THERE is an unchallenged rule of the Empire that cricket builds character.

This can be debated. More certainly, more intriguingly it reveals it.

The first, irrefutable piece of evidence in the prosecution of this case is Henry Calthorpe Blofeld, commentator, raconteur and a character whose innate blitheness of spirit would make him a bon viveur whether he was imbibing on the Strand or living in a tower block in 1960s East Berlin.

There is a moment that changed Blofeld's life, there is one that defined it. The latter is the first piece of evidence to be led.

"I first played at Lords in 1955 for Eton against Harrow. In the second innings I was out for nought," he says. "It was the third ball of the hat-trick. I have in this very room a photograph that shows I am two yards down the pitch having a go and my off stump goes back. It was highly responsible, but there you are."

Blofeld was 16. He had disregarded any inclination to play a straight bat, disappoint the bowler on a hat trick and then pick his moment to attack. He lunged and lost. Heigh ho.

He was just months away from the incident that changed his life, almost ended it.

Inevitably, he testifies to this catastrophe with an energy, an anecdote and a chuckle. "I go down to Eton regularly to buy clothes with my wife Valeria. I drive over the spot where I came across the road on my bicycle and hit the bus. I always have a chuckle. I always tell her she was jolly lucky the bus driver was alert otherwise she would never have met me," he says. He reprises the chuckle.

The accident left him in a coma for a month. "I was badly messed around and had 17 brain operations," he says with all the solemnity of a tourist recalling a brief encounter with Highland midges. He seems determined to describe the moment as an irritation rather than a crisis.

This, in no small part, is a matter of breeding, dear chap. "My background, the way I was brought up was that you did not dwell on things and you did not feel sorry for yourself. That would have been the worst of all the besetting sins," he says.

This is fine in principle but surely testing in practice. Blofeld, now the court jester for Test Match Special, was a serious cricketer, certainly in terms of talent and prospect. "I know the accident changed my life. I got 100 for the Public Schools against the Combined Services at Lords at 16 and only Peter May and Colin Cowdrey had scored 100 for Public Schools in that two-day match," he says, referencing two of the greatest of English batsmen.

"Everyone had great hopes for me. But I was only 17 when the accident happened and you are not a fully formed person by that age. In a sense when I got physically better gradually I was able to adapt without a tremendous effort that I would have needed, say, if the accident had happened 10 years later when I might have been more set, more formed."

He adds: "I remember that I did not have any inclination to look back. I was only a teenager and I wanted to get on in life. My reflexes were really gone and I never played cricket particularly well after that. I became a sort of man-made cricketer where I was a natural before.

"But I do not think my character changed. My friends say I was the same happy go lucky character. I have always been very optimistic. My sunniness is my character. I have always wanted to get down the wicket to anything in life."

The boy who attacked the hat-trick ball at Lords became the journalist and commentator who went after life as if it was a long hop delivered at half pace.

The scion of a Norfolk land-owning family, Blofeld came from a background that provided early material for anecdote. He confirms that it is true that Ian Fleming, a friend of his father's, named his nefarious supervillain, Ernest Stavro Blofeld, after the family.

"We were all members of the same club in St James's. When I went on my first honeymoon in Jamaica - I did not know at the time it was my first honeymoon - I went to lunch to him and he told me Ernst Stavro came into being.

"He said he wanted an evil name and could not find one. He got a taxi to the club and in a fit of desperation picked up the membership book to find the name of a baddie. He stopped at the phalanx of Blofelds. He told me: 'I slammed the book shut, gave a yelp of delight, ordered a pint of champagne and never looked back'.''

This leads to another aside. Noel Coward also lived in Jamaica and Blofeld regularly met the composer, writer and lyricist. "He played and sang Mad Dogs and Englishman, Don't Put Your Mother On the Stage, Mrs Worthington and the Stately Homes of England. Life does not get any better than that."

He adds: "Noel Coward was a citizen of the world but he was quintessentially English. Like PG Wodehouse he was always making fun of the English aristocracy, the English way of living.''

It is this sense of mischief that Blofeld brings to his cricket commentary. He is intrigued by the darkness that resides in the deeper recesses of cricket. He knows cricketers have a heightened risk of suicide, he accepts that some of his fellow commentators survived desperate moments in their lives, notably EW Swanton, who was a Japanese prisoner of war.

He does not know whether cricket attracts this type of character or even, in its days of unfolding drama or otherwise, increases the propensity for damaging self-examination.

"It is an intriguing subject but it defies definite conclusions," he says. "But there is no doubt that the game seems to have had more than its fair share of depressives.''

Many of this type, of course, disguise themselves by donning the mantle of jolliness but Blofeld avers he is not one of that type. ''Personally, I take cricket seriously while knowing it is only a game. Sport is not most the serious thing in life," he says.

It is difficult, though, to pin him down on what must be taken seriously. Thrice married, he has an attitude to money that is so cavalier he should venture out with a cloak and luxurious moustache. "I am totally irresponsible about it," he admits. "I run out of it regularly. I go through bad patches with it," he says in the bemused manner of a cricketer who has lost form.

But it is undoubtedly true that he has found his role in life. His droll, self-deprecating anecdotes enliven Test Match Special and invigorate a stage show with former TMS producer Peter Baxter. Much of his humour, many of his observations and a clutch of his anecdotes have little or nothing to do with cricket. This is why TMS and his stage shows attract both the cricket obsessive and non-sporting audience.

"One of the great things about TSM is when the cricket gets dull you realise that your role as a commentator is that you are an entertainer. The shows, too, are all-embracing bring people who frankly do not like cricket."

But what of TMS and, indeed of his future? At 76, he hopes for another four or five years on a schedule that includes at least six Test commentaries a year, a slew of after-dinner speeches and his stage show.

"I have been doing it for 44 years," he says of his immersion in cricket that followed an unhappy spell in banking after he left Cambridge without a degree.

"I am the last person alive to have commentated with John Arlott," he says in a sentence that both places him in history and is instructive about how TMS has changed, even if Blofeld has retained his individuality.

"Statistics are boring unless they are extremely relevant. People want to know what you are seeing," he says, aware of criticism of his style but determined to retain it. "A commentary team is a blend of styles. [Geoffrey] Boycott is very good at the cricket but he has no sense of humour. He is brilliant in his observations, he hammers home points. That is Geoffrey.''

Blofeld's nominations as the best in the field are Arlott and Brian Johnston. "Arlott was sublime and Brian Johnston introduced the humour. Together those two were supreme. You feel their absence."

This moment of reflection is dismissed with a brisk: "But life has to go on."

This life for Blofeld may be affected by an eye condition. "I have macular degeneration in the right eye but if I get into the left eye then my days as a commentator are numbered," he says. This fleeting bleakness is followed by a segue into anecdotes about a Kalgoorlie brothel, his brief career as Lord Henry Fitzcounterwipe, and being mugged after a calypso concert in Port au Spain.

"Someone stuck a gun in my back and took all my money. I was asked later if I was sure it was a gun. I replied I was in no mood to find out.'' He points out too that the chat in the Kalgoorlie brothel was only that. "It was after closing hours," he insists.

There comes a chortle. "It's been a good life," he says, any darkness in anecdote or existence dispelled by an eternal, determined sunniness.

Henry Blofeld and Peter Baxter's show, Rogues on the Road, will be at the - Spiegeltent Colombino (Venue 3), Assembly George Square from August 12 to 24, Doors open 4pm for a 5pm show.