30 March 2016
HTBS editor Göran R Buckhorn writes:
Yesterday, HTBS received an e-mail, with a photo, from John Wiggins, Oxford, whom some of you readers might remember shared a silver medal in the HTBS caption competition for an old Victorian Holiday card with a coxed ‘dog four’. John contacted HTBS because he had noticed that in Tim Koch’s entry about a previous Oxbridge crew, “Very Old Blues: Sixteen Decades of Boat Race Crews” on 26 March, there was no Oxford crew photo from the 1970s – this decade was represented by the 1972 Light Blue crew. Not that John wrote so – he is too humble – but I could read between the lines that he thought it would be a deficiency in the rowing history education of the HTBS readers if they would not see a photo of the 1976 Oxford crew.
What was so special with this Oxford crew? Mind you, John himself was in that crew and they have gone down in the history of the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race as, up to that time, the heaviest crew; heaviest and tallest oarsman, Stephen Plunkett (16.4 stone/104.1448kg – 6.7½ feet/196cm); fastest crew, first to go under 17 minutes (16 minutes 58 seconds); and having the youngest winner (John Wiggins, age 18.8), who in the Boat Race Programme listed as his interests: ‘Very bad jokes and trying to combine rowing with metallurgy’.* Oxford won by 6 ½ lengths.
Oxford’s finishing coach was Daniel Topolski, who the following year would take a gold medal in the lightweight eights at the World Championships in Amsterdam. To compare to today’s foreigners in the Oxbridge crews, the 1976 Dark Blues had one American, ‘Ken’ Brown, of Cornell. According to the Wikipedia entry on the 1976 Boat Race, ‘the day before the race, British bookmaking company, Ladbrokes, announced that they would sponsor the race from the following year. From 1977, each boat club would be awarded £10,000 and would compete for The Ladbroke Cup.’
More information about the crews and the race is here (from Wikipedia.com).
This year it was exactly 40 years ago John Wiggins and his team mates from Oxford were ‘The 1976 Record Crew’, of course they are worthy of a crew picture on HTBS.
*This information is taken from the University Boat Race Oxford versus Cambridge 1976 Programme, which slightly differs from the Wikipedia entry on the 1976 Boat Race.
Update: Chris Dodd sent in a footnote to educate us further:’In the 1976 Cambridge crew, bowman David Searle now runs the Boat Race for the Boat Race Company. Cambridge also had an American in the crew, Dick Cashin, of Harvard, at 6, and at 3, in Goldie, was John Hale, of Yale, who is a trireme scholar (and mate of Tom Weil).’
Reference comments about no 1976 Oxford crew photo. I am surprised the discrepancy in your ’66 photo of same has not been picked up by some eagle eyed Old Blue. The photo you publish must have been an early publicity shot as it has C. E. Albert (Yale Univ. & St. Edmund Hall) at seven. However, he was famously dropped 5 days before the Boat Race , to be replaced by C.H. Freeman (Kings C’bury & Keble) and younger brother of Oxford bowman R.A.D. Freeman. It was tough on Albert as Oxford were in their pomp during the mid 60’s and the Blue Boat went on to defeat Cambridge by 13 seconds. Isis, now with Albert at seven , thrashed Goldie by 25 seconds in the reserves race. Christian Albert stayed with Isis during the ’66 season and rowed in there Henley Royal Regatta Thames Cup crew, where they lost the final to Harvard University by 3/4 length. I remember these facts particularly well as I rowed in a Quintin Boat Club VIII that had a couple of memorable encounters with Isis ,and Albert on board, during that year. Christian, sadly, passed away in 1989 aged 46. Regards, Lionel Bailey. P.S. Did you not mention in an earlier email to me that you were composing an essay on the Tideway Sculler’s School ? Has anything come of it ?
Sent from my iPad
Lionel, thank you for your story and the correction about the 1966 Oxford crew. Congratulations, you were the first one to spot the mistake in the picture (I had no idea about the swop). Regarding my essay, which I am still writing on, sorry it’s not about the Tideway Sculler’s School. It’s about Steve Fairbairn, and the Tideway Scullers is mentioned briefly in my essay. This essay is not to be posted on HTBS, instead, it’s going to appear in a book with some other essays on rowing. Hopefully, the book will be out later this year.
Thank you for unearthing so much detail to accompany the picture. If I may add to it………Another significant thing about the crew of ’76, again, contrasting current composition, was that Ken Brown, our ‘American’, was the sole post-graduate student, albeit a very significant one as a member of the US VIII (with Cambridge’s Dick Cashin) that won gold at the 1974 World Championships (GB silver medal). Al Shealy, stroke of that ’74 US crew (and indeed the ’76 Olympic VIII with Cashin at bow) came to Oxford and rowed in both the ’77 and ’78 winning boats. 1976 was, I believe, the last time an Oxford crew used a wooden boat using the first production eight from Carbocraft in 1977.
Dear John, thank you for adding information to your post. Writing about the American and British crews in the mid-1970s, here is something I wrote already in July 2013: