Len Hutton was born on 23 June 1916, the youngest of five children to Henry Hutton and Lily Swithenbank, in the Moravian community of Fulneck, Pudsey. From 1921, Hutton attended Littlemoor Council School in Pudsey. His family had a cricketing background: his father and brothers had played for Pudsey St Lawrence Cricket Club, while his father also played for their rivals Pudsey Brittania. Hutton soon immersed himself in playing and reading about the sport and later cited a book by Jack Hobbs as a particular inspiration. Hutton joined St Lawrence as a junior, making his first appearance for the club's second eleven aged twelve. By 1929, Hutton was playing for the first eleven, averaging 34.50 with the bat and taking eleven wickets. At this stage, Hutton came under the influence of Yorkshire and England cricketer Herbert Sutcliffe when went to Sutcliffe's home to be coached. Impressed by Hutton, Sutcliffe and the Pudsey St Lawrence president recommended him to Yorkshire. Hutton went to the indoor practice shed at Headingley in 1930. Former player George Hirst, responsible for assessing and coaching young players, told him to keep on playing the way he was, and on another occasion told him that there was nothing to teach him he did not already know. Hirst arranged for Bill Bowes, the Yorkshire pace bowler, to bowl at Hutton in the practice shed. Bowes judged Hutton to have a very good technique. Hutton later expressed his appreciation for Bowes's guidance and for his advice to Yorkshire not to rush Hutton's development. Around this time, Hutton watched Don Bradman score 334 not out at Headingley in a Test match, the score which Hutton passed eight years later.
The opinions of the critics led Hutton to consider a career in professional cricket, but he decided to learn a trade first, at the wish of his parents. He spent a year at Pudsey Grammar School studying technical drawing, quantitative work and electrical work. Subsequently, he joined his father working for a building firm, for whom he continued to work during the winter once he joined Yorkshire.
Career before the Second World War
First years with Yorkshire
By 1933, Hutton was playing regularly for the Pudsey St Lawrence first team in the Bradford Cricket League. He opened the batting with Edgar Oldroyd who had just ended his career with Yorkshire, and was initially reluctant to partner such a young player. Hutton developed his technique through close observation of Oldroyd, who came to accept Hutton's ability. The local press described him as a very promising player, particularly after he scored a match-winning 108 not out in the Priestley Cup. In the same season, Hutton was selected for Yorkshire Second Eleven for the first time, and despite beginning with ducks in his first two innings, scored 699 runs at an average of 69.90. The Yorkshire Post described him as having a good defence but being too cautious at times. Other figures within Pudsey and Yorkshire cricket, including the Yorkshire secretary John Nash, county captain Brian Sellers and coach George Hirst, believed that Hutton was very promising, and he was mentioned as a likely successor to Percy Holmes as an opening partner to Sutcliffe. His leg spin was also seen as having potential.
Hutton made his first-class début for Yorkshire the following season, at the age of seventeen, becoming the youngest Yorkshire player since Hirst, 45 years before. Run out for a duck in his first innings, he made a not out fifty in his second match. He made his County Championship debut and scored fifty in his first match, making an impression on the press with his defence. Yorkshire appointed Cyril Turner to mentor Hutton and ease his way into the life of a professional cricketer. Bill Bowes and Hedley Verity also looked after the young cricketer in his first seasons. Yorkshire limited his first team appearances and returned him periodically to the second eleven to prevent his overexposure to Championship cricket early in his career. On the field, Hutton contributed 70 runs to a first wicket partnership of 267 with Wilf Barber, and shared an opening stand of 155 with Arthur Mitchell, before scoring his maiden first-class century in an innings of 196 against Worcestershire County Cricket Club. He received some criticism, particularly from The Times, for slow scoring and a lack of strokes but was complimented on his patience. He finished the season with 863 runs at an average of 33.19.
In early 1935, Herbert Sutcliffe's autobiography was released in which he praised Hutton and drew attention to his ability and potential. He described Hutton as "a certainty for a place as England's opening batsman. He is a marvel - the discovery of a generation ... His technique is that of a maestro." Sutcliffe was not one to give undue praise, but Hutton later said he found the comments a burden. In 1935, Hutton did not live up to these expectations. An operation on his nose before the season began delayed his appearance but he returned to cricket too soon. After struggling for form and health, he collapsed while batting in a match. Yorkshire rested him for a month to enable him to recover it was the end of July before he played regularly. His poor form left him with a total of 73 runs (average 10.43) by the middle of August, but a century against Middlesex led him into a run of bigger scores. He finished with 577 runs at an average of 28.85 in first-class matches, helping Yorkshire to win the County Championship.
