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Author: Neil Pickford | Date: 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
Author: Neil Pickford | Date: 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
Author: Neil Pickford | Date: 16th October 2019
David ‘Stan’ Collingwood
Cancer has claimed all too many of our rowing friends and colleagues lately. Sad to relate, therefore, its latest victim, Stan Collingwood, who died on Saturday, 12th October, at the age of 72, in St Theresa’s Hospice, Darlington.
Rowing is all about characters and one person who amply fitted the mould was Stan Collingwood. Many clubs can claim an association with Stan, but, at Cygnet, we like to think we got in on the ground floor, electing D.S.Collingwood as an active member in January 1973. Although his birth name was David, to the world of rowing he will always be remembered as ‘Stan the Man’.
Stan’s stay at Cygnet appears to have been brief and the club annals do not record him rowing in any competitive crews. Perhaps more surprisingly, he avoided any committee or organisational entanglements, although he would later return as an impressive finishing coach and organiser of the Business Houses Head in the late 1990s.
Stan would grace many Tideway clubs in his time, but no club could truly contain him, and he was always destined for greater things in the guise of umpiring, coaching, commentating and organising. Chairman of Thames Region was but one of the many posts he would hold in the rowing universe. One medium that was tailor-made for Stan was Regatta Radio at Henley Royal Regatta and he would spend many happy hours regaling listeners with ‘tales of the riverbank’ in between races before the drone took over.
Stan always brought experience, enthusiasm and bonhomie to all he did. In 1998 he accepted an assignment to coach an aspiring Cygnet entry for the Thames Cup at Henley, professing that it would be unrecognisable by the time his ten weeks were up. Walking over Barnes Bridge late one summer evening and watching a technically near perfect Vlll passing beneath, I can confirm that in this, as in all things, he was as good as his word.
Later in his working life, Stan was delighted to inform us that he had again become a Civil Servant and might even consider rejoining Cygnet. Although he never did, there was always a space at the Cygnet bar whenever he cared to stop by. He will be much missed.
Stan donated his body to science, so there will be no funeral. However, a Service of Celebration and Thanksgiving for the life of Dave ("Stan") Collingwood will be held at 10.30am, Saturday 16th November at Holy Trinity Church, Hounslow. Dress code: Colourful, as befits a celebration! RSVP to Linda Collingwood
Paul Rawkins, 16th October 2019
Author: Neil Pickford | Date: 6th September 2019
1966 - 2019
Ian Stephenson passed away on Friday 30th August following a long and hard-fought battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 53.
Ian, known to most of his Cygnet friends as Geordie, started his rowing career at Cambois Rowing Club in Northumberland, a few miles from his hometown of Morpeth. Having migrated south, he joined Cygnet for two years in 1988 before returning in 1997 via Curlew RC and Staines BC. On his return, he rowed in the Cygnet Thames Cup VIII at Henley Royal that year and remained a stalwart of Cygnet crews until 2013, when he slipped up-river to join the Quintin BC Veterans ‘Barflies”. Geordie continued rowing with Quintin throughout his treatment, only stopping in July, just a couple of months before his untimely death.
During his time with Cygnet, Geordie spent almost as much time at the bar as he did in a boat – and he was in a boat a lot – often combining the two activities, seemingly without ill-effect, as his collection of pewter will attest to. In retrospect, it may have been his fondness for socialising that accounts for his notorious reputation of always being late for outings, despite moving closer to the club.
Even after he stopped rowing for Cygnet and in a true demonstration of the club adage ‘Nobody ever leaves’, he could still often be found at the bar, getting a round in and talking to anyone that would listen; about the Glory Days; fishing; his latest eBay bargain; or his beloved Toon. Perhaps drawn there because it was in the boathouse bar where a particular Barnes Bridge Lady caught his eye and it wasn’t long before yet another boathouse ‘tradition’ was being observed: Geordie and T’s Wedding in September 2008 was well attended by members of both Cygnet and BBLRC.
During the early ‘noughties’ Geordie joined the Cygnet Committee as Social Secretary. This position combined his love of rowing and socialising and also formalised, for a while, his role as organiser of unconventional club events. These included an infamous and dangerously enormous bonfire one November, complete with a Guy made from kit abandoned in the changing rooms; an inter-club welly-wanging competition during Club Day; and the inception of the Cygnet darts team – which won its only match against the local pub team. He is also responsible for the gallon pewter tankard in the bar, from which many a-winning crew was required to take their victory drink – hard work for those winning in singles and pairs, much to Geordie’s amusement!
