Down Memorial Lanes – Davidge’s Row Through Life

A photograph from the 1952 Boat Race, known as “The Blizzard Boat Race”: Oxford Coach H. R. A. ‘Jumbo’ Edwards and the Dark Blues’ stroke, Christopher Davidge. Oxford won by a canvas.

Christopher Dodd writes:

Christopher Davidge, the tyro Oxford oarsman, Henley Steward and one-time president of the Amateur Rowing Association (ARA; now British Rowing),who died on 22 December last year, had a memorial send-off at St. Mary’s Church, Henley-on-Thames, and afterwards at Leander Club, that he would surely have enjoyed.

His lifelong friend and fellow Steward, Angus Robertson – who used to be known as the Voice of Henley for getting his tongue round any language thrown at him when announcing the start and finish of races – took the large gathering through Chris’s record as only a buttoned up Henley Royal Regatta commentator can do. He itemised the 1949-52 Boat Races (Davidge lost the first by a quarter-length, sat the next one out with jaundice, was president for the second time for the third, with the ignominious result of sinking and losing the re-row by 12 lengths, and his famous canvas victory in the blizzard of 1952 round the outside of the last bend).

Robertson attributed nine Henley medals and appearances at the regatta from 1947 to 1963 to Davidge’s concentration, rhythm and total determination. He noted Davidge’s brief coaching career in which he coaxed the Royal Air Force to two Henley trophies, and his short career as a Henley commentator when, having issued an edict that any budding announcer who made one mistake was out, ruined his own chances when his first announcement began ‘The first day of the race has started…’

He also noted that Davidge, a distinguished umpire, took charge of three prestigious finals in 1975 – the Ladies’ Plate, the Boat Race and men’s eights at the World Championships.

Robinson recalled how Davidge learned early in his rowing career that training, coaching and organisation must become professional if Britain was to stop its slide into international oblivion after the Second World War. Weight and circuit training was introduced at Barn Cottage, the power house of GB rowing in the 1950s. Reforms in the governing body began under President John Garton with the appointment of Bob Janousek as the first professional national coach in 1969, and continued when Davidge became president in 1977.

Robertson reminded family and friends that despite Chris’s feat of rowing his way through life, he had a life outside rowing. He inherited a magnificent house in Northamptonshire that he painstakingly restored with his second wife Jill, saving two villages that faced collapse on his estate. He undertook a lot of charity work in the county, served on the British Olympic Association and was a council member of Lloyd insurance brokers.

In the more relaxed hubbub on the other side of the river at Leander, racier Davidge stories emerged. When president of the ARA, he was mandated by his council to defy Prime Minister Thatcher’s call to boycott the Olympic Games in 1980. His contribution to Leander’s debate on whether to admit women as members (it did) was to lament the indignity of ladies buying drinks at the bar. Myopic moments as chairman of FISA’s regatta commission were remembered with incredulity, notably denying that crosswinds at the Amsterdam world championships in 1977 and the Copenhagen champs in 1987 made the course grossly unfair. Davidge was a hefty inspiration for the establishment of a fairness commission.

Robertson also noted for the benefit of Wikipedia trawlers that Christopher Guy Vere Davidge was not the same Christopher Davidge who chaired Christie’s when the auction house was caught in a price-fixing scandal with Sotheby’s. Phew (but try googling that for a good story).

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