In the winter of 1935-36, Hutton went on his first overseas tour as Yorkshire toured Jamaica. In the season which followed, he reached 1,000 runs in a season for the first time, accumulating 1,282 runs at an average of 29.81, and was awarded his County cap by Yorkshire in July. However, the level of expectation surrounding him led critics to regard this as no great achievement. However, he took part several big partnerships through the season, including one of 230 with Sutcliffe, but endured a run of low scores in May and June. Hutton received more criticism for his negative approach, but cricket writer believes Hutton needed to establish his defensive technique first in order to have his subsequently successful career.
Test match debut
Hutton made a good start to the 1937 season, scoring 161 for Yorkshire against M.C.C. in the opening match, and was selected in a series of representative matches at Lord's Cricket Ground to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Marylebone Cricket Club (M.C.C.). He scored 102 for the North against the South and 50 for The Rest of England against the M.C.C. team which had toured Australia the previous winter. Hutton once again attracted notice from the national press; although described as a certainty to play for England very soon, critics described him as slightly dull and pedestrian. Following more centuries for Yorkshire, Hutton was selected for the first Test against New Zealand. His good form continued after his selection was announced as he shared an opening partnership of 181 with Sutcliffe against Derbyshire and scored 271 not out. In the next match, against Leicestershire, he and Sutcliffe put on 315 for the first wicket, at one stage looking like they might threaten the record opening partnership of 555 which Sutcliffe had shared with Percy Holmes, until Hutton was out for 153. However, on his first Test appearance, he scored a duck followed by one run in the second innings. Wisden noted that Hutton's failure continued a recent trend of failure by England's opening batsmen, but the Observer believed that Hutton should be given a chance throughout the whole series. Following his Test failure, Hutton scored further centuries for Yorkshire against Essex and the New Zealanders. He remained in the Test side for the second match against New Zealand and scored his maiden Test hundred, batting three and a half hours and sharing a century opening partnership with Charlie Barnett. Hutton's remaining two innings yielded 14 and 12, giving him 127 runs in his first series at an average of 25.40. Around this time, he produced a good bowling performance by taking six wickets for 76 against Leicestershire. Hutton was chosen to represent the Players against the Gentlemen at Lord's for the first time in July, where he sscoring cored 34 and one. Hutton ended his season by scoring his tenth century of the season against Middlesex in a challenge match to decide the County Championship, earning praise from C. B. Fry. Yorkshire won easily, having already topped the Championship table. He ended the season with 2,888 runs, more than double his previous best, at an average of 56.62. His performances that year earned him selection as one of Wisden's Cricketers of the Year, with the accompanying article praising his attitude, technique, fielding and bowling but noting the criticism of his perceived excessive caution.
Hutton began 1938 with centuries against both Oxford and Cambridge Universities, 93 not out against Essex and a third century against Sussex. Selected for a Test trial, Hutton scored 40 in a century opening partnership with Bill Edrich. Later in the season, Hutton scored his first fifty in the Players v Gentlemen match. When the Test series against Australia began, Hutton made exactly 100 from 221 deliveries, batting for over three hours on his first appearance in the Ashes. He shared an opening stand of 219 with Charlie Barnett, and England, in Wally Hammond's first match as Test captain, posted a total of 658 for eight wickets. Several journalists, including the Wisden correspondent, The Times correspondent and Cardus, commented on his technical ability and judgement as he dealt with the Australian bowlers easily. He was noticeably more confident than he had been in the previous season. However, Hutton failed in the second Test with two single figure scores in another drawn game. This failure was followed by a lean period; the third Test was rained off and after a run of low scores, his finger was broken in a match against Middlesex played on a dangerous pitch. Consequently, he missed the fourth Test which was played at Headingley and lost by England. After missing a month of cricket, Hutton played just two games before he was selected for the final Test.
