The Mystery Sculler

When Göran R Buckhorn started Hear The Boat Sing (HTBS) in March 2009, he chose this image as its logo.
When Göran R Buckhorn started Hear The Boat Sing (HTBS) in March 2009, he chose this image as its logo.

12 October 2016

Tim Koch has been looking at visual representations of some famous brands:

What do Coca-Cola, Google, Nike, Twitter and Hear The Boat Sing have in common? The connection is that their iconic logos were produced with little or no financial cost. Coca-Cola’s branding was created free of charge by the company’s original bookkeeper, Frank M. Robinson. The logo that replaced Coke’s as the world’s most recognised symbol, that of Google, was designed gratis in 1998 by the search engine’s co-founder, Sergey Brin. In 1971, Nike co-founder, Phil Knight, paid $35 to graphic design student Carolyn Davidson for the so-called ‘Swoosh’. Twitter’s original logo cost $15 from iStockphoto but its designer, Simon Oxley, did not realise that his work was in famous use until the social networking service contacted him for permission to animate the bird. As to the HTBS ‘sculler’ logo, Göran tells me:

I found it in a book of copyright free illustrations, the most modern of which were from the 1930s. The book also came with a CD containing all the images. The picture of the sculler originally had a windmill in it, but I cropped it out. It suggested a Dutch landscape – though you also have windmills in England!

I recently found evidence of the uncropped version of the image when I acquired a 73-year-old regatta programme.

The front page of the 1943 programme for the annual Boxing Day (26 December) Charity Regatta held in Richmond, Surrey, a suburban town in southwest London, eight miles from the centre of the Capital.
The front page of the 1943 programme for the annual Boxing Day (26 December) Charity Regatta held in Richmond, Surrey, a suburban town in southwest London, eight miles from the centre of the Capital.

Richmond has a long and unbroken tradition of serious and not-so-serious rowing events. As long ago as 1776, the Gentleman’s Gazette reported that:

A Regatta was celebrated on the River Thames between Richmond and Kew in honour of the Prince of Wales’ birthday. Their Majesties, and all the rest of the Royal Family were present and received by all ranks with the greatest marks of Affection and Respect…..

Film of a Watermen’s Regatta at Richmond in the summer of 1919 is on YouTube.

Richmond held an annual ‘scratch’ charity regatta on the day after Christmas until 1965. The programme notes that it was ‘Founded in 1908 by the Middlesex Wanderers Football Club’.  Pictures taken in 1929 are here  and here and film of an early Richmond Boxing Day Regatta is on YouTube (I am fairly certain that the stroke of the eight shown at the end is Julius Beresford, aka Jack Beresford Senior). The site also has remarkable footage taken in Richmond in 1925 of an ‘1875 crew aggregating 550 years’ racing against contemporary oarsmen. The big coats worn by the crowd suggest that it could have taken place on Boxing Day.

A close-up of the regatta programme’s sculler logo – complete with windmill. This proves that the image pre-dates 1943. The programme was printed locally, at the Richmond factory that still produces remembrance poppies.
A close-up of the regatta programme’s sculler logo – complete with windmill. This proves that the image pre-dates 1943. The programme was printed locally, at the Richmond factory that still produces remembrance poppies.

In 1943, at the height of the 1939 – 1945 War, the Regatta would have been particularly important for at least two reasons. Firstly, it was held ‘in aid of local hospitals’ at a time when these must have been suffering the strains of wartime demands. Secondly, during the war, private motoring was virtually non-existent and non-essential use of public transport was heavily discouraged. People were urged to ‘holiday at home’ and the authorities encouraged morale building local events, such as regattas, to entertain the war-weary population.

A government campaign encouraged the civilian population to ‘holiday at home’ during the war.
A government campaign encouraged the civilian population to ‘holiday at home’ during the war.

 

Railways were needed for essential war work, not for leisure activities.
Railways were needed for essential war work, not for leisure activities.

The Regatta was run by some distinguished people from the rowing world. The umpire was a local man, Dr J. Burn. He rowed for Cambridge in the 1907 and 1908 Boat Race, earned a bronze medal in the eights at the London Olympics of 1908 and won the Silver Goblets at Henley in 1910. The judges included Ernie Barry (five times world professional sculling champion), Karl ‘Bean’ Vernon (Thames RC stalwart, silver medalist in the fours at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, twice Stewards’ winner at Henley) and Geoffrey Carr (Vernon’s coxswain at Stockholm). Bert Barry (World Professional Sculling Champion, 1927-1930) was on the committee. As to the competitors, most of the fit young men (bar those engaged on ‘essential war work’) were away in the armed forces so many crews were formed of women, the young or the old.

The rowing programme’s inside pages (click to enlarge).
The rowing programme’s inside pages (click to enlarge).

The programme notes some other local Boxing Day entertainments. A Canadian Army team was to play Queen’s Park Rangers (Juniors) in a soccer match on Richmond Green and it was announced that the bulldog ‘Queenie’ was to attend – ‘Look out for her!’

The back page of the programme.
The back page of the programme.

Who was Queenie? She was a famous champion bulldog that had been purchased by a local ‘character’ called Jimmy Knode, a bookmaker with a flair for publicity. He often wore a top hat and morning dress with a rose in his buttonhole. His somewhat cumbersome catchphrase was ‘Everyone knows Jimmy Knode never owes – Pays like lightening and always wears a rose’. While some called him a patriotic bookmaker, entrepreneur and performer, others may have thought him a ‘spiv’.

Jimmy Knode – a character.
Jimmy Knode – a character.

Queenie became a star as Jimmy cleverly promoted her as the mascot for wartime Britain. However, while she raised substantial funds for worthy wartime causes, one suspects that her owner may have taken his cut. Ironically, Jimmy Knode had a German father and his real name was Herman. In 1950, he had the fabulous sum of £25,000 in cash stolen from his house. He explained that ‘The idea of having it near me was always to be able to pay if I had a bad day’. I am sure that the tax authorities accepted this explanation.

Queenie in action.
Queenie in action.

Returning to the sculler logo, Göran reminds me that the full ‘windmill’ version was also used by the British boatbuilding firm of George Sims (Racing Boats) Ltd during its period of existence, 1960 to 1999. He also sent me some extracts on Sims from Darryl Strickler’s 2008 book, Rowable Classics: Wooden Single Sculling Boats and Oars (HTBS’s review of it is here and our obituary of Strickler is here).

The maker’s plate on a boat built by George Sims (Racing Boats) Ltd.
The maker’s plate on a boat built by George Sims (Racing Boats) Ltd.

In 1960, boatbuilders George Sims and Bill Sims (not related), together purchased the Rutland Boathouse in Hammersmith from George’s cousin, Frank (the family had been in boatbuilding since the late Victorian era). Importantly, with the boathouse came not only tools, wood and jigs, but also a group of very talented boatbuilders. Within a few years the business was moved to the wonderfully named Eel Pie Island in Twickenham (which is next to Richmond). The company had a prolific output in all sizes of boats but it produced quality as well as quantity, using a traditional method of hull construction known as ‘torturing’.  The Australian, Stuart ‘Sam’ Mackenzie used singles built by Sims in all six of his victories in the Diamonds at Henley and the three times Olympic Gold Medalist, Russian Vyacheslav Ivanov, called Sims, ‘the Stradivarius of boatbuilders’. The Soviets bought six boats from Eel Pie Island in the 1960s. In 1971, Sims built both the Oxford and Cambridge University boats, side by side, over a month. By 1973, Bill’s son, Andy, had taken over and he saw the company through the busy days of the 1970s and into the decline of wooden boatbuilding in the 1990s. The end was stalled somewhat by his acquisition of the UK distribution rights for Concept II carbon oars, but, by the Millennium, the end had come.

Mackenzie & Ivanov pictured in 1958 – both fans of Sims boats.
Mackenzie & Ivanov pictured in 1958 – both fans of Sims boats.

None of this had brought us any closer to the origins of the mystery sculler. What are the chances of a HTBS reader having the answer? Perhaps only Jimmy Knode could give us the odds on this one.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s