The 1960 Boat Race: Oxford’s Adrian Stokes’s Rare Footage

Princess Margaret and her fiancé Tony Armstrong-Jones in the Cambridge launch following the 1960 Boat Race. From Adrian Stokes’s film on YouTube. Courtesy of L.A.F. Stokes.

6 July 2017

Göran R Buckhorn comes across an amateur cinematographer’s film on the 1960 Boat Race. He was not only a filmmaker, but also an Oxford Blue and coach, and Henley-winner. Göran writes:

After the entertaining piece on Lord Snowdon or Tony Armstrong-Jones (aka ‘A.-J.’) by Chris Dodd on 27 June, I would like to add something more on Princess Margaret, Armstrong-Jones (not yet an earl) and the 1960 Boat Race, which Margaret and her fiancé followed in the Cambridge launch Amaryllis, watching the Light Blues lose to the Dark Blues by one-and-a-quarter lengths in a time of 18 minutes 59 seconds.

While there are a couple of interesting newsreels from the 1960 race on YouTube – one concentrating on the race itself, here, and one on Margaret and A.-J.’s visit, here – there is also an 11-minute amateur film mostly in colour that beats both of these films from the perspective of a rowing history buff. The film has been uploaded on YouTube by Teresa Stokes, whose father, L. Adrian F. Stokes, was one of the coaches for Oxford that year. He filmed the race with his Super-8 camera from the Oxford launch. Stokes, who had studied at New College, rowed at 4 in the Oxford boat on 24 March 1951, when the Dark Blues’ boat sank (the first time since 1925). Oxford then lost the re-row two days later. The following year, on 29 March, Stokes, now the Oxford president, was back at the 4 seat. Although Cambridge were favourites, there was never clear water between the crews during the race, which the Dark Blues eventually won by a canvas. It was ‘one of the most exciting races ever rowed,’ Ian Thomson wrote in The Observer.

Adrian Stokes, president of O.U.B.C. by the River Isis in 1952. Courtesy of L.A.F. Stokes.

One of the interesting things with Stokes’s film is who is in the film, and I’m not referring to ‘the Royals’. His film starts in black & white with the Oxford crew practicing on the Thames in London – look how the Macon blades, which had been introduced by Karl Adam’s West German eight at the 1959 European Championships, are moving the boat; the eight is passing what was then the Harrods Furniture Depository, approaching Hammersmith Bridge, then Barnes Bridge and Mortlake Brewery and crossing the ‘finish line’ at Chriswick Bridge. Coaches and others (gentlemen of the rowing press? – then still only a man’s world) are discussing the practice. Among them is Richard ‘Dickie’ Burnell, with a stopwatch, Oxford Blue in 1939 and Olympic champion in the double sculls in 1948, who worked as rowing correspondent for The Times.

At 3:58, the film turns to colour, and it’s 2 April 1960 and Boat Race Day. We can see how the film cameras from different agencies – I presume from Pathe, Huntley Film and BBC, of course – are getting ready. People are gathering by the boathouses. In the crowd, I think I see Gully Nickalls, son of Guy Nickalls. Dickie Burnell is seen talking to his father, Charles ‘Don’ Burnell – once called ‘the strongest sweep in England’ – who was a winning Oxford Blue in four Boat Races, 1895–1898, and also an Olympic gold medallist in the eights in 1908. To this day, a family with a father/mother and son/daughter being Olympic gold medallists in rowing is a rare thing. Another extraordinary thing with the Burnells is that they are a three-generation rowing Blues. In 1962, Dickie Burnell’s son, Peter, rowed for the Dark Blues (they lost the race). Another well-known three-generation rowing family, who raced for Oxford, was the Bournes: Gilbert (Oxford Blue in 1883–1884), Bob (1909–1912) and Bobbie (1946).

Three generations of Oxford oarsmen: Don Burnell (1895–1898), Dickie Burnell (1939) and Peter Burnell (1962). Photo from Richard Burnell’s book “The Oxford Pocket Book of Sculling Training” (1962).

Back to Stokes’s film: Princess Margaret and A.-J. are arriving by automobile (5:11) and go on board Amaryllis (5:37). Stokes camera moves to show the people in the Oxford launch. Driving the launch is waterman Ted Phelps, who is smoking a cigarette before the race (5:53). Phelps became the professional world sculling champion in 1930, at age 21, the same year he won Doggett’s. Phelps lost the world title when Bobby Pearce snatched it from him in 1933; Phelps was the last Englishman to hold the professional world title in sculling. After Phelps lost the English championship title to Lou Barry in 1936, he turned to coaching and one of his many pupils was the two-time Olympic champion and Oxford coach-to-be, Jumbo Edwards, who later hired Phelps as a waterman or pilot, when he was training the Oxford crews. When Phelps died in 1983, age 75, another famous Dark Blues coach, Dan Topolski, praised him: ‘Ted was the secret success, the unsung hero behind Oxford during the Jumbo years’.

Ted Phelps (left) gives American film star Robert Taylor some hints on sculling for the filming of the movie “A Yank at Oxford” (1938). Phelps himself ‘starred’ in the film “The Rower” together with Olympic champions Jack Beresford and Dick Southwood in 1938.

