Antony Armstrong-Jones, 1st Earl of Snowdon, 1930-2017

‘Tony’ Armstrong-Jones in his Cambridge Blue cap and blazer with (I suspect) a Leander tie.
‘Tony’ Armstrong-Jones in his Cambridge Blue cap and blazer with (I suspect) a Leander tie.

14 January 2017

Tim Koch writes:

Lord Snowdon died on 13 January, aged 86. The general public knew him as the society photographer who, in 1960, married the Queen’s only sister, Princess Margaret. However, HTBS types remember him for an achievement ten years earlier when he coxed Cambridge to victory in the 1950 Oxford–Cambridge Boat Race. In 2015, I wrote about his rowing career in a piece titled “Rowing: Not The Sport Of Kings” and the text of this is reproduced below.

The Cambridge Blue Boat, 1950. Left to right: Crick, Macleod, Lloyd, Arthur, Jennens, Almond, Bircher, Armstrong-Jones, Massey. All but Jennens, Bircher and Armstrong-Jones were from Lady Margaret Boat Club (St John’s College). Massey, Bircher and Lloyd were in the eight that won Olympic Silver in the London Games of 1948.
The Cambridge Blue Boat, 1950. Left to right: Crick, Macleod, Lloyd, Arthur, Jennens, Almond, Bircher, Armstrong-Jones, Massey. All but Jennens, Bircher and Armstrong-Jones were from Lady Margaret Boat Club (St John’s College). Massey, Bircher and Lloyd were in the eight that won Olympic Silver in the London Games of 1948.

Lord Snowdon and Princess Margaret were both rather strong-willed and open-minded people and they had a somewhat tempestuous relationship but for a time they were Britain’s most glamorous couple. In the 1950s, the Princess had been at the centre of the so-called ‘Margaret Set’, a group of aristocrats who seemed to spend their lives in the pursuit of pleasure. She married Armstrong-Jones just as the 1960s started to swing and her Guardian obituary noted:

The Snowdons seemed the ideal cipher for an age that was promoting style above status but had not yet completely kicked deference. In the early days of their marriage, Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon broke new ground socially, making friendships, or at least acquaintance, with all the usual 60s names, Nureyev, Peter Sellers, Vidal Sassoon, Mary Quant, and the more flaky, including John Bindon, a minor actor of East End sensitivities famed most for an interesting trick involving beer glasses with handles and a private part of his anatomy.

Armstrong-Jones in his Jesus College, Cambridge, cap.
Armstrong-Jones in his Jesus College, Cambridge, cap.

Years before mixing with this eclectic crowd, Armstrong-Jones had been to Eton and then to Jesus College, Cambridge where he coxed the Light Blues to a 3 1/2 length victory in the 1950 Boat Race. There is a nice picture of him taking his crew out of Leander’s Putney boathouse on the Alamy stock photo site and a good post-race photograph on the Getty Image site.

In the 1950 Boat Race, Oxford had lead from the start but Cambridge went ahead by the Mile Post. At Hammersmith (pictured here), their lead was half-a-length, and was one length at Chiswick Steps, two-and-a-half at Barnes and three-and-a-half at the finish.
In the 1950 Boat Race, Oxford had lead from the start but Cambridge went ahead by the Mile Post. At Hammersmith (pictured here), their lead was half-a-length, and was one length at Chiswick Steps, two-and-a-half at Barnes and three-and-a-half at the finish.

Perhaps Armstrong-Jones needed even greater skills than are normally required to navigate the Putney to Mortlake course as, in his book The Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race (1983), Chris Dodd noted that the Cambridge boat was nicknamed the ‘Banham Bombshell’ and that it ‘didn’t hold in the water all that well’ and that Cambridge ‘were frightened of going up Beverley Brook’ (the creek that runs at 90° to the course at the end of Putney Embankment). However, Armstrong-Jones not only successfully steered the boat but, according to a recent biography by Anne de Courcy, he designed a new rudder for it as well.

Cambridge had a choice of two new boats in 1950. Perhaps incorrectly, they decided on the one on the left (click to enlarge).
Cambridge had a choice of two new boats in 1950. Perhaps incorrectly, they decided on the one on the right (click to enlarge).

Armstrong-Jones clearly maintained his interest in rowing and he and Princess Margaret were in the Cambridge launch for the 1960 Boat Race (evidenced both by the picture below and by British Pathe).

Princess Margaret with her then fiancé, Antony Armstrong-Jones, aboard the Cambridge launch during the 1960 Oxford–Cambridge Boat Race (Oxford won).
Princess Margaret with her then fiancé, Antony Armstrong-Jones, aboard the Cambridge launch during the 1960 Oxford–Cambridge Boat Race (Oxford won).

In 1964, Princess Margaret, Lord Snowdon and the Queen Mother visited Henley Royal Regatta for its 125th year and to witness the Harvard crew of 1914 rowing over the course. Again, the wonderful Pathe newsreel was on hand to capture all of this for posterity.

Snowdon was once quoted as saying ‘‘It’s no good saying ‘hold it’ to a moment in real life’’. He was probably talking about his photography – but, judging by the many amusing, uncomfortable or lurid stories about him, this may have been the philosophy by which he conducted all of his affairs. It’s a good dictum for a cox though.

2 comments

  1. As well as British Pathe’s film in 1960, my father (Adrian Stokes) filmed the race from the Oxford launch – he was one of the coaches – and he took quite a few shots of Armstrong-Jones and his fiancee when they came alongside in the Cambridge launch “Amaryllis”. I have just put his cine film on YouTube, which is much longer than the Pathe film and mostly in colour. If you look for Boat Race 1960 in Youtube you will find it.

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