Reverting To Type

Henley’s River and Rowing Museum has the historic typewriter that belonged to women’s rowing pioneer, Amy Gentry. The ‘Underwood Model 5’ came out in 1900 and became the standard for all typewriters for many years.

11 January 2021

By Tim Koch

Tim Koch wonders if Göran Buckhorn has the Smith-Corona Virus.

I am seeking the Impeachment of the HTBS Editor-in-Chief, Göran R Buckhorn, for failing to find any strong rowing connections in his recent article on typewriters. As the above shot taken from the online catalogue of items held by the River and Rowing Museum shows, there is at least one not-too-tenuous link between the two.

Amy Gentry OBE (1903 – 1976) was active in women’s rowing for more than 50 years, first as a competitor and then as an administrator. She would have spent more time with her typewriter than she did with her oars as she earned her living as a secretary and also ran the Women’s Amateur Rowing Association and the Weybridge Ladies Rowing Club. In her lifelong efforts to improve and promote women’s rowing, she must have typed many hundreds of letters and missives to further the cause.

The first page of a letter typed by Amy Gentry in 1927, presumably on her Underwood. It was sent to Lady Desborough (wife of the influential former Chairman of the British Olympic Association, William Grenfell, 1st Baron Desborough) requesting her help to allow women to row in the Olympic Games. Forty-nine years later, in the last year of her life, Amy got her wish.

Famously, Amy Gentry worked as a secretary for Vickers Aviation and she became personal secretary to Barnes Wallis, the chief designer, between 1941 and 1943 whilst he developed the ‘Bouncing Bombs’ used on the ‘Dambusters’ raid and witnessed the first trials on Burwood Park Lake. Whether any of Wallis’s wartime secrets were typed on Gentry’s ancient Underwood, we can only speculate.

In his article, Göran did mention journalist Robert Messenger who runs a website about typewriters called oz.Typewriter, and linked to Messenger’s piece on  Hemingway and his Halda. However, oz.Typewriter also has a piece called “The Olivetti on the Nile”, about the time that Messenger (with his Olivetti Lettera 32 typewriter) covered Egypt’s Nile International Rowing Festival. It was an article that I drew heavily on for my piece on the event posted in February 2018 and which The New York Times recently linked to, something that I was very flattered by.

The Washington Huskies, in Egypt to take part in the 1977 ‘Nile International Rowing Festival’, visit the Giza Pyramid complex.

Finally, Keira Rathbone is a West London based ‘typewriter artist’ who uses a mechanical typewriter as a drawing tool. If you would like to buy her limited edition print of a rower, go to her website.

Editor Göran R Buckhorn’s riposte: Contrary to the cowards, I will not be Pleading the Fifth, instead I confess my guilt. Although, I would like to point out that nowhere in my article on 8 January do I claim that it is a rowing article or a piece about the sport and old typewriters. And while we are correcting ourselves, the first one to mention Robert Messenger on HTBS was Greg Denieffe on 10 February 2016.

But, as I mentioned earlier, I am guilty as charged. Please inform me whom I shall send the HTBS editor’s keys to on the morning of 20 January. Thank you and yours sincerely….

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