. They were never disappointed.

Charles John Burley was born on 27 January 1945 and raised in what he referred to as ‘the garden of England’ in the Sittingbourne area. Initially he was educated at Mrs Howard’s Day School before switching to St Peter’s Court, a preparatory school for boys in Broadstairs. Then, aged 13, he joined Radley College before, in 1962, spending time at the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester.

For generations the Burley family business was centred on bricks, cement and farming. C Burley Ltd was founded by John’s great-grandfather Charles Burley and the brick and cement manufacturer was big on the southern shore of the Thames, operating barges from its own wharf. After leaving the Royal Agricultural College, John took on the position of company secretary in 1964 and worked there until the company was taken over in 1973.

It was at that point he moved to Guernsey and a fine house in Mount Durand, which would be his base until the day he died. A fairly regular letter writer to the Guernsey Press, only this March he marked his 50th anniversary in Guernsey by despatching his latest hand-written offering to the paper.

‘I suspect if you asked me then if I would still be here [in 2023], I would have answered in the negative. The fact that I am still going is a testimony to the medical profession, but most importantly the courtesy and kindness I received from so many in my early years of residence. In particular, I remember Gerve Peek, George Warry and John Dorey, who encouraged me to get involved in Guernsey life and occasionally rebuked me when I said or did something stupid.’

Involve himself he most certainly did, including reviving the island’s flagship cricket club, the Guernsey Island Cricket Club, GlCC for short.

‘To revive the club was one of John Burley’s first actions when he arrived on the island,’ said fellow long-serving Guernsey cricket administrator Mick Fooks earlier this year.

‘Soon after arriving in Guernsey our paths crossed when I, as a member of a small team, having struggled to keep the Guernsey Island Cricket Club going, arranged a meeting to effectively decide the future of the club, which at the time looked bleak. John, in his inimitable style, got up and spoke strongly in favour of its continuation. True to his word, and with his contacts, he soon set about the task.’

He took up the cudgels and this young man, still only 28, who had previously played against GlCC for MCC, was happy to take on the challenge of reviving the old club along with a new president in the form of Alan Bisson, who had recently returned to the island. John had this version of 1973’s events. ‘They almost packed it in,’ said the man who initially came in as club secretary. ”Micky” Manchester, the old College teacher, came to see me about it. I had met him at the United Club.’ One of John’s first moves was to write to all the island’s cricketers ‘by way of a circular’. He knew it would not be an easy task. ‘The trouble was that a lot of people    thought it was for the toffs only.’ But GICC’s innings duly got going again and John used his many UK contacts to attract good visiting opposition. Soon enough another newcomer, former Minor Counties cricketer John Appleyard got involved as secretary while Burley stepped up to president.

Both fine all-round cricketers, Burley and Appleyard provided just the impetus required, while the College Field ground itself was an attraction, in mint condition thanks to the efforts of long-serving groundsman Bill Allen.

The mid to late 1970s saw the fixtures restored to the glories of past decades in which the likes of Forty Club, Wine Trade CC and Incogniti were powerful visitors, often playing two-day fixtures which also served as important indicators in the chase for full representative selection. By 1975 Burley was club president and played his part in billeting the Northamptonshire county professional tourists, including the captain, Pakistani star batsman Mushtaq Mohammed, who he agreed to sponsor at £1 a run. ‘Yes, I put “Mushy” up and when he failed, I transferred the bet to Sarfraz who took me for 137,’ said Burley with a chuckle.

In 1977 as the new Guernsey Touring Cricket Club visited Holland, John delivered a superb speech at the British Embassy in the Hague. His combination of eloquence, knowledge and humour was outstanding and the GTCC could not have wished to be better represented. Speaking on behalf of Guernsey, that masterful speech overshadowed a high-level diplomatic speaker. In the late 70s British Airways sponsored cricket benefits for three years and John was closely involved in those featuring Middlesex, and arranging benefit matches for future England players Clive Radley and captain Mike Brearley. Mick Fooks recalls ‘CJ’ as ‘an experienced tourist’ who fully integrated into the spirit of the touring Guernsey teams both on and off the field. In 1979 GTCC embarked on an ambitious two-week tour in Canada and the USA. ‘This was during the time of currency restrictions, and, to save any hassle or shortcoming of cash, again, totally behind the scenes, John arranged for money to be available, at certain locations, if required,’ said Fooks. ‘He captained the team in one match on Staten Island, New York, when, as also a baseball venue, the match had to be completed in order to accommodate that game, requiring John’s diplomatic skills to come to the fore.

