In an era long before the phrase "national icon" had been coined, Denis Compton was one. It's 60 years this weekend since he ended the greatest season by an English cricketer, breaking every one-season batting record with 18 centuries and 3816 runs.

He also excelled at football - capped 11 times by England - and held the unique distinction of having played for the FA Cup-winning club (Arsenal) and county cricket champions (Middlesex) in one calendar year (1950).

He scored the winning runs in the Coronation year of 1953, when England recaptured the Ashes from Australia. They hadn't won them since the Bodyline tour 20 years earlier.

His football caps were all earned in wartime, but there is little doubt he'd have earned many more had conflict and cricket not intervened.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Compton was already a charismatic cricket personality, an England regular at 21, with a playboy reputation and studio looks which saw him dubbed "The Brylcreem Boy".

The war allowed him briefly to focus on football and he played in England teams which included Sir Stanley Matthews and Tommy Lawton.

Befitting a sports hero of a bygone era, he was known to occasionally appear for a match in evening dress, having come straight from a party.

Stories about Compton's absent-mindedness were legion. Colin Cowdrey told of him arriving for the Old Trafford Test of 1955 against South Africa without his kitbag. He sauntered into the museum, borrowed an antique bat off the display, and with it scored 155 and 79 not out.

Peter Parfitt, the Middlesex and England batsman, who was a speaker at a major London celebration of Compton's 70th birthday, claims that the chief guest was called to the telephone by a woman who had heard about the dinner. Eventually, Compton agreed to take the call. "Denis," said a voice, "It's me, your mother. You're not 70, you're only 69."

Yet surprisingly for such a great player, he was a notoriously bad judge of a run. His Middlesex team-mate, John Warr said: "He was the only player to call his partner for a run and wish him good luck at the same time.'' England colleague Trevor Bailey recalled: "A call from Denis was merely the basis for negotiation.'' It was typical that at the 1955 benefit match of his brother, Leslie, Denis managed to get run him out before he had faced a single ball.

Compton formed a close friendship with Australian folk hero, Keith Miller. When they played against each other in a match in Calcutta, Compton was on 94 when a riot broke out and the pitch was invaded. One of the rioters approached Denis: "Mr Compton, you very good player, but the match must stop now." Miller is reputed to have gleefully repeated this every time Compton subsequently came to the crease.

He retired prematurely through injury, having scored 38,942 at an average of 51.85 including 123 centuries. He reached 100 centuries in just 552 innings, quickest to do so behind only Don Bradman. He became a journalist and TV commentator, and died aged 78, in 1997.