A Three Pipe Problem

Pic 1
Basil Rathbone, one of the most famous ‘Sherlock Holmes’. Picture: Wikipedia.

Tim Koch writes:

In crime fiction many detectives solve their cases through a mind set linked to some peculiar personality disorder and the use of some obscure specialist knowledge. Perhaps the most famous example is personified in the character of Sherlock Holmes (more of Conan Doyle’s famous creation in a rowing context later). However, as far as I know, one of the few obsessives that has not appeared as the hero in any crime novel is the rowing historian. I admit that the potential readership would be small – but worse ideas have resulted in a series on the BBC (or two series if the sleuth is some sort of Scandinavian). Thus anyone having interest and knowledge of, say, the history of the sliding seat, 1872 – 1929, is probably qualified to solve most mysteries dreamed up by PD James or Henning Mankell. In this spirit I approached a question recently posed on HTBS.

In Göran Buckhorn’s piece, Jumbo Edwards: The Coach That Demanded Socks On! he posted a Pathe newsreel showing an Oxford eight in training but the film was only vaguely dated as 1970 – 75. Göran wrote:

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?

Pic 2
A poor still from the film which Pathe only records as 1970 – 75.

Göran produced the first clue when he pointed out that Jumbo died in December 1972. Death was one of the few things that would have kept the fanatical Edwards from coaching OUBC.

The next clue that I found was that the cox, like Jumbo, is wearing an Oxford University Boat Club cap. This means that he is a Blue, who is someone who has competed in the Boat Race beyond the Fulham Wall, the magical point after which a Blue is (usually) awarded. A quick search of the records show that, in the ten years before Jumbo’s death, a Blue only coxed in the boat Races of 1963, 1965 and 1970. I think the length of hair alone rules out 1963 and 1965 (we must remember that, for most people, ‘the 60s’ started in the 1970s), also Pathe shot in black and white in those years. Firmer evidence is with this film of the 1965 Boat Race which shows a different crew to the one we are interested in.

Pic 3
The cox with his ‘Blues’ cap.

So is this the 1970 crew?  Pathe provides us with some evidence for this. It has film from that year showing Jumbo and a trial crew in the ‘octolog’ (or should it be ‘octologue’?) practising at Henley (the newsreel sees it as something revolutionary but American crews had used such craft for a long time).

The picture below shows two of the ‘octo’ crew who, to me, look like the ‘4’ and the ‘7’ men in the crew shown in the film that we are investigating.

Pic 4
Are these SE Wilmer (‘4’ in 1970) and NDC Tee (‘7’ in 1969 and 1970) ?

The Oxford crew that raced Cambridge on 28 March 1970 were: R J D Gee (Bow), J K G Dart (2), D M Higgs (3), S E Wilmer (4), F J L Dale (5), A J Hall (6), N D C Tee (7), W R C Lonsdale (Str.), A T Calvert (Cox).

Chris Dodd’s The Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race (1983) notes that:

In the autumn of 1969 [Oxford] were coached by Jumbo and Jumbo men and spent hours in the octologue ‘learning about getting bell notes at the catch’ (from the Fairbairn bible) and Moriarty  (from the Jumbo book on how to recover at the end of a stroke…. as applied by Sherlock Holmes to pitch Professor Moriarty off the ledge above Richenbach Falls while recovering his own balance).

Pic 5
Jumbo on the octologue, 1970.

The ‘Blue cox’ theory does make a rather dangerous assumption – that this is much the final crew and the cox in the film was not just sitting in for training or was still trialing for a place. That this is the crew that eventually met Cambridge is supported by the fact that everyone is wearing what looks like OUBC kit. In cash strapped pre-sponsorship days I would imagine that such things were not liberally handed out and that your place had to be fairly certain before dark blue vests were issued. The film was not shot on the Tideway so it was not taken in the ‘Putney Week’ (or fortnight) before the Boat Race.

Of course, the easiest thing would be to produce a picture of Oxford’s 1970 crew. No doubt some exist but it is easier to find photographs of crews from late Victorian times or the 1920s and 1930s than from the 1960s and 1970s when popular coverage of the event dropped off dramatically from what it had been. It took the coming of sponsorship in the late 1970s and its associated increased professionalism in marketing the race to make some improvement to this. The only consolation to those who rowed in those underreported years of the 1970s was that their embarrassing hairstyles go largely unrecorded.

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