‘John’s distinguishable English aristocratic voice on occasions would be picked up by the local at the team’s headquarters in upstate New York, and he struck up conversations, including one with the local undertaker in his unmistakable “style”, making friends as he always did with many he came into contact with. ‘Soon after the team’s return, “CJ” arranged a special evening at Cedar Hill, where he and [butler] Dymock hosted players, wives and partners to aptly conclude the tour, along with its memories.’

John was a member of the Marylebone Cricket Club for more than half a century and in his time played cricket all over the world, including Australia, South Africa, Hong Kong, Brazil, Argentina, Holland, Canada and USA. In Guernsey, apart from his occasional GICC appearances, he played some Division One league cricket for Harlequins, St Martin’s and St Saviour’s, showing himself to be a sharpish right-arm bowler when the rhythm was right. But it was at pitch-side he really made his mark and he was a founding member of the Guernsey branch of the Lord’s Taverners.

Former Lord’s Taverners chairman Tony Clayton recalled the times John compered the popular Sark and Herm cricket weekends. ‘What he didn’t know about cricket or horse racing and good wine you could put on the back of a stamp,’ said Clayton of a ‘larger than life man in all senses of the word, an absolute pleasure to have known and sit with at a function. A true gentleman.’

In 2016 he had the honour of ringing the new KGV bell at the opening of the magnificent Lord’s Taverners Pavilion at the ground. ‘It is absolutely splendid,’ he said to the summer gathering. ‘Well done to all involved, it is tremendous and a good example of government supporting private enterprise.’ That day he wore his egg and bacon coloured MCC blazer and his flamboyant look suited his character. David Piesing, another long-serving cricket administrator, recalled seeing ‘CJ’ at a Boxing Day Ashes Test in Melbourne, dressed in a ‘loud blazer and “Rupert Bear” trousers, being stared at by some startled Aussies. I said to my wife, ‘only CJ would have the nerve to wear that here today.”

[Ed – The Guernsey Association of Cricket Umpires and Scorers appreciated the sponsoring of one of the concrete benches on their behalf around the KGV field.]

Horse racing was his other great passion and he owned race horses for 40 years, some of them with very famous trainers, not least the legendary Henry Cecil. Ryan Jarvis, John Winter, Gavin Pritchard-Gordon, Mark Smyly, Hughie Morrison, James Bethel and Henry Candy also trained his mounts. In Guernsey, he was a race steward at the annual L’ Ancresse races for a period and also performed the same role in Jersey.

In 1991 he served a year as Royal Guernsey Golf Club captain and he would also spend much time at his beloved United Club in the heart of Town. Here he would serve the club as both secretary and president and in another recently published letter to this paper he thanked the members who ‘have tolerated my views on a variety of subjects which I have held forth upon over the luncheon table’. It was at the United Club he ended up at after a 2019 fall which he linked to Princess Anne’s Smith Street stumble 12 years earlier, humorously shared by letter with our readers:

‘Last week, while advancing down Smith Street, I suffered a heavy fall, an experience I share with Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal. Sadly, on this occasion, the Bailiff was hot on hand to offer assistance, but I am grateful to the gentleman who helped me to my feet – not an easy task, and of some risk to himself. Also, I should like to thank the Post Office employee who came out to enquire after my wellbeing.

Finally my thanks to Mandy at the United Club who dressed my wounds and poured me a large whisky (for medicinal purposes only) and lastly my thanks to John Bridle, who generously paid for the whisky.’

There was also a spell as chairman of Floral Guernsey and any number of directorships, including being non-executive director of Le Riches Group and later chairman.

Most notably he was founding chairman of Island FM.

In the UK he was a life member of the famous Bucks Club, 18, Clifford Street, London, mentioned often in PG Wodehouse stories, and he was a member of many Masonic lodges, in England and Guernsey. He was at home with anyone and able to share a smile and joke with the pub drinker through to lords, ladies and those close to the Royal family. In a somewhat poignant 2023 letter to the Press he observed: ‘as we wait to see Charles III crowned on 6 May, I had the good fortune to meet Queen Camilla’s grandmother, parents and her mother- in-law in the past. I hope the occasion passes with dignity, solemnity but also enjoyment.

‘My final thanks to the Press, who have, from time to time, published my letters, and more importantly deciphered my handwriting.’ But the final words on ‘CJ’ are reserved for Mick Fooks. ‘Many of us will miss his letters to the Press of a few short lines, inevitably striking a chord. ‘He was a larger-than-life character, friend and conversationalist, who touched the lives of many islanders, and those who have chosen to make Guernsey their home since he made it his 50 years ago.’