Jumbo Edwards: The Coach that demanded Socks On!

GB 4 1932 Los Angles
The British coxless four who took the 1932 Olympic gold: Felix Badcock, Jack Beresford, Jumbo Edwards and Rowland George. Photo: River and Rowing Museum.

Göran R Buckhorn writes:

British Pathé has a wonderful collection of old films, and HTBS has regularly used their films to illustrate the ‘olden days of rowing’. Now, when British Pathé’s films are more easily accessible on YouTube one can spend hours and hours enjoying films about The Boat Race, Henley Royal Regatta, other regattas and ‘oddities’ on rowing, etc. Most of the films on rowing and other subjects are interesting and fun to watch. However, last week I came across a terribly mind-numbing film on British Pathé, which in the first minute will bore you to tears. The film clip, which is said to be from the first half of the 1970s (1970-1975), was probably never used at a public viewing and shows a cargo of bags of cement being lifted from docks in a harbour onto the ship Rapallo. British Pathé writes in a comment for this footage: ‘Good shots of men moving bags of cement around’. Maybe if you are doing social studies of work in a harbour, but for a person in general….. Thank god it only lasts for 1 minute and 55 seconds. The  third part of this 6 minutes 57 second film shows people under umbrellas walking across London Bridge, minutes and minutes of men and women walking and walking in the rain – boring!

So why did I ever began watching this terribly weary almost 7-minute film? Well, because of the footage shown in the middle of the film, starting at 1:55 and ending at 5:05, where there are various shots of two Oxford eights out practicing under the watchful eye of Coach Hugh Robert Arthur Edwards (1906-1972), more commonly known as ‘Jumbo’ Edwards, wearing a blue cap in the launch Bosporus. I am doubtful if this is actually from the 1970s, as Edwards died in December 1972, and started to coach the Dark Blues already in 1949, but left in 1957 after a disagreement with the team’s president. Edwards did bounce back, and coached the 1959 winning Oxford crew but not without difficulties. Parts of the 1959 crew rebelled against him, as he not only put high demands on the crew in the boat, but also outside the boat – what they should wear, their table manners, etc.

Below is the ‘boring’ British Pathé film with Oxford rowing at 1:55 till 5:05. Unfortunately, I do not recognise any of the members of the crews, which would help to determine which year this film was shot. But maybe some of you readers know?

Sport Reference/Olympic Sports gives a more full biography of Jumbo Edwards than, for example, the Edwards entry on Wikipedia. SR/Olympic Sports writes:

Hugh “Jumbo” Edwards went up to Christ Church College, Oxford from Westminster School and rowed in the Oxford boat as freshman in 1926 when his brother was also a member of the crew. Unfortunately, Edwards collapsed when the Dark Blues held a slight lead and Cambridge went on to win by five lengths. In 1927, Edwards was rusticated for failing his examinations and he then spent two years as a schoolmaster although he continued to row regularly with the London Rowing Club. While he was teaching, Edwards decided to follow his brother into the Royal Air Force and the only avenue open to him by which he could secure a permanent commission was to return to Oxford and obtain a University degree. So in 1930, Edwards went back to Oxford, took his degree and then joined the RAF the following year. During his second period at Oxford, he devoted more time to flying than to rowing and obtained Proctorial License No. 1 which enabled him to keep his private plane at the University. However, he was still good enough to command a place in the Oxford boat and five years after his first appearance he rowed again in the 1930 Boat Race. Referring to the 1930 race, Edwards later wrote, “I was incomparably the best oarsman in either crew” but apparently his Oxford colleagues could not match his talents as Cambridge won by two lengths. Later in 1930, Edwards was in the London Rowing Club crew that won the Grand and the Stewards’ at Henley and he then went to Canada for the British Empire Games where he won gold medals in the coxless fours and the eights. In 1931 he won three events at Henley – the Grand, the Stewards’ and the Goblets. At the 1932 Olympics he became only the second man in Olympic history to win two rowing gold medals on the same day. [The American oarsman Jack Kelly, Snr., was the first to win two Olympic gold medals at the 1920 Olympic Games, winning in the single sculls and then in the double sculls, with his cousin Paul Costello.] First he won the coxless pairs with Lewis Clive and then he was a member of the winning crew in the coxless fours [with Felix Badcock, Jack Beresford and Rowland George], having been brought in as a late substitute for Thomas Tyler who contracted influenza after arriving in California. All these victories added up to a remarkable display of stamina for a man who had collapsed in the 1926 Boat Race.

