27th September 2021
Malcolm James Burman
1951 – 2021
Shock and sadness greeted the news that Malcolm Burman had succumbed to a fatal heart attack on 15 September, barely a month after his 70th birthday. A larger-than-life character, Malcolm was a member of Cygnet Rowing Club for half a century, initially as a fit young blade, followed by a decade-long stint as club treasurer and latterly one of two independent examiners.
Malc, better known to his close rowing contemporaries as ‘Big Malc’ aka ‘Beermeister’, joined Cygnet in 1971. As a British Telecom employee, a privatised offshoot of the Post Office, he came closer than most to fulfilling the founder members’ vision of a club intended primarily for employees of the General Post Office.
Lest his expanded girth of later years suggested otherwise, Malc was regarded as ‘a real boat mover’ in his day, initially rowing in a pair with life-long pal Mick Yetman, before settling into the engine room of the successful club Vllls of 1972-73 and 1977-78. Hard to imagine now, but in those days the crew weekly training regime found Malc pounding round the local gym, weightlifting and running through Richmond Park – shy and retiring he was not.
Remembered by his contemporaries as a ‘gentle giant’ who was rarely if ever riled, Malc was always generous with his time: Norman Cowling, among others, recalls a ‘bedrock club man’ who always took an interest in new members. ‘Dusty’ Miller, the first club historian, characterised Cygnet as ‘ever a club to foster the social side’. Malc fitted that mould to a tee, striking the less than perfect balance between work, sport and play that we all readily identified with. Career development was never high on our list of priorities in those days.
An ‘ale man’ to his core, many anecdotes revolve around the demon drink. Fellow crew member Gary Fettis recalls an infamous trip to the West Country (regattas) during which ‘much cider was taken’ and one of their number ended up ‘before the Beak’. Others recall the notorious Treen Avenue set (Dave Morgan, Steve Reeves et al) who were always on hand to lead Malc astray; needless to say, local hostelries were more than happy to oblige. Many a fitful night was spent on the legendary bus seats in the club bar, the last train or bus home having long since been missed.
Cygnet has always been a marriage bureau first and a rowing club second and the club duly delivered at the 1978 annual dinner dance when a chance rearrangement of the table plan found the future Mrs Malc strategically sat opposite Malc. By the end of the evening, it was clear that their individual quests for a life-long soul mate had reached a mutually satisfactory conclusion. Henceforward, (for Malc) the daily drudge of living hand-to-mouth on some dubious ready meals – the merits of tinned dog food had apparently been contemplated on one particularly impecunious occasion – and copious infusions of alcohol ceased.
Marriage and parenthood ensued, and the world was blessed with the Burman babes Rachel, Rheanna and Georgina, not to mention some more recent grandchildren. However, while rowing took a back seat, Malc found time to turn his auditor skills to the club treasury, conjuring up the necessary funds for new boats and blades, much to the collective relief of the captain (me) and expectant active members. A wise head on all things financial, Malc would later become a school bursar having taken early retirement from BT.
Retirement proper allowed Malc to concentrate on the things that really mattered namely family, living in a warm climate (Spain), the odd beer festival and the bi-annual canal trip with the likes of ‘Warp’ (Yetters), ‘ngineer’ (Wylie), ‘Schedule’ (Alan Cox) and ‘Mumsy’ (Rawks P). Life in Spain settled into an agreeable social rhythm; Malc’s formidable grasp of general knowledge earned him a reputation as a mean quiz master among the expatriate community; and Cygnet receded into the background. However, fate has a habit of springing surprises and a spur-of-the-moment Spanish real estate purchase found club chairman Nick Wylie unknowingly taking up residence but a stone’s throw from the Burman household. History does not record Mrs Malc’s reaction!
Canal trips were Malc’s guilty pleasure. Colloquially referred to as the ‘Fat Bastards Canal Cruise’, these trips were meticulously planned by Malc down to the last lock-mile with the day’s mileage strictly adhered to between breakfast, lunch and dinner. However, opening and closing locks can be thirsty business and the so-called ‘in betweenie’ pint became a regular fixture of afternoon cruising, while an Indian restaurant was always de-rigeur for dinner, followed by a night cap on the poop deck. Those occasions often provided an opportunity to ponder the night sky – many a time airplane landing lights were mistaken for shooting stars or lost galaxies.
Unlike some crew members, Malc never ‘lost form’, a stabilising influence and the voice of reason until the end. Looking back over the years, one or other of the crew nearly always befell some accident on these trips, leading Malc to add ‘A&Es’ to the landmarks of note when planning the schedule. As he wryly remarked at the end of the last cruise in 2019 ‘it’s nice to have finished the cruise with the same number of crew members we started with’. Sadly, the next cruise will start without its customary commander-in-chief – crew anarchy awaits.
Paul Rawkins (aka ‘Mumsy), September 21