Watlington veteran Henry Franklin will make what is believed to be Oxfordshire history by becoming the first bowler to play over a 50-year period for the county when he lines up against Buckinghamshire at Thame on Tuesday, writes RUSSELL SMITH.

Franklin, who turns 85 next month, made his Oxfordshire debut in 1963.

“My first game was against Middlesex somewhere in London. That is all I can remember,” he says as he takes shelter from a rain shower in the Watlington clubhouse where he has been the unpaid greenkeeper for 41 years.

Since then he has gone on to make 300 appearances for the county, reaching that particular landmark in the final game of last season against Worcestershire at Banbury Chestnuts.

Now Franklin, who puts his longevity in the sport down to “hard work and clean living”, is set to chalk up another milestone next week.

“It is just something that has happened,” he says. “I suppose all I would say is I wish I had started sooner.”

In fact, it was only by chance that he took up the sport at all – at the age of 33.

In his earlier years, he played cricket for Thame and Aston Rowant, badminton for Henley, and tennis on the Watlington courts which adjoin the bowls green where he started playing in 1961.

“I used to mark out the two grasscourts and roll them and no-one turned up, and this old chap said ‘when are you going to come and play bowls’, and that is when I started,” he says.

“It has gone on and I have enjoyed it, else I would not have done it.”

Despite being on the county scene for half a century, Franklin never earned selection Middleton Cup selection.

“I actually skipped in a Middleton Cup Trial in 1963,” he recalls. “I think it was against Arthur Boswell.”

However, the call-up to join the county’s elite didn’t follow.

“I played a lot of Home Counties years ago, but being a run-of-the-mill bowler I didn’t get any further,” he says.

He had the honour of being Oxfordshire president in the county’s 75th year in 1982, and held the same position with the London and South Counties Bowling Associattion in its 99th year in 1994-5, having played around 70 games for them.

He was also chairman of the Home Counties in 1988, and twice president of the Oxfordshire Indoor Bowling Association, having played 407 indoor county games.

His interest in bowls also led to his wife, Joyce, getting involved in the sport – with great success.

She was an England indoor international in 1992 and a member of the Oxfordshire team which would won the Walker Cup national double rink title four times between 1983 and 1990.

And Franklin, who is also well known on the point-to-point scene having been a commentator for 48 years, has done it all with the same bowls he will use at Thame next week.

“I bought my bowls new in 1963,” he says. “They cost £13 and I am still using them.

“I would not change them now. They are made by Woolf and mainly made of rubber and they stopped making them out of that in the early 70s.”