Item 00417 - Geoffrey Page's portrait of Freddie Page

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Geoffrey Page's portrait of Freddie Page


  • c1950 (Creation)

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(7 April 1929-31 March 2002)

Biographical history

Chris Dodd wrote this obituary in the Guardian:

"Geoffrey Page, who has died aged 72, was the last survivor of a small band of rowing correspondents who were heavies in every sense of the word.
When I began writing on the subject for the Guardian in the 1970s, I was apprenticed to the Sunday Telegraph's Page, the Daily Telegraph's Desmond Hill and the Sunday Times' Richard Burnell, eccentric fanatics who were masters of the stopwatch, judges of fine blade-work, thorns in the side of selectors, and barstool coaches par excellence. They were also a discerning panel on wines, beers and firewaters of the world, and could Hoover a buffet like no one else. Their arguments were radical, and they seldom agreed about anything.

Hill and Burnell died some years ago, leaving only Geoffrey, who started with the Sunday Telegraph in 1967 and moved to the daily in 1984. His surname was unnecessary for recognition purposes on regatta courses from the Tideway to Tasmania.

Brought up in Barnes, south-west London, his early life was spent in a house with a tower, and views of a large segment of the Boat Race course. He was marinated in rowing at St Paul's school, where his father was a brilliant languages teacher who coached rowing before becoming secretary of the Amateur Rowing Association. Geoffrey rowed for London University while studying art at the Slade, and throughout his life mixed art, pottery, graphology, poetry, travel writing and family life with rowing.

Early rowing correspondents came from a school in which the rating watch ruled, and the prose was usually in the language of insiders. They were critics, not interviewers or profile writers, and Geoffrey always remained close to this approach. He seldom quoted rowers or coaches, recording their progress instead on multi-coloured charts in his neat handwriting, and latterly on an ancient laptop, an encyclopaedic back-up to his prodigious memory for names and results. He could pontificate to an infuriating pitch, but was also sharply outspoken when at odds with officials, and was learned and entertaining company away from the crowd.

A t Henley, he occupied poll position in the press box, with his glasses trained on the umpires' launches as he castigated them for bad steering. At Lucerne regatta, he stayed in the same room at the Hotel des Alpes each year, sipping large gin and tonics on his balcony overlooking the old town and the Pickwick, the rowers' favourite watering hole.

The height of his rowing career was a gold medal in England's eight, and a bronze in the coxed four at the 1954 Commonwealth Games. He sat in many of the Thames Rowing Club's crews and became captain, taught in Canada, and coached University College, Dublin, to win the Ladies' Plate in 1974, ending a famine of Irish Henley medals which had lasted since 1902. He chaired the Amateur Rowing Association's technical committee, and was a selector during the 1960s. He also wrote a sumptuous history of the Thames Rowing Club and co-authored the history of Leander Club with his friend Richard Burnell.

He was a harsh critic of the Olympic games but, at Sydney 2000, he relished the performance of the British crews, and failed to find fault with the facilities.

In his younger days as a teacher of art and pottery at University College School, Geoffrey and his wife Paddy, also a painter, would tour Europe in an ancient Volks- wagen camper van. They would often appear at the world championships with a barrel of plonk on board, the proceeds sometimes of a Geoffrey impressionist painting on the corniche at Cannes.

During the last year, a portfolio of ailments slowed him down. While in hospital last month, he was elected president of the Thames Rowing Club; he was also president of the British Association of Rowing Journalists, whose emblem of crossed pen and oar in a camera body he designed, though he was too large a man to get into even the groups' XXL polo shirt.

He had seen 57 Boat Races, most of them from the press launch as official timekeeper since 1969. He listened to last Saturday's race in his hospital bed, while the week of shenanigans at Putney was bereft of his part in the black arts of spotting a weak oarsman, picking a winner and arguing with editors about the number of words."

Rachel Quarrell wrote this for The Independent:

"A more passionate supporter of the sport of rowing could not be found than Geoffrey Page – lifelong oarsman, coach and rowing journalist. Although he could not make what would have been his 58th Boat Race attendance, he followed every stroke of last Saturday's thrilling contest on the radio from his hospital bed, and had been planning to watch the video when allowed home.

Born in Barnes, Surrey, in 1929, Geoffrey Page was destined to grow up on the river. His father, Freddie Page, five times captain of Thames Rowing Club, signed his son up as a cadet member of the Putney club at the tender age of six weeks. The young Geoffrey began his own rowing two miles upriver at St Paul's School, where his father taught, and was made captain of the school boat club for his last two years.

Moving to study art at the Slade in 1948, the enthusiastic Page was shocked to find a lethargic boat club at University College London. His mutterings about the "lack of spirit" ensured that he was elected captain of the club in his second term at college. Enlisting the help of several distinguished coaches, he set about reviving the club's fortunes, and in 1949 co-founded the London University representative boat club, gaining his Purple by rowing in the first UL crew to be formed.

In 1953 Page graduated to row at Thames, winning the Head of the River on his début for the club, followed by trophies at most of the major regattas. His own international aspirations brought him two medals at the 1954 Empire Games, although he rowed several times at Henley Royal Regatta without ever winning one of the coveted medals. He continued to coach, both at Chiswick Grammar School and at UL as well as Thames, and wrote his first book, Coaching for Rowing, in 1963. Page was proud to be appointed national coach and selector for the 1964 and 1968 Olympics, and continued his own participation, captaining Thames RC four times between 1959 and 1969, and elected President of the club early in 2002.

Nineteen sixty-five saw the beginning of Page's journalistic career, as first The Sunday Telegraph and then The Daily Telegraph appointed him their rowing correspondent. His acute coach's eye for technique and talent for description brought him a global reputation as a writer, and he soon established his favourite viewing spots at all the great rowing events. Journalism and rowing only clashed once, when, as part of the Oxford coaching team for the 1987 "mutiny" Boat Race, he felt obliged to step down from his involvement with the crews when he realised he was going to have to write about their problems in the national press.

The Boat Race continued to be his passion, and he wrote with an even-handed severity about both Oxford and Cambridge when they failed to live up to his high standards, although his heart remained firmly Dark Blue in private. One of the official timekeepers for the race, he had a grandstand view from the press launch for nearly 40 years, and would have loved to have been at last Saturday's epic battle.

Rowing at all levels continued to attract Page, even though in recent years age and health problems made it difficult for him to climb the steps of regatta viewing stands. Summoning the energy to attend the Sydney Olympics, he watched Steve Redgrave win his fifth gold, and provided the expert analysis last summer as Matthew Pinsent and James Cracknell won two gold medals in a day at the Lucerne World Championships. He never forgot the youngsters, however, and took particular care to encourage those just beginning on their international careers, rewarding success with approving comments in his Telegraph articles.

Page's early artistic leanings continued throughout his life, and he always described himself as a potter, although he also sketched and painted, producing several excellent portraits of rowing figures amongst his opus. He was a published poet, and became an accomplished graphologist, using his eye for detail to analyse the handwriting of those unwary enough to put pen to paper. As an archivist he wrote histories of Thames, UCL and Leander rowing clubs, the last co-authored with Richard Burnell.

As President of the British Association of Rowing Journalists, Page chaired the annual BARJ meetings, held in the press box over the river on the last day of Henley Royal Regatta, with laconic wit. He always managed to draw the meeting to a close in time for the first final of the regatta, ever aware of the real business of the day. This year's regatta will not be the same without Geoffrey Page, telescope to his eye, judiciously pronouncing the winner before the two crews are more than halfway up the course.

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