Test record score
In the final Test, Hammond won the toss on a pitch which was easy for batting and made it difficult to get wickets. He chose to bat, and although an early wicket fell, Hutton and Maurice Leyland took the score to 347 for one after the first day. Hutton was unbeaten on 160 although he should have been stumped when he had scored 40. Next day, the Yorkshire batsmen took their partnership to 382 before Leyland was out. Hutton then shared big partnerships with Hammond and Joe Hardstaff junior to be exactly 300 not out after the second day, out of a total of 634 for five. During the day's play, he had passed the highest Test score by an England batsman at home and abroad. Hutton maintained a cautious approach throughout, and Wisden commented that his dominance of the bowling had become slightly monotonous by this stage, although it recognised his skill. On the third day (23 August), the Australians made a determined effort to prevent him breaking the Ashes record score of 334 by Bradman, now the Australian captain. This total was seen as more prestigious to beat than the official Test match record score, Hammond's 336 not out against New Zealand, compiled against what was perceived as inferior bowling. After some nervous moments, Hutton passed Bradman's score with a cut off Chuck Fleetwood-Smith, although his score took almost twice as long as Bradman's. Bradman was the first to congratulate him, followed by the rest of the Australians, and celebratory drinks were brought out. Hutton extended his score to 364, beating Hammond's record, before he was caught after batting for over thirteen hours while 770 runs were scored. The innings, which lasted over thirteen hours, was the longest innings in first-class cricket at the time. It was only the sixth Test of his career. England eventually reached the highest team total in Tests at the time, 903 for seven, before Hammond declared the innings closed. Australia, missing Bradman and Jack Fingleton through injury, were bowled out twice and England won by an innings and 579 runs to draw the series one all.
Commentators mainly praised Hutton's concentration and stamina; his slow scoring, particularly when compared to Bradman's innings of 334, was excused on the grounds that the Oval match was being played without a time limit, removing the need for fast scoring and making run accumulation the only concern. Hutton was furthermore following his captain's instruction to bat as long as possible to make a huge score. Among Test cricketers, Les Ames believed that while Hutton had shown great skill, a combination of a very easy wicket for batting and a bowling attack which, Bill O'Reilly excepted, was unusually weak presented an ideal opportunity for such an innings. Former England captain Bob Wyatt described the innings as one of the greatest feats of concentration and endurance in the history of the game. In the aftermath of the innings, Hutton became famous. Receiving favourable attention from the press and becoming a celebrity, he was in demand from broadcasters and for public appearances. References were made to Sutcliffe's prediction from 1935, and comparisons were made to Bradman. Hutton later described the acclamation he received as one of the worst things that happened to him, not least because expectations were unreasonably high every time he batted. When the season ended, Hutton had scored 1,874 runs at an average of 60.45.
Tour to South Africa
In October 1938, Hutton toured South Africa with the M.C.C. under the captaincy of Hammond. He made a good start to the tour with centuries in two early matches, sharing large opening partnerships with Edrich. However, in a match against Transvaal, a delivery from Eric Davies knocked him unconscious and forced him to miss the first Test. Hutton failed on his return in the next Test, scored a double century in the following tour match, but had another low score in the third Test Nevertheless, England recorded a victory in this match, the only match in the series which did not end as a draw. The final two Tests saw Hutton making bigger scores. In the fourth Test on a difficult pitch for batting, Hutton scored a cautious 92 to hold the England innings together and followed with 32 in the second innings. The final Test saw a record aggregate and a draw after ten days of cricket in a supposedly "timeless" Test. Hutton scored 38 and 55 in the match but his contributions were overshadowed by the heavy scoring of others. In the series, Hutton scored 265 runs at an average of 44.16. Critics perceived this as disappointing after his record innings. However, in all first-class matches, he scored 1,168 runs at an average of 64.88, the highest aggregate among the tourists, and accumulated five centuries. His batting proved attractive to spectators, and Wisden claimed that he looked the most accomplished batsman on the tour.
