12 May 2021
By Tim Koch
Tim Koch pays tribute to the popular and highly regarded Doug Melvin who has died aged 92.
Although his competitive rowing career ended in 1960, Doug Melvin was still held in great affection by the rowing community over sixty years later, partly because of his earlier achievements, partly because of his life-long contribution to the sport that he loved, and partly because he was, in all senses of the word, a gentleman.
Douglas V Melvin was born in Lancaster in north-west England in 1928. In his youth, he joined the local electricity board for work and John O’Gaunt RC for pleasure. John O’Gaunt was a club ‘off the radar’ for many Tideway-centric rowers but it was one that pre-dated all London-based clubs having been founded in 1842. The young Melvin soon showed his talent at local regattas, but some felt that he needed stronger competition. Chris Dodd’s history of London RC, Water Boiling Aft: London Rowing Club, The First 150 Years (2006), takes up the story:
Melvin turned up on the Thames in 1953 after his boss and patron, Sir Harold Parkinson [a wealthy benefactor of Lancaster rowing], sent him to compete at Reading and Marlow regattas. He won the first and was beaten by Sid Rand in the second, which was good enough for Parkinson to arrange a transfer of his young electrician from the North Western Electricity Board to the London Electricity Board at Wandsworth. Melvin was sent to the Tideway to be coached by Eric Phelps, then at the Midland Bank at Putney, who had coached Jack Beresford and Dick Southwood of Thames to their famous double sculling victory in the Berlin Olympics. Phelps encouraged Melvin to join London Rowing Club [in 1955] because several of the best scullers in the country were there, and thus Melvin became part of the group which included [Tony] Fox, [John] Marsden, [John] Pinches, [Edward] Sturges and [‘Farn’] Carpmael…
Melvin found Phelps to be an excellent coach, and the company competitive, inspirational and congenial. They leapfrogged each other’s careers and spurred each other on. There was tea and fruitcake for the crews in the Long Room after rowing, and he trained all through the winter with outings on Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings and Tuesday and Thursday lunchtimes, when he was allowed to extend his breaks by his employer. ‘There was a feeling of real friendship,’ Melvin recalls…
Melvin was a rising London star, although he remained faithful to John O’Gaunt in the big events…
In Henley’s Diamond Sculls, Doug lost to the eventual winner in 1954 and 1955. He entered the Double Sculls in 1956 and 1958 with John Marsden, reaching the final in 1956.
Doug represented Great Britain in the single sculls at the European Championships in 1955. Also in that year, he won the Wingfield Sculls, the British Amateur Championship, for the first time, repeating the success in 1958. He was Wingfield’s secretary between 1975 and 1998, a period that his successor, Wade Hall-Craggs, called “a respectable stint which saw huge changes in the sport which Doug helped the event weather in his own quiet way”.
In 1956, Doug was selected as the spare man for the British rowing squad for the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne. After his boat and blades were shipped off to Australia, he was de-selected in favour of someone more inclined to rowing than sculling, a decision that produced a withering editorial in Rowing magazine. Later in 1956, he became the first winner of the Weybridge Silver Sculls.
Doug finished second in the Scullers’ Head to Tony Fox in 1955 and 1956 before winning it himself in 1957 and 1958.
In 1960, Doug retired from competitive rowing to concentrate on his career and became a coach and a GB selector. He was on the ARA selection board at the time of the ARA’s Nautilus Club national squad experiment in the mid-1960s. In later years, he returned to competitive rowing as a veteran oarsman and sculler. Between 2000 and 2004, he was President of London Rowing Club and from 1966 to 2009, he was President of John O’Gaunt Rowing Club.
Doug coached his son, John, to become the first GB sculler to win a World Championship single sculls medal (a silver in the lightweight class in 1983 at Duisburg). His younger son, Simon, was in the GB squad in lightweight eights in the early 1980s.
In his chapter on London RC’s “Movers and Shakers”, Chris Dodd wrote:
[Melvin’s] rowing life and gentle voice weaves through competition, committee work and the Presidency at London, and extends through his sons, John and Simon.
In his tribute to Doug, the current Wingfield’s Secretary, Wade Hall-Craggs, summed up the feelings of those in the rowing community who knew him:
We have lost a great champion.
He was one of my childhood heroes and it was a pleasure to watch Doug sculling as he had a great style and it was also nice to meet and talk to him – he was a true gentleman. As always well written Tim.
Lovely tribute to a lovely guy.
A very fine tribute – thanks. I have forwarded it to Simon Melvin.
Thank you so much for writing such a wonderful tribute to my Grandad.