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Cygnet Rowing Club
on the Tideway since 1890
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  • Phil Brown

    Author: Neil Pickford |

    10th September 2023

    Philip Brown

    1946 – 2023

    Not everybody who rows at Cygnet seeks copious silverware at high profile regattas; some are quite happy to beaver away quietly in the background, contributing to the greater good. One such member was Philip (‘Phil’) Brown, a club vice president, who passed away quite unexpectedly in his sleep on Monday, 30th August. He was 77.

    Phil joined Cygnet in the mid-1970s. He had rowed at his Cambridge college and was keen to continue wielding a blade on a recreational basis. Cygnet amply fulfilled this aspiration. The club boasted a large pool of casual oarsmen in the 1970s and 80s, ably organised by Chris Gates who welcomed Phil as a co-convenor of this sometimes disparate squad. From there, it was but a short step to assisting (and ultimately organising) the London Business Houses Head, a head race for up to thirty likeminded business houses rowing clubs.

    Phil was one of life’s boffins. Fresh out of university, he quickly found his niche in the Ministry of Defence. Richard Kemball-Cook, a contemporary rower and MoD employee recalls: “he (Phil) was more front line than me: in the late 1970s I remember him going on about these little toy planes that were to be the future of warfare. How right he was!

    Shaping the future of warfare may have been his day job, but attending to the minutiae of club business consumed much of his leisure hours. He rowed in various gentlemen’s Vllls (see below at bow in a Business Houses Head race), sat on various committees, served as club secretary and bungalow secretary, often appeared at regattas as a supporter (with his faithful caravan in tow) and cajoled family members into producing endless felt pennants for Tideway events. Chris Gates had trained Phil well and they would both become staunch supporters of St Neots regatta, always a firm Cygnet favourite.

    A great believer in the ethos of civil service rowing, Phil and his long-term companion Rubina Curtis, president of BBLRC, regularly attended annual conferences of the Civil Service Sports Council. Many a time, unsuspecting CSSC officials were caught off guard by searching questions from the floor as Phil and Rubina grilled them on policy towards rowing, rarely missing an opportunity to remind them of the proud history of the Civil Service Rowing Association.

    Earlier this year, he accepted an invitation to attend a regional AGM of the CSSC. As he reported back, it was clearly a disappointing experience: “Most of the attendees could be described as ‘mature’ and few looked ‘athletic’. It was a meeting of friends who made no attempt to welcome me, or even talk to me”. Never one to mince his words, he concluded “if this is typical of CSSC operations around the country, the interest in team sports is minimal”.

    Still, lest anybody thought Phil was a blinkered bureaucrat, he was a great steam train enthusiast, regularly volunteering with one of the local heritage lines. Gadgets fascinated Phil and he often arrived at regattas with the latest cameras, not to mention smart cars. An IT whizz, Phil kept everything on his computer and had built up a large digital library of civil service crews, a valuable supplement to both club’s archives.

    For many of us, our last encounter with Phil will have been at Old Blades on the Friday of Henley Royal Regatta, when he and Rubina could be seen ‘working the room (or perhaps the garden on this occasion)’. A steadfast companion of Rubina’s, he never failed to enquire about members’ health and wellbeing and always had the club’s best interests at heart.

    Phil’s funeral will be held on19th October at 12.30pm at St Peter's Church, Church Lane, Wrestlingworth, Sandy SG19 2EU, a few miles east of his beloved Biggleswade on the B1042. 

    Paul Rawkins, September 2023


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  • Ken O'Brien

    Author: Neil Pickford |

    17th August 2023

    Kenneth O’Brien 

    1947 – 2023

    It is with great sadness that we record the death of Ken O’Brien on Thursday, 3 August, at the age of 76, after a lengthy hospital confinement.

    A loquacious individual, which earned him the nickname Kenny O’Burble, Ken was a member of Cygnet for a relatively short space of time (1981–84), yet no one could deny that he left his mark.

    Ken initially joined the club as a social member and swiftly set about running the 300 Club (with Phil Beckett, an unlikely combination) and organising social fixtures from afternoon teas to stag nights at the White Hart. A people person at heart, he had a knack of lubricating the wheels of social intercourse, often keeping us late into the night at the club bar or the Sun Inn, one of our favourite haunts at the time.

    Always up for a party, Dave Jillings recalls “Kenny throwing petrol on the bonfire at a CRC/CSLRC Guy Fawkes night with predictable consequences. When he arrived at A&E they said he was the first casualty of many they were expecting that evening”. Singed eyebrows notwithstanding, it was “his irrepressible optimism and bounciness that made him so likeable, and I hope that is the main thing he will be remembered for”.

    In 1982 Ken surprised everybody by announcing that he had decided to join the ranks of the active rowing squad. Not the most obvious physical build for the sport, he nevertheless defied the naysayers, thundering around the Chiswick gym on Tuesdays, weightlifting on Wednesdays and jogging round the five-mile run on Thursdays. Few could doubt his sheer determination; stones of weight were shed, and he made his debut competitive appearance in the 1983 Head of the River Race, rowing at bow.

    However, his greatest achievement afloat was winning Novice Vllls at Hammersmith Regatta a few weeks later. Coxed by Colin Dominy, the crew was a sight to behold ranging between tall and short, large and small, young and old. Nonetheless, once in motion it proved to be an unstoppable force, cruising to an easy win in its maiden regatta. Further regatta appearances followed, culminating in the Rhine Marathon, all 42kms of it, a true feat of endurance as fellow crew member Charles Pepino recalls, “but we lived to tell the tale and sink one or two Altbiers afterwards”.

