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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
3rd December 2020
1950 - 2020
It is with great sadness that we record the death of Greg Steene, who died suddenly on 20th November at the age of 70.
Greg joined Cygnet in the 1970s; a solid stroke or bow side man (see photo below), he powered several Vllls over the head course and proved to be a timely addition to the Plumtree Vlll of 1977, securing several senior B pots in the process at Staines and St Neots regattas.
For a club steeped in the ways of the Civil Service - most members were still public sector employees - Greg was a breath of fresh air hailing, as he did, from the world of boxing. Henceforward, après rowing took on a whole new meaning. Contemporaries, myself included, recall an action-packed night at the ring side in Clapham Town Hall, where Chairman Nick Wylie emerged speckled with blood, and he was only a spectator. Phil Beckett tried to engage an attractive young woman in conversation, only to be informed that her boxing beau was not best pleased.
On hearing the sad news, Dave Wynne, another contemporary, said 'I was thinking about Greg only the other day, about sharing a flat and rowing a novice four with him'. Others recollect a weekend at Stourport Regatta where Greg kept the whole camp site awake all night recounting jokes and bawdy tales that nobody could remember the following morning. Few pots were won on that day.
Jackie, Greg's wife, who survives him, was not above joining the fray, steering Greg and Mike Evans in non-status pairs at Llandaff regatta, notwithstanding warnings that she would need a stomach pump if she fell in. Still, as Mike wryly reflected, it was 'a trip noted more for the visit to Barry Island for the 2.00am bar rather than the rowing'.
Mike reminded us all of Greg's wedding reception where we rubbed shoulders with all the great and the good of the sparring fraternity. Evans sat on a table for non-family guests: 'Conteh, Ted Moult and some other long forgotten show biz types, lots of former boxers and a couple of Krays (but not the twins!). Conteh felt that rowers had much to learn from the boxing community, but not on the drinking front where there was an unmistakable meeting of minds.
A legendary boxing manager and match maker, Greg drifted away from the club and we had not seen him for some years. However, for those of us who were lucky enough to know him, they were memorable times indeed. Greg's son Aleck would be pleased to hear from anybody who would like to share their memories of Greg by posting in the comments below and they will be forwarded to his family.
Paul Rawkins, 2nd December 2020
2nd December 2020
1943 - 2020
Once in a while, the death of a Cygnet alumnus mines a deep seam of contemporary consciousness: David Webb, an irrepressible 'wet-bob' of Olympian repute, who has died at the age of 77, was just such a man. In early July, his son Nicolas wrote to inform us of his father's sad demise in the hope that someone might remember him; he was not disappointed - within hours a tsunami of memories poured forth from his fellow crewmen, some of whom had not been in contact with each other for decades.
David (Anthony) Webb joined Cygnet in 1970, his short stature and well-honed vocal cords marking him out as a coxswain from the outset. He was initially let loose on a novice lV - Gary Fettis, Jeremy Berrisford, Stuart Fraser and Richard du Parcq - subsequently steering a host of club crews to victory, culminating in Cygnet's first post-war entry (in Thames Cup) at Henley Royal Regatta in 1972 and again in 1973.
Official club photos of the time (below) show David immaculately turned out in his coxswain's regalia (front row, second from right), his inventive mind always thinking ahead. Gary Fettis recalls 'I remember his sartorial elegance which carried through to everything he did. There were no built-in speaker systems in the '70s, so David took it upon himself to install one in our Vlll and very neat it was too with all the speakers placed inside Harrods' plastic bags to keep them dry'.
Other Cygnet contemporaries remember an insatiable socialite who always knew where the best parties were and, more to the point, how to gain entry to them. Norman Cowling wistfully recounted how 'he frequently tried to get us to drink what he called an Evelyn Waugh noonday reviver - a lethal mix of Guinness, gin and ginger beer - I never knew if it was his own invention'. By the time of my era in the 1980s it had become the Tideway tonic.
Then, as now, 'club hopping' was not uncommon. David decamped to Thames Tradesmen RC in 1973 and thence to London RC where he steered the well-known and successful pair of McLeod and Christie, which gave him his entrée to the 1976 Montreal Olympics. A second Olympic appearance with the same duo followed in Moscow in 1980. At Cygnet, it remains a source of enduring pride that the 1972-3 crews produced two world-class GB competitors: David in the Olympics and Stuart Fraser in the World Championships (1975-76).
Aside from rowing and gate-crashing all the best venues in town, David retained a lifelong interest in music and the arts. He played violin and piano to a high standard early in life, mastered the art of conducting and went on to play percussion in the National Youth Orchestra. At Oxford, he read Greats/Classics at Hertford College, albeit without much enthusiasm, before heading north to complete a degree at Hull (where he apparently made Larkin's acquaintance).
The world of work brought new challenges, initially as a manager for the Festival Ballet/English National Ballet, followed by careers in the Civil Service and British Telecom. Retirement in East Sussex with wife Veronica held many happy hours playing the piano, watching sport, smoking his pipe and cigars and quaffing the occasional ale or two.
But perhaps the last word should go to son, Nicolas: "many thanks for passing on the message (of his passing) to his Cygnet contemporaries, it's been enormously heart-warming to read the anecdotes and memories. Old teammates are more than welcome to post their memories in the comments below and they will be forwarded to David's family.
Paul Rawkins, November 2020