In Stokes’s film, Jumbo Edwards is rowed out in a Thames skiff to the Oxford launch (6:32). At the start, both crews are off (8:16). After some minutes of race footage with scenic shots, a little shaky at times as it’s not easy to film from a bouncing launch, Oxford cross the finish line at Mortlake as victors (11:07). Stokes’s film shows the winning crew, from bow to cox: R. C. I. Bate, R. L. S. Fishlock, T. S. Swayze, A. T. Lindsay, I. L. Elliott, D. C. Rutherford, J. R. Chester, C. M. Davis and P. J. Reynolds.

From England, HTBS is reached by a comment from Mr Stokes regarding a funny incident after the crews came back to shore. Mr Stokes remarks:

At the end of the race everybody was lining up to be introduced to Princess Margaret. We were all standing in a line, and just as she was coming up to me a photographer popped in between us and stood right in front of me blocking me off from the princess, so I picked him up and put him down on the ground behind me. He was rather cross, but he was a small man, and after one look from our head coach, Jumbo Edwards, and being confronted with a line of very large, muscular people, he piped down!

Enjoy Adrian Stokes’s film of the 1960 Boat Race here (no sound):

Mr Stokes, now 89, lives with his wife Veronica, née Durham, in Hampshire. They met when they were both studying at Oxford. Stokes first studied at Winchester College and rowed for his college at Henley at several occasions. The first time was just after the Second World War when a two-day regatta, Royal Henley Regatta [sic], was held on a shortened course from Remenham Barrier. In their first heat, in School Race for the Hedsor Cup for eights, Winchester College, with 17-year-old Stokes at 4 seat, beat Owen’s School. In their second heat, they ended up on a third place behind Bedford School and Monkton Combe School in a three-boat race.

The cover of the Henley Royal Regatta programme commemorating Princess Elizabeth’s first visit to the regatta.

The 1946 regatta at Henley was the first ‘official’ Henley Royal after the war. This time it was really Royal as both Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret graced the event with their presence for the first time. A new trophy for junior boys’ eights was bestowed this year, the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup, rowed on a shortened course from the Barrier. Adrian Stokes was competing again, rowing at 6 seat in the Winchester boat. Racing for the new cup, Winchester easily overpowered their first opponent, University College School, but later in the day, they lost to Eton College. Unfortunately, it did not go much better when Stokes’s crew raced in the Ladies’ Challenge Plate – they were left in the wake of Radley College in the first round. Presenting the trophies at the regatta was Princess Elizabeth.

Stokes did not race at Henley in 1947 and 1948 because he had to do National Service in the Army, a period in his life he found ‘most disagreeable,’ he says. However, when he came back to the regatta in 1949, it was for the Ladies’ and now racing in the colours of New College, Oxford. First the New College crew beat Queen’s College, Cambridge, but in their second heat Lady Margaret BC proved to be too strong for the Oxford crew. Stokes doubled in another New College boat that year, racing in a coxless four for the Wyfold Challenge Cup. Stokes and his crew had an easy first win, when their rivals, King’s College, London hit the booms after eight strokes. Advancing to a second round, the New College crew were beaten by Lensbury Rowing Club.

The 1950 Ladies’ would turn into a triumph for the New College eight. With Stokes as stroke, the crew won all their races. First, they beat Merton College, Oxford, then Queen’s College, Cambridge, followed by a win over Clare College, Cambridge. Henley Royal Regatta, 1939 – 1968 (vol. I; 1969) states: ‘New College won their races in the early rounds without difficulty but had a close race with Trinity College, Dublin in the final and won by only 1/3 length. This is the first success in this event by an Oxford College since 1923’. In the final, New College led by a length at the Mile. The Irish oarsmen put in a grand spurt and managed to close the gap between the boats, but New College was still in the lead crossing the finish line. The prizes were presented by Lewis W. Douglas, the USA Ambassador to the United Kingdom.

The following year, Stokes stroked a New College crew for the Stewards’ Challenge Cup for coxless fours. In their first round, the Oxford crew had little to put up against a good crew from Thames RC and lost by more than three lengths; Thames RC won ‘easily’ as it states in the official result list. The Thames crew then went on to beat Leander in the final.

In a comment about her father’s rowing life after his active days as an oarsman, Teresa Stokes writes in an e-mail from London: ‘Then he coached Oxford crews and the Winchester College crews for Henley at various times up until 1960’.

At the 2015 Henley Royal Regatta, Adrian Stokes posed by the Ladies’ Challenge Plate, which he and a New College crew won in 1950. Photo courtesy of L.A.F. Stokes.

Thanks to Oxford Blue, Henley-winner and amateur cinematographer Adrian Stokes and his daughter Teresa, we can now enjoy this gem, a 57-year-old Boat Race film, sprinkled with some footage of the Royal ‘swingers’ of the 1960s and 1970s.

2 comments

  1. That’s my Dad! I was the only daughter who took up rowing and my biggest achievement was when I competed in the Sark to Jersey rowing race in 1990, (2 hours 58 minutes)

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