In 1939, Wisden noted Hutton was developing into a stronger, more attractive batsman to watch. It claimed he showed signs of being one of the world's greatest batsmen. Ronnie Burnet, who captained Yorkshire in the 1950s, remembered this as the season Hutton began to dominate opening partnerships with Sutcliffe, in contrast to prior seasons where he was junior partner. Although he did not find his best form until the end of May, he scored 2,883 runs in the season, over 400 more runs than anyone else. His average of 62.27 placed him second in the national averages behind Hammond. Among his twelve centuries, Hutton scored his highest total for Yorkshire, 280 not out in six hours against Hampshire, sharing an opening partnership of 315 with Sutcliffe. Against Lancashire he scored match-winning 105, out of a total of 147, rated by Cardus as one of the greatest innings he had seen. Hutton's contributions helped Yorkshire to win their third successive Championship. Hutton was also successful in representative matches, scoring 86 for the Players against the Gentlemen, while in the Test matches against West Indies, he complied 480 runs at an average of 96.00. England won the series, having won the first match and drawing the others. Hutton scored 196 in the first Test, accelerating after a slow start to score his last 96 runs in 95 minutes and sharing a partnership with Denis Compton of 248 in 133 minutes. After two low scores in the second Test, Hutton scored 73 and 165 not out in the final game at the Oval. Wisden described his first innings as a complete contrast to his 364 twelve months earlier in terms of his positive approach. His second innings began facing a West Indian lead of 146, and Hutton batted five hours, sharing a partnership of 264 with Hammond. Hutton ended his season with a century against Sussex in Yorkshire's final match before the war; two days after it ended, the Second World War began.
At the beginning of the war, Hutton volunteered for the army and was called up to the Army Physical Training Corps, being quickly promoted to sergeant-instructor. In 1940, he twice played cricket for Pudsey St Lawrence in the Bradford League, scoring 133 in one innings, played three matches at Headingley for Sutcliffe's XI in a charity match in aid of the Red Cross, and appeared at Lord's for Pelham Warner's XI. His cricket was interrupted by a serious injury in March 1941 which threatened his career. On the last day of a commando training course in York, Hutton fell in the gymnasium when a mat slipped from under him. He suffered a fractured left forearm and dislocated the ulna at the wrist. Following surgery and rest, Hutton seemed to have recovered by the summer when he returned to his unit. He took part in a cricket match at Sheffield and scored a century, followed by further appearances in charity matches. However, he began to suffer increasing pain in his arm. Two further operations followed which attempted to graft bone from legs onto his injured arm; the first failed but a second at the end of 1941 eventually proved successful, after weeks of uncertainty and immobility for Hutton. He was discharged from the army and spent the summer of 1942 recovering before beginning to work as a civilian for the Royal Engineers, inspecting properties for damage. However, the surgery left him with a left arm almost two inches shorter than the right.
Return to cricket
Hutton resumed professional cricket in the summer of 1943 as captain of Pudsey St Lawrence, one of many county players in the Bradford League during the war. Results went against Hutton's team, and the club committee were not happy with the performances. Hutton became disenchanted with captaincy, and following a disagreement with the club president, resigned in early June 1943. Hutton was third in the League batting averages and fifth in the bowling averages, while his team won the Priestley Cup. He continued to play for Pudsey in 1944, this time coming second in the Bradford League batting averages, and playing in a memorial match for Hedley Verity, who had been killed in the war the previous year. At the same time, Hutton made his first appearance in representative matches at Lord's since 1940, playing in two matches, making 34 and 84 in an attacking style.
When the war ended in 1945, a programme of first-class matches was organised, involving counties and some other teams. A series of matches were played between England and an Australian Services cricket team, called Victory Tests although they were not official Test matches. Hutton was unsuccessful in the first match, but top-scored with 46 in the second innings of the second "Test". In the course of this innings, he encountered Keith Miller for the first time and was struck on the weak arm by a short ball, causing him great discomfort. An appearance for Yorkshire against the Australian Services team produced a score of 81, while in the next Victory Test Hutton managed 104 and 69 before scoring another century for Yorkshire against the Australians. In total, he scored 782 runs at an average of 48.87 in the nine first-class matches he played. Commentators were satisfied his batting technique remained effective and that he could still do well at the highest level. The showpiece match of the season was England against the Dominions at Lord's, but Hutton was prevented from appearing by his commitments to Pudsey, who had been reluctant to release him to play for other teams, given that they were paying him £100 for the season. In the event, these matches in 1945 were Hutton's last for Pudsey.