30 August 2018
By Chris Dodd
Martin Maurice Brandon-Bravo who has died aged 86 was president of British Rowing when it was the Amateur Rowing Association, an engaging MP for Nottingham South (1983-1992) and the managing director of Richard Stump Ltd, a women’s clothing manufacturer.
Martin was born into an East End Jewish family with roots in the Iberian peninsular, raised in Hammersmith where he found rowing at Latymer, National Service in the Royal Artillery and a career at the coalface of the rag trade in the ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’ era in Nottingham, where he also found Sally, a hairdresser from gentlemanly farming stock whom he married and by whom he had two sons.
Hobnobbing on the shop floor on a weekly basis and knowing his warp from his cross-stitch stood ‘M-squared B-squared’ in good stead for his various roles as a Nottingham city councillor (1968-1971 and 1976-1987) and Nottinghamshire county councillor (1993-), Tory Member of Parliament, PPS to Mrs Thatcher’s Home Secretary David Waddington and presider over the ARA Council, a body that flipped between obstinacy, controversy and occasional unruly behaviour.
As a PPS, he undertook Government missions in Russia and elsewhere, and privately toured townships of apartheid South Africa. He also defied British Government policy by meeting leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organisation in Tunis. In 1992, he and three other MPs went to Yemen to persuade the government there to allow the remaining Jewish community to leave.
Martin was a member of the ARA council when Bob Janousek arrived from Prague in 1969 to revive British rowing, and his presidency spanned the employment of Jurgen Grobler as national coach in 1992, shortly before publication of the Stasi files revealed East Germany’s secret sporting life and raised awkward questions. He was also president in 1997 when the death of Princess Diana occurred just as the world championships were about to start in Aiguebelette. He rightly resisted pressure to withdraw the British team. Instead, Sally and Martin manufactured black ribbon bows which all the crews wore, a dignified contribution to mourning.
Martin rowed at Nottingham and Union RC, where he enjoyed adventures at regattas, mutiny during his captaincy, blistering attacks on Henley umpires including John Garton, who was chairman of the Royal Regatta and president of the ARA simultaneously. Garton received both barrels in Martin’s autobiography Rowing Against the Tide (Bretwalda Books, 2013) for incompetent and biased umpiring and shoddy selection for the Mexico Olympics. The latter controversy (involving Nottingham Britannia and Leander when the latter were selected after the former defeated them in trials) sparked the election of mavericks to the ARA, including Martin. There followed a new selection policy, the appointment of Janousek as first professional coach and a revision of the ARA’s constitution.
Martin’s outstanding legacy to rowing was his role in the creation of courses at Holme Pierrepont and Caversham, both of which required a politician’s guile to stitch factions together. Holme Pierrepont involved Hoveringham Gravel, the ARA, Nottingham City and Notts County councils and Denis Howell, the Labour Government’s minister for sport who gave more support to the scheme than President Garton’s ARA. Garton saw the Nottingham course as a threat to Henley, just as later he saw the late lamented Nottinghamshire International Regatta as a threat, not an opportunity.
Holme Pierrepont took three years to build. Caversham took 10 convoluted years during which Martin was go-between twixt the ARA, Redland Lafarge gravel extractors, David Sherriff who donated the land, South Oxfordshire District Council, several incarnations of Sport England, and various sports clubs. At times both schemes rowed against the tide, and patience was tested.
Martin’s book contains a candid account of how Nottingham’s profitable textile mills ditched Barclays because the bank was anti-Semitic. He is survived by Sally and their sons Paul and Joel.
Martin Maurice Brandon-Bravo, born 25 March 1932, died 15 August 2018.