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3rd May 2022
Francis Lawrence Caughlin
1926 – 2022
Anna Caughlin, Frank’s wife, contacted us recently with the sad news that Frank had passed away on 22 April after a short illness; he was 96
Frank Caughlin joined Cygnet in 1949 and counted Vic Reeves, Ronnie Lambe, Eric Wale and Brian Lovis among his contemporaries. The club archives are nothing if not exhaustive and his application form records him as a Clerical Officer in the Civil Service (the department is indistinct) living at West Hampstead.
He was one of the new intake of young members who would form the core of some of the most successful Vllls of the 1950s, commencing with a win at Chiswick Regatta in 1953, the crew of which are shown in the picture below taken on the lawn at the Civil Service Boathouse. Frank is the first on the left in the back row.
The win at Chiswick was Cygnet’s first notable victory in open competition since the end of WW2 and rekindled hopes that it would not before long before the club reclaimed the ‘Glory Years’ of the 1930s. Although this was not to be, Cygnet did nevertheless enjoy a spate of wins in Vllls throughout the remainder of the decade.
A very capable scribe who often wrote pieces for the Civil Service Sports Journal, Frank would later recall of this win ‘The Ronald Studd cup shone like a jewel on the top table at the Cygnet annual dinner….at the Bull at Sheen’. Warming to his task, he continued ‘this cup symbolises the re-emergence of Cygnet as an opponent worthy of respect after a long period of post-war obscurity’. The title of his article: ‘Cygnet R.C. for Henley?’.
Later articles would describe the success of Cygnet ‘Invitation (Scratch) Eights’ in August 1953 that attracted sufficient contestants to fill twelve Vllls - the changing room was packed to the gills - and Cygnet’s expanding fleet. Small boats were in short supply and Frank recounted the aura that surrounded the club’s latest acquisition, a coxless lV built for the 1948 Olympic Games, named after the club’s then president ‘Lewis Balfour’.
A future captain in the making, Frank opined ‘A cox’nless four is not a boat to be knocked about. She must be regarded with a deference due to her light build and fast speed. Heavy handed oarsmen should be kept well away…’. There were high hopes, sadly unrealised, that the crew rowing the ‘Lewis Balfour’ might reach the Wyfolds at Henley in 1954.
Frank would remain an active oarsman throughout the 1950s before ascending to the position of captain in 1960 when, for the first time in its history, Cygnet entered five eights in the Head of the River, a record that is thought to remain unbeaten to this day.
Although we rarely saw him in later years, he continued to take an interest in the club, while articles such as ‘Chiswick Rowing Gossip’ which he penned in October 1953 give us a sense of the great hopes and aspirations of that early post-war generation of Cygnets.
Frank’s funeral will take place at 4pm on Thursday, 12th May, at Worthing Crematorium, Horsham Road, Finton, Worthing BN14 ORG, when the family will pleased to welcome any Cygnets who may care to attend.
Paul Rawkins, 2nd May 2022
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
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
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.
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.
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
13th September 2018
G.J.W. (Barney) Frith
1937 - 2018
The past few years have taken a steady toll of those whom many older Cygnets fondly remember as the 'Last of the Summer Wine' generation. Named after the TV sitcom of the same name, these aged swans would regularly gather at the boathouse on Tuesdays and Thursdays to engage in some light training followed by a lengthy period of contemplation and reflection in the Cygnet bar. One of their number was Graham 'Barney' Frith who died on Tuesday, 4th September 2018, following a long battle with Motor Neurone Disease. He was 81.
Barney Frith joined Cygnet in 1961 and rowed with the likes of Mike Arnold-Gilliat, Derek Bush, Colin Dominy, John Ellis, John Hildrey and Len Huggett to name but a few. Although the sixties were not an era of huge success for Cygnet, Barney nevertheless played his part in securing such coveted trophies as the Twickenham Cup for the third time since the war, in 1962. Derek Bush recalls rowing with him in the club regatta and Len Huggett liked to relate the story of how Barney cost them a race at Kingston Regatta because he spent more time trying to swipe a swan than 'getting on with the race'.
Blessed with a head for numbers, Barney found his professional niche in the National Audit Office and apparently displayed a keen mathematical interest in gambling. Such attributes would later be turned to good effect playing the financial markets in retirement and picking potential winners for the Last of the Summer Wine horse racing syndicate.
Barney never allowed rowing to interfere with his social life. Contemporary accounts describe him as a 'young blade' for whom assignations with the fairer sex always held more attraction than 'jugging' it up with his crew mates after an outing. In the fullness of time, Barney met Miss Right - Brenda - and they married in the late-1960s. Rather than send a telegram, his crew mates penned an 'Ode to A Young Swan', which lamented the fact that Barney had hung up his blade and traded his carefree days at Cygnet for a life of domestic bliss.
Soon afterwards, the newly-weds moved away and started a family and Barney retired from active rowing. It would be some years before he resurfaced at the boathouse, having escaped the clutches of the National Audit Office, courtesy of an early retirement scheme. However, no sooner had he become a paid-up member of the Last of the Summer Wine set than he fell into the clutches of club chairman Mike Arnold-Gilliat, who dragooned him into the post of club treasurer.
Despite his accounting background, Barney was not a natural treasurer; he agonized over any expenditure, wrote a long committee paper outlining a doom scenario for club finances and concluded that the club should stop buying boats until further notice. It was not a match made in heaven and he and the post of treasurer were soon parted, much to the relief of all concerned. Doom mongering tended to be Barney's stock-in-trade and he would later emerge as a strident opponent of a proposed merger with BBLRC, condemning it as a financial accident waiting to happen.
Shorn of his official duties, Barney was free to devote himself to managing his share portfolio, honing his skills at bridge - he played a mean hand by all accounts - and entering into the full extra curricula activities of the Last of the Summer Wine set. One high spot he always enjoyed was the annual President's lunch at Henley Royal Regatta. The Friths had lived in Henley-on-Thames for a good deal of their married life and were well known on the bridge circuit, which continued to draw them back long after they had moved to Gerrards Cross in the early 1980s.
Barney was nothing if not a creature of habit. John Hildrey recalls that on their regular lunch time visits to the William Webb Ellis in Twickenham, Barney always brought a cushion (he suffered from a bad back) and always ordered ham, egg and chips. Many will remember Barney as a heavy smoker, but he rarely imbibed to the same extent as some of his less inhibited compatriots, preferring not to put his driving license at risk. This marked him out as an obvious taxi driver, a task he always performed with dignity and aplomb, decanting the likes of Mike AG and Len Huggett home to their respective front doors at the end of a 'heavy' day.
In later life, Barney fretted that most of his closer associates were older than him, presaging a lonely old age. In reality, the Cygnet social safety net was always close at hand and many older members will lament his passing. Barney's wife, Brenda, predeceased him by some years; he is survived by a married daughter, Helen, to whom the Club sends its sincere condolences.
Barney's funeral will take place at 11.45am on Tuesday, 25th September. Details are available here.