Jumbo Edwards

After being commissioned into the RAF in 1931, Edwards became a well-known racing pilot and, in his own plane, finished second in the King’s Cup of 1935. During the war, he served with Coastal Command, winning the AFC in 1943 and the DFC the following year. In 1943 his rowing ability literally saved his life. Being forced to ditch his Liberator off Land’s End he rowed a dinghy for four miles before getting clear of the minefield in which he had landed. He was the only survivor of his crew. Group Captain Edwards retired from RAF in 1946 and soon developed a reputation as an innovative coach. He advised his old University on a number of occasions, including 1959 when his son David was in the Oxford crew, and he also coached Britain’s Olympic eight in 1960. [The GB eight came in third in its first heat, beaten by Germany and France, and ended up second in the repechage heat, after USA but ahead of Sweden.]

Jumbo Edwards’s two sons David and John were members of the coxless four that won medals at the 1958 and 1962 Commonwealth Games; for the latter year Jumbo Edwards was coaching the crew.

Regarding an oarsman’s ‘manners’, David Edwards told BBC Wales Sports a couple of years ago about his father’s quest for a proper dress code: ‘He always complained because I didn’t like wearing socks in the boat and because he thought my hair was too long – ‘how can you go fast if you’ve got hair that long’. David Edwards then remarked: ‘When I was looking at some photos recently, I came across a picture of the 1932 Olympic four and Jumbo is in what appears to be either Oxford or Christchurch kit without any socks on!’ – see the photograph on top of the page.

One of artist Anne Gordon’s painting is of Jumbo Edwards and is in the collection of the River and Rowing Museum – take a look at it here.


  1. The Rowing clip in the middle of the Pathe film is undoubtedly the 1969 Oxford crew in practice at Wallingford (or possibly Radley – both somewhat bleak stretches of river in January and February!); I recognize several of the faces – in particular Peter Saltmarsh at stroke and Miles Duncan at 5, both of whom were Keble freshmen in my last year; Peter Saltmarsh, as freshman, was in the 1967 Oxford crew. In Bosporos, with Jumbo, standing, is Michael Barry, who had been co-coach of Oxford with Ronnie Howard in 1966. Ronnie had been OUBC President in 1959 when there was a “revolt” (not the first “American revolt at Oxford!). Jumbo was Chief Coach of the Oxford crew in 1967, together with Ronnie Howard. One particular memory of Jumbo in 1967 was that he always insisted that the crew wear the same kit – he absolutely would not agree if people were in different singlets or shorts – OUBC had just adopted dark blue “armless” singlets in favour of the normal white short-sleeved shirts with dark blue trimming, and we had supplies of both blue and white shorts; so before each outing there was always a crew decision – singlets, shirts, or (on colder days) both, and “white or blue” for shorts! Jumbo was a really great coach, and was most likely the main inspiration to Dan Topolski (also an Old Westminster), who Jumbo placed at the key No. 7 seat in the 1967 Oxford crew.

  2. From Jumbo’s grand daughter:

    I think Jumbo was the main inspiration to Dan Topolski.

    On a totally different tack, has anyone seen the rather offbeat film ‘The Magic Christian’ (1969 so it may be the same crew) with Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr, in which the Boat Race features, with Jumbo (dubbed) exhorting the crew in a very un-Jum like way! I won’t spoil the story. it’s strange but funny ….

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