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Archive for April, 2012

Bert & Dickie — a double whammy

Posted by rowingvoice on April 30, 2012

Bert (Matt Smith) and Dickie (Sam Hoare) prepare for the 1948 Olympic final


The difference between the last Olympic games in London and the present extravaganza is the length of a 4.5 mile Doggett’s Coat & Badge race, let alone an Olympic 2000-metre rowing course. 1948 was an austere world in a black and white age of rationed food and make do, a time of recovery and recharge by a reforming government swept into power after a devastating war with devastating consequences.  Three years into the peace, Britain volunteered to host the Olympics, and organised them on a whim and a prayer without a budget.

Bert & Dickie plunges you straight into this world of high hopes and low snobbery. It’s a watery-eyed drama about how Bert Bushnell and Dickie Burnell came to win the double sculls in 1948. By that I don’t mean that it’s soppy; it’s a story of ambition and class that I reckon will touch your tear ducts when the BBC releases it on the box before the Olympics, as it did mine.

Bert & Dickie plumps you straight into a shadowy world where Lords Burghley and Aberdare try to convince an uptight prime minister,  Clem Attlee, and his chancellor, Harold Wilson, that the games will attract tourists and pay their way. Meanwhile, along the Thames valley, the wiry Bert Bushnell, late of Henley Grammar, apprentice marine engineer and tester of MTBs is determined to secure the single sculling place in the British team, while Dickie Burnell, late of Eton, Oxford and the Northumberland Fusiliers, British Council employee and rowing scribbler for the Times, is determined to scull in the double.

At Henley Royal Regatta, the Olympic selection regatta, it went belly up for both of them. The Aussie Merv Wood beat Bert and Tony Rowe was picked for the Olympic boat. Dickie and his partner Winstone were beaten in the double, and John Pinches then refused to partner Dickie on the principle that he hadn’t undergone a trial. Jack Beresford, with five consecutive Olympic medals round his neck before the war, was selector and coach and persuaded, or you could say ordered, Bert and Dickie to jump in the same boat and get acquainted only five weeks before the Olympic regatta at Henley.

The new double’s experience and pathway to the peak of British rowing couldn’t have been more different. Bert (played by Matt Smith – Dr. Who, not the FISA boss) rowed for Maidenhead and his father (Douglas Hodge) was classed as a professional because he owned a boatyard. Bert was shown the way to the back door in Leander when the two of them began training there. Dickie (played by Sam Hoare) was a Blue whose father, Colonel Don Burnell (Geoffrey Palmer), won an Olympic gold in the Leander eight in 1908. No pressure, then.

The story of how the outspoken Bert and the reticent Dickie came to respect each other’s opinions and each other is cleverly told in William Ivory’s script and David Blair’s direction — how Bert persuaded Dickie that their rigging needed to be changed and how Dickie persuaded Bert that they must move through the competition via a repêchage in order to avoid the favourites until the final. And how minimal a part Beresford, victor of the 1936 doubles with Dick Southwood over Germany in front of Chancellor Hitler, seems to have played. He was mentor rather than coach.

Of course, the actors’ sculling in the film is abysmal, but don’t let that put you off. It’s hidden well. The interaction of the characters, the pace of events, the social reality and hints of change around the river, the boathouses, the sport and the country weave deft threads around two men who began by eye-balling one another and finished by striking gold from an unlikely beginning.

In the rest of their lives they got on well, Bert used to say, because neither bore grudges. That is a fitting epitaph for himself, always sharp, always the straight talker, and Dickie, always the good-natured argumentative iconoclast and scribe.  If Bert & Dickie was a book, you wouldn’t want to put it down.

Let’s hope that this drama – how inspired of the BBC to commission it — leads to a sequel. The story of Ran Laurie and Jack Wilson and how they won the coxless pairs in 1948 is just as teasing and just as dramatic as Bert’s and Dickie’s.

