Rowers Worth a Movie?

film crew

Göran R Buckhorn writes:

Last week, I read in the Daily Telegraph that actor Michael Sheen is going to play George Mallory in a film about the mountaineer, who died on a Mount Everest expedition in 1924. Mallory’s fellow climber, ‘Sandy’ Irvine, Oxford Blue in 1922 and 1923, also died on this expedition. While Mallory’s body was found in 1999, Irvine’s body has never been discovered. What was not mentioned in the Telegraph article was that Mallory also was an oarsman. Rowing for Magdalene College, Cambridge, he never made it into a Blue boat.

I sent out a Tweet about this upcoming film, and almost immediately received a re-Tweet from Daniel Spring (a.k.a. ‘Fatsculler’), who mentioned that he wanted to see a film about oarsman Alan Burrough. We all have our rowing heroes and for sure Burrough was a real character, who is worth a good film about his interesting life.

James Frain as Jack Beresford, Matt Smith as Bert Bushnell and Sam Hoare as Dickie Burnell.
James Frain as Jack Beresford, Matt Smith as Bert Bushnell and Sam Hoare as Dickie Burnell.

In 2012, in time for the London Olympics, a film was released about two of my ‘heroes’, British 1948 Olympic double sculls champions Bert Bushnell (played by Matt Smith) and ‘Dickie’ Burnell (Sam Hoare). The film, Bert and Dickie (in the USA called Going for Gold), is far from perfect – a rowing history buff will easily find several things to complain about, though there are much worse rowing movies out there, i.e. True Blue (1996) about the 1987 Oxford Boat Race Mutiny and The Boy in Blue (1986) about Canadian professional world champion sculler Ned Hanlan. Rowing historians Chris Dodd wrote this about Bert and Dickie and HTBS’s Tim Koch wrote this.

I have my own list of rowers, whom I believe have lived interesting lives that filmmakers should take notice of:

Jack Wilson Ran Lauriesm
Jack Wilson & Ran Laurie

Ran Laurie & Jack Wilson, the other 1948 Olympic British Olympic rowing champions. Laurie also stroked the British four-placed eight in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, and always claimed that if his rowing partner Wilson had been in the crew, they would have medalled. Both Laurie and Wilson left for service in Sudan, and after not having touched an oar for ten years, came home to England where they raced at Henley, won the Silver Goblets and represented Britain in the Olympic rowing at Henley and won a gold medal. This is quite a story, read more here.

Noel Duckworth, 1945. © Michael Smyth.
Noel Duckworth, 1945. © Michael Smyth.

Noel Duckworth, Cambridge cox, who steered the British eight in the 1936 Berlin Games. He later served as Chaplain to the 2nd Battalion, Cambridgeshire Regiment and was sent to Malaya in 1941. As a POW, he showed extreme bravery and saved many soldiers, who otherwise would have been killed by the Japanese soldier and camp guards. A remarkable man. Read Tim Koch’s story about him here.

A brilliant young man, David Winser.
A brilliant young man, David Winser.

David [Michael de Reuda] Winser, an Oxford Blue in 1935, 1936 and 1937, a charming, bright young man who was a poet, novelist, mystery writer and soldier. As a doctor in the Royal Army Medical Corps, he was killed on 1 November 1944 at the Battle for Walcheren in the Netherlands. Read more about this brilliant man here.

Lewis Clive, the red Blue.

Lewis Clive, an Oxford Blue in 1930 and 1931, won the Silver Goblets at Henley with Jumbo Edwards in 1931 and 1932. The latter win gave the duo a ticket to the 1932 Olympic Games, where they easily won the gold medal in the pairs. Clive joined the Labour Party and as a man with socialist view, in May 1938, he later signed up in the British Battalion of the International Brigade to fight against Generalissimo Franco’s national forces in Spain. In August 1938, leading his men to take Hill 481 – by the British Battalion called ‘The Pimple’– Company Commander Lewis Clive was hit in the head by a sniper’s bullet. This led to the unique occasion in London that both The Times and the communists’ newspaper, The Daily Worker, published obituaries about him. Read more about him in Tim Koch’s “Lewis Clive: The Red Blue”.

Tom B. Langton, a Jesus College oarsman, who rowed in the Boat Race for Cambridge in 1937 and 1938. He wrote the Introduction to Steve Fairbairn’s pamphlet Rowing in a Nutshell (1936). During the North African Campaign in the Second World War, Langton and a group of his men made a grandiose escape from Tobruk to El Alamein. Langton ‘bullied’ his men for two months across 400 miles of desert to reach the British lines, for which he received the Military Cross. After the War, he became Captain of the London RC.

Jack B. in scull 1
Five-time Olympian, Jack Beresford, Jnr.

All the above on my list are Blues, so let me wrap this up with a non-Blue, who really doesn’t need an introduction if you are an avid reader of this website, Jack Beresford, Jnr, who took five Olympic medals between 1920 and 1936. A lot of information about Beresford you will find here.

Two ‘biography’ films are in the works, one about American Olympic champion Jack Kelly and one about the Olympic champions the Boys in the Boat, based on Daniel James Brown famous book.

Now, which rowers would you like to see memorialised on the big screen? Write their names in a comment below! You never know if BBC and Hollywood are reading these pages…..

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