There’ll be very few people indeed that didn't like or get on with Geordie. Row hard, play hard appeared to be his philosophy yet he was a man who tried not to take life or himself too seriously. He was as comfortable taking the rise out of the venerable older members as he was the new novices, his closest friends or himself. And he had a lot of friends, most of whom will remember him as the unconventionally dressed northern bloke in the tight jeans and well-worn Led Zeppelin T-shirt, with a beer in his hand and a heart as big as his hair. His generosity knew no bounds and he will be sorely missed all along the Thames Tideway.
He is survived by his wife Tracey and young son, George to whom we extend our sincerest condolences.
Marjorie Israel & Neil Pickford, 6th September 2019
Ian's funeral will take place on Friday 20th September at 12:40 at Mortlake Crematorium, with a wake after at Mortlake Anglian & Alpha Boat Club. There is no dress code and faded rock band tee-shirts are optional! Please leave a message on Ian's Facebook page if you intend to be there. Failing that, please post a comment here and we will pass the message on for you.
Author: Neil Pickford | Date: 3rd July 2019
1933 – 2019
Richard Hext wrote to Cygnet recently to inform us that his father, Ronald Hext had died on 25th June, only days after his 86th birthday.
Ron joined Cygnet in January 1954 while working as a clerk in the Admiralty. Although he had no previous rowing experience, he quickly developed an affinity with the sport and soon found himself rowing in one of the most successful Cygnet crews of the 1950s, a Junior Vlll coached by Bill Peer and John Bull.
The crew made its debut at Chiswick Regatta on 26th May1956. Eric Wale, author of ‘Cygnet Rowing Club: The Fifties’, recalled that “The Vlll, meanwhile, had developed into an extremely effective crew – indeed good enough to win at its first regatta beating Westminster School in the final of Juniors by one length. This was an excellent result bearing in mind the large entry (17 crews) and clearly demonstrated that Cygnet again had a crew of considerable potential”.
That potential was amply borne out in the successive weeks and months of 1956 and early 1957. Thus, the crew won Junior Senior Vllls at Walton on 9th June, Kingston on 13th July and Staines on 28th July. These results continued a successful run of regatta wins since the early 1950s, echoing the ‘victory years’ of the Thirties.
C.H. Genever Watling, an earlier club history scribe, recalled Ron Hext "as a 'perpetual student' because of the number of years and different courses undertaken with various local authorities, to see him through from extra mural at Ruskin to a degree course at Keble". Ron subsequently taught economics at the local Further Education College in Rugby for many years.
His rowing career appears to have come to an end in 1957, but not before he rowed in the 1957 Head of the River Race, coming 34th in a time of 20.29, a very creditable performance. As luck would have it, Maurice Hart, who also rowed in the crew, recently sent the Club a batch of regatta and HoRR printouts from that period, along with a photograph of the crew. The crew was steered by Colin Dominy; both Colin and Maurice still appear from time to time at Leander lunches.
Ron was one of the longest standing members of the Cygnet 300 Club and continued to follow the Club’s activities with interest.
Richard Hext adds “Dad had a long and happy life, was a loving and generous husband to Judith, and father to Richard, Neil and Alison. He very much valued his time as a rower with Cygnets and his continued association with the club. He passed his love of rowing to his son, Neil and at least one of his nine grandchildren. He was very much loved by his whole family and will be sorely missed.”
Ron's funeral will take place at 3pm on Monday 15th July at Rainsbrook Crematorium in Rugby. Cygnet members would be very welcome.
Ron is seated first left in the front row.
Author: Neil Pickford | Date: 11th May 2019
1931 – 2019
Peter Jeffs, who has died at the age of 88, was a member of Cygnet Rowing Club for more than fifty years. Tall, charming and debonair, his energetic demeanour defied his years, inviting the description of an eternal Peter Pan. Indeed, on hearing of his death, one fellow Cygnet aptly summed up his demise as “Peter Pan returns to never-never land”. Others have lamented the passing of “a real gent” whose evergreen attitude to life set an example to us all. He will be sorely missed.