Cbristopher Dodd 


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Dead heat to Cambridge by 4.25 lengths

Posted by rowingvoice on April 7, 2012

Rowing Voice magazine 6-2 now out – see to download.  The events of Saturday 7 April rather overtook us but in this month’s issue:

  • After Great Britain name their crews for 2012, Katherine Grainger talks about the pressure of being a favourite to collect the country’s first ever women’s Olympic gold and partner Anna Watkins says, “It can’t all be about not getting another silver medal. After all, for me, silver would be a step up.”
  • With five men still in line for the GB four and five more for the quad, we look at the questions that still remain over GB’s London line-ups, ask whether Britain can remain the top Olympic rowing nation and look at selection elsewhere.
  • We discuss whether the Boat Race has become a retirement home for former internationals or is still the nursery for future Olympians.  And how, two weeks ago, the women’s event showed how much work the clubs still have to do before their Tideway move in 2015.
  • Coach Alex Henshilwood explains why he sees the finish as the foundation of the rowing stroke and a sports osteopath looks at how to avoid pain in the patella.

Meanwhile, here is a launch’s eye view of the action on the Thames on Easter Saturday

158th Boat Race

Truly it can be said that the 158th Boat Race was a race of two halves. All predictions were off. The first ten minutes was probably the closest Boat Race we’ve seen since 1829, but ended in a dead-heat farce when a suicidal swimmer in a wet suit dived below the surface to avoid Oxford’s blades, was picked up by the Umpire’s launch, and cuffed when the police got to him.

The second half started alongside Chiswick Eyot half an hour after the incident with the crews level. Chiswick Steps were passed 35 seconds later, Garrett raised his flag and warned Oxford, there was a clash, Oxford’s No 6, Hanno Wienhausen, found himself rowing without a spoon on his loom, and frig-rigged Cambridge romped away. Dark Blue cox Zoe de Toledo tried her own semaphore at Garrett, to no avail. The Light Blues had three lengths at Barnes Bridge and were thirteen seconds ahead at the finish.

De Toledo raised her hand under Chiswick Bridge, and Garrett explained that because crews are responsible for their own mishaps, Oxford were being warned at the time of clash and Cambridge were in their rights on the river, the appeal was turned down.

That was not the end of the drama, either. Oxford’s bow man Alex Woods collapsed in the boat, was transferred to the Oxford launch Bosporos and eventually taken to Charing Cross Hospital where his condition was described as stable. His heart may have stopped but he was conscious when eventually transferred to an ambulance from Bosporos.

And so, back to the beginning. Many pundits had expected the lighter Oxford crew, artists of the clean quick start, to streak off and stretch away to close the door in the opening minutes. Instead they found Cambridge, toss winners on the Surrey station, hanging on and looking strong.

It was hard to judge from Majestic, the press launch on the Surrey station, but the most that Oxford went ahead was about two seats at the yellow buoy (known as the black buoy). At Barn Elms the crews were level — and close together, which caused umpire John Garrett to exercise a lot of semaphore, much of it directed at both coxes simultaneously. Oxford went ahead again by a shade before the Mile but were fractionally apart as the flag dropped. At Hammersmith Bridge there was nothing between them, either going into the bridge or, remarkably, coming out of it when Cambridge’s Ed Bosson ensured that he kept Toledo over to Middlesex. Mind, Bosson got some flag from Garrett before the bridge.

Approaching St Paul’s slipway Cambridge were up by three or four seats but at the blue window of the late Julian Trevelyan’s studio — roughly half way — the Cambridge advantage was again under threat. Here, along the long Middlesex bend, was where the Light Blues were supposed to excel, to bring their mighty engine into play and wear down the darker lightweights (comparatively speaking, that is). But no. Rather, despite the Cambridge running and how, Oxford  kept on going, and with the crews level at Chiswick Steps, we were all set for a duel at the Crossing and a belter round Duke’s Meadows where Oxford would regain the bend advantage.

Alas, it wasn’t to be. The race was stopped by a swimmer, a swimmer with, it seems, evil intent. Assistant umpire Sir Matt Pinsent, on the umpire’s launch, spotted him first. Garrett could do nothing but stop the race while the chasing flottila slammed into reverse and rode out the swell. The umpire launch driver Jamie Turner grabbed the wet suit and with one heaving stroke landed it on the deck, complained that the amphibian had caused Jamie’s chinos to get wet, and attributed a female part of the anatomy to him which even Rowing Voice has not the temerity to utter.