    Professionally, Ken was an insurance broker, which played to his people skills. However, he was never at one with the paperwork and saw his true calling in life as proprietor of a local wine bar, plying the upwardly mobile of Barnes with vodka cocktails in the then defunct Waterman’s Arms, opposite the boat club. Market research followed with flurries of questionnaires handed out at Barnes Station. Sadly, his bankers were less convinced and it remained a pipe dream but, such was his indomitable spirit, he clung to the scheme for years afterwards. One wonders what he would have had to say about the Waterman’s latest incarnation as a cocktail bar and fancy restaurant.

    Ken had given up active rowing by the mid-1980s, but he remained a fixture on the social scene and never more so than at semi-annual gatherings with our companion club Benrath in Germany. The accompanying photograph was taken following the 1983 Rhine Marathon with Ken characteristically centre stage. Benrath found Ken something of an enigma leading one of them to ask “What is the function of Kenny in your club”. The answer must surely be “all of the above”; he was fun to be around and just carried on regardless.

    Ken’s funeral will be held at 2.20pm on 11 September at Kingston Crematorium, Bonner Hill Road, Kingston KT1 3EZ. All welcome.

    Paul Rawkins, August 2023


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  • Tim Senior

    Author: Neil Pickford |

    27th February 2023

    Timothy James Senior

    1971 – 2023

    It is with great sadness that we record the untimely death of Tim Senior at the age of 51. Tim collapsed and died while competing in the Henley Fours and Eights Head on 11 February 2023. A highly accomplished individual both on and off the water, for many of us our most recent memory of Tim will have been at the University Boat Race in 2022, when he was much in evidence as the new Chairman of the Boat Race Company.

    Tim enjoyed an illustrious career as an oarsman on the Cam, the Isis and the Tideway and was rarely far from a boat throughout his lifetime. Here at Cygnet, we like to think we played a small but decisive part in his rowing achievements. Tim rowed in some of the most successful crews at Cygnet during the 1990s, not least an entry for the Henley Wyfold lVs in 1996 which won several heats, greatly raising the club’s profile at that time. For me, there was the added satisfaction of watching the crew power its way down the Henley course in a boat bearing my name.

    Memories of that era are best told by some of the crew mates he rowed with at that time, notably Mark Davies, who was club captain, and Guy du Parc Braham. Guy was the first to break the news, which reached us on the eve of the club’s 133rd birthday, thus enabling us to take a moment to remember Tim.

    Guy wrote: “I have just heard that Tim Senior, Chairman of the Boat Race Company and ex-Cygnet member, died tragically today while racing at Henley 4s and 8s. Some of you will remember Tim rowed with us in the mid-90s. I was in crews with him that raced at HRR as well as in various Heads. I think Paul (Club Historian) has previously described this period as our most successful for the club. My strongest memory of rowing with Tim was not Henley Royal but the best Cygnet race I ever had, which was the Business Houses Head of 1996. It was a perfect piece of rowing from start to finish. We won the whole event by more than 40 seconds”.

    Mark Davies has since penned a more fulsome account of his memories of Tim which is reproduced in full here:

    My memories of Tim are of a highly confident and motivated individual who joined Cygnet in the mid-1990s as a civil servant fresh from Uni and with no rowing points but with plenty of ambition and rowing experience gained at Cambridge University.

    His rowing status meant he was eligible to row any level including Novice and Senior 3 crews which my predecessor as Captain, Chris Shea, selected him in (as would any canny captain juggling points to construct competitive crews) but then left it to others, like me, to break the news to him knowing that the reaction would be less than ecstatic. The best way to avoid selection in those crews was to win many races, which Tim subsequently did at such Cygnet regatta favourites as St Neots.

    He was always destined for better things and a few years later in 1996 with the maximum twelve rowing points accumulated Tim was in the VIII that won the Business Houses Head Race by nearly a minute, one of the finest VIIIs rows I’ve had.

    He was also in the Elite 4– crew that had many successes that year and beat two crews at Henley Royal Regatta to reach the Friday, traditionally club day for Cygnet.

    Shortly after that Tim moved on to London RC and latterly UTRC.

    In the Cygnet elite 4- crew he was easily the most dedicated to training, achieving phenomenal ergo scores. In the run up to Henley following a relatively disappointing Metropolitan Regatta, Tim proposed an ‘alcohol ban’ as part of a ramping up of our efforts; this was initially met with incomprehension and the proposal was negotiated down to (I believe) something close to one alcohol unit/day. However, he was less than pleased when at a subsequent training outing one of the crew announced he’d already had his monthly quota the night before.

    Another thing that was anathema to Tim was quiet reflection: after warming up for the HRR qualifiers we had an hour or so before going afloat so the crew decision was to leave the busy boating area, sit quietly in the car and focus, gathering thoughts conserving energy etc. Not Tim: after less than a couple of minutes he exploded with nervous energy, burst out of the car and had to pace up and down for the remaining time.

    I like to think that differences of approach within a crew are part of what makes a successful crew - a bit of antagonism but pulling together when it counts. Tim helped to provide that focus for us.”

    Tim’s father, Eddie, recalls with great pride “the privilege of following the Umpire’s launch several times at Henley”. The Senior family would be very pleased to hear from anybody at Cygnet who rowed with Tim. Please share your thoughts and memories in he comments below. If you would like to email Tim's father, Edward, please contact the webmaster who will forward on details

    Tim is survived by his wife, Sarah, a daughter and two sons, both of whom have turned into very able oarsmen (courtesy of Radley College), as has a niece, Alice, who has taken to coxing like a duck to water. – the legacy lives on! Tim's family have also donated a trophy to Cygnet to be presented to the most promising novice.

    A private funeral for close family will be held in Kent; a service and celebration of Tim’s life will be held in Henley at a later date (to be advised by the family).

    Paul Rawkins, February 2023

    Tim Senior

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