Born in 1931, Peter was always proud to relate how he grew up on a council estate in north Barnes, little more than half a mile as the crow flies from the then newly built Civil Service Boathouse, opened in October 1930. Little did he know it at the time, but this institution and its occupants would come to play a significant and enduring part in his long and active life.
As a school boy, growing up during the Second World War, he witnessed Battle of Britain ‘dogfights’ in the skies overhead and would proudly recount the day he stood and watched in awe as a German Messerschmitt skirted the roof tops over Barnes in 1940.
A bright young lad, Peter passed his ‘eleven plus’ examination and was offered a place at Sheen Grammar School for Boys. Having ‘matriculated’ in 1947, he had brief spells in the building trade and the Bank of Australia before joining the Air Ministry as a civil servant. National Service intervened in 1949-51, when he served in the RAF.
What followed was a remarkable ascent through the ranks of the MoD from lowly clerical officer to Assistant Secretary, Defence Sales, in 1971, ‘our man’ in Washington DC in 1976-79 and Vice President, Military Affairs in 1979-83. A mention in the 1983 New Year’s Honours List, when he was appointed a member of The Order of St Michael and St George (CMG), crowned a stellar career in the civil service. When Peter left the MoD for British Aerospace in 1984, then prime minister, Margaret Thatcher apparently let it be known in no uncertain terms that she regarded his departure as ‘regrettable’.
An all-round sportsman, in his youth Peter played football to a high standard at club level, latterly at Tooting and Mitcham, and seriously considered turning professional. He was also adept at cricket and tennis. Still, life off the playing field had its attractions, not least romantic ones: Peter met Iris and they married in 1956, before heading off for an overseas posting in Aden in 1958. Then, as now, these were unsettled times in the Middle East and Iris, heavily pregnant with their first child, narrowly escaped a bomb blast on the streets of the capital.
Word-of-mouth has often proved to be one of the most effective ways of recruiting new members at Cygnet. In Peter’s case, he was introduced to the club in 1966 by one ‘Jimmy’ Baker who he had met in Aden. Baker, who was accustomed to turning up at Cygnet on short-term leave and dropping into winning crews, persuaded Peter to try his hand at rowing.
Joining Cygnet at the relatively late age of 36 labelled Peter as a ‘veteran’ or ‘Master’ in today’s parlance. Undaunted, he wasted no time reinventing himself as an oarsman, teaming up with the likes of Len Huggett, Roy Ellison and Peter Roche. Together they carved out a role for themselves as a mean racing machine, whilst forging lifelong friendships. In Peter’s own words, “the old mans’ four had some great times” and was not without the odd piece of silverware. The high spot of their racing careers came in 1973 when they triumphed over Frankfurt, Germany and Barclays Bank to secure a win at the Vesta International Veterans Regatta.
One of the most senior civil servants to grace the ranks of Cygnet Rowing Club, Peter Jeffs always lent an air of authority to proceedings and was a natural choice for club chairman and chair of the Boathouse Executive. Regrettably for the boat club, these stints were often cut short by overseas postings: the Jeffs family decamped to Washington DC in 1976-79 and again in 1984-87, initially in the service of the MoD and latterly British Aerospace.
Still, every cloud has a silver lining and some of us were fortunate enough to enjoy the legendary Jeffs’ hospitality dispensed to any passing Cygnet stray, not least myself. Iris was always the perfect hostess.
In later years, Peter succumbed to the clutches of the “Golden Oldies” and rarely missed Henley Royal Regatta, often regaling us with tales of his long and eventful career and a life well spent, not least in the company of “the old man’s four”. Yet his grandchildren kept him young and he remained physically active, playing tennis and golf well into his twilight years. Indeed, his golfing handicap was more akin to somebody 10-15 years his junior. For many of us, our last memory of Peter will have been of him striding off to Victoria Station after a Christmas lunch in the Civil Service Club in December 2017, seemingly as ageless and timeless as ever.
Peter Jeffs’ funeral will take place at Randalls Park Crematorium, Randalls Road, Leatherhead, Surrey, KT22 OAG, at 1.15pm on Friday, 24th May and afterwards at The Royal Automobile Club, Wilmerhatch Ln, Epsom, Surrey, KT18 7EW. If you are planning to attend, please contact Sally Rawson on email@example.com.
Paul Rawkins, 11th May 2019