‘I found it very British,’ Pinsent said at a press conference later, ‘the way a swimmer swam out and stopped a great sporting occasion and we were responsible for rescuing him.’ The culprit was transferred to an RNLI boat and then to a police launch.

Half an hour later, the crews returned to the foot of Chiswick Eyot where Garrett judged they could be started alongside each other in a part of the river where neither was dis-advantaged. There was not much water between them. Oxford again began quicker and showed a little in front when after about 40 seconds there was a mighty melée. Wienhausen lost the end of his blade and Oxford were effectively down to seven men, though he rowed along with his handle and loom in good rhythm. Cambridge surged ahead. It must have been thrilling for Bosson, who according to the Guinness Books of Records holds the one for wake-boarding across the Channel (2 hours 12 minutes).

Oxford made a good fist of it from Chiswick to the finish, but it was a forlorn hope. To have their appeal turned down and their bow man Woods pass out marked the end of a bad day at the office. I daresay that Cambridge have mixed emotions as well, despite bringing their total in the series to 81 against Oxford’s 76, not forgetting the dead heat.

Oxford coach Sean Bowden said after the races:

‘Obviously our biggest concern is Alex’s welfare and it was good to see that he was conscious and taken off to hospital with good care. But this really was the product of the most extraordinary and unfortunate chain of events that have conspired against us to take away a win which I think we looked like we were about to take in the race proper.’

Cambridge men paid tribute to Alex as well. The trophy was not presented at the end of the race, so it was also a bad day for prize-presenter Mayor Boris Johnston (one theory is that the swimmer was Ken Livingstone).

Incidentally, a hundred years ago was almost as eventful. Cambridge sank off Harrods and Oxford beached to empty their boat opposite the Dove. The race was re-run on the following Monday, this time with an Oxford victory.

Christopher Dodd


Oxford versus Cambridge

  • Chiswick Eyot to race finish: Cambridge beat Oxford by 4 and a quarter lengths, 6 minutes 50 seconds
  • Start to Chiswick Steps +
  • Intermediate times (Cambridge first)
  • Mile 3.42; 3.42
  • Hammersmith Bridge: 6.42; 6.42
  • Chiswick Steps 10.23; 10.23
  • Race stopped after 10.32 minutes
  • Restart from Chiswick Eyot 30.48 minutes later
  • Chiswick Steps: 0.35, 0.35
  • Barnes Bridge: 4.01, 4.10
  • Finish 6.51; 7.04
  • Consolidated time (sum of two races): Cambridge 17.23; Oxford 17.36
  • Series: Cambridge 81, Oxford 76, 1 dead heat

Isis versus Goldie

  • Isis beat Goldie by 5 lengths, 16 minutes 41 seconds
  • Intermediate times (Isis first)
  • Mile: 3.42; 3.43
  • Hammersmith Bridge: 6.42; 6.46
  • Chiswick Steps: 10.23; 10,29
  • Barnes Bridge: 13.54; 14.05
  • Finish: 16.41 (new reserve race record); 16.56

Series: Goldie 29, Isis 19


Bow: Dr Alex Woods (Pembroke), William Zeng (Oriel), Kevin Blaum (Trinity), Alex Davidson (Christ Church), Karl Hudspith (St. Peter’s), Dr Hanno Wienhausen (Christ Church), Dan Harvey (Mansfield), stroke Roel Haen (Oriel), cox Zoe de Toledo (St. Catherine’s).


Bow: David Nelson (Hughes Hall), Moritz Schramm (Fitzwilliam), Jack Lindeman (Hughes Hall), Alex Ross (Caius), Mike Thorp (Homerton), Steve Dudek (St. Edmund’s), Alexander Scharp (St. Edmund’s), stroke Niles Garrratt (Hughes Hall), cox Ed Bosson (Pembroke).

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