A CHRIS BRASHER MISCELLANY
|Christopher William Brasher CBE
August 21st 1928 - February 28th 2003
World Student Games Gold and Silver medallist 1951
Olympic competitor 1952
Empire Games competitor 1954
Four-minute mile pacer 1954
Olympic Gold medallist 1956
Sports Writers' Association of the UK Sportsman of the Year 1956
Sports Editor of 'The Observer', 1957-61
Columnist for 'The Observer', 1961-91
Co-founder and Chairman of the British Orienteering Federation 1966-69
British Sports Journalist of the Year 1968 and 1976
Head of General Features, BBC Television, 1969-72
Co-founder and Trustee of the John Muir Trust
Co-founder and Trustee of the Knoydart Foundation
Co-founder and Life President of the London Marathon
President Emeritus of the Association of International Marathons
President of the British Association of Road Races
Outdoor Writers' Guild Golden Boot Award 1990 for innovation in the outdoor world
Founder and Chairman of the Chris Brasher Trust
Commander of the British Empire 1996
Outdoor Writers' Guild Golden Eagle Award 1999 for services to the outdoor world
Chairman of the Petersham Trust 1999-2003
Ron Pickering Award for Service to British Athletics 2002
President of the Sports Writers' Association of the UK 2002
President of the Friends of The Ridgeway
Council Member of the Racehorse Owners' Association
Sports Industry Lifetime Achievement Award 2003
Founder of the Sweat Shop, Fleetfoot and the Brasher Boot Company.
Author of 'The Red Snow' (with Sir John Hunt), 'Sportsmen of our Time', 'Tokyo 1964, A Diary of the XVIIIth Olympiad', 'Mexico 1968, A Diary of the XIXth Olympiad' and 'Munich 1972'.
Member of Thames Hare and Hounds and the Achilles Club
Life Member of Ranelagh Harriers
|"I couldn't take it off that
CB on his refusal to accept an honour while Margaret Thatcher was in office.
"Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?"
Robert Browning - CB's favourite quotation.
"The image of the huffing, teeth-gritted bespectacled pacemaker in front of the loping Roger Bannister was the first public memory of him."
Brough Scott in 'The Sunday Telegraph', March 2003
"The gun fired...Brasher went
into the lead and I slipped in
facts of the first four-minute mile were that Chris
Chataway and I had the task of pacing Bannister for the
first three and a half laps so that he, relaxed behind
us, could unleash that fantastic sprint which he drew,
not from his physical strength, but from his nervous
energy. But to both of us it was not as simple as that.
We confessed to each other afterwards that we had both
dreamed of beating Bannister, of hanging on as he came
past and then taking him in the finishing straight. It
may sound farcical, but an athlete does not reason - he
only believes in the impossible.
Twenty-four hours after it was all over, after Chris and I had 'died' the second our tasks were completed, leaving Bannister to go on alone, all three of us went for a walk over Harrow Hill as the light faded. There was in that hour or two a closeness, man to man, such as I had never experienced before or since. We had trained together and fought together. We had been rivals and one man had proved himself incomparably the best. Yet there was no resentment - just a sweet relish of the past, a companionship of the moment and resolutions, idealistic all of them, for the future."
CB in 'Mexico 1968, A Diary of the XIXth Olympiad'
"As an athlete, I was a nonentity, a fraud. Roger had been overly generous in acknowledging what Chris and I had done. My one moment of fame, and I'd achieved it riding on somebody else's back. It made me desperate to show in some other event that it was possible for me to do something."
CB on his switch to steeplechasing
"One of my memories of Chris was in a 3000 metres steeplechase at the White City in the 1950s. He was with the leading group when he went crashing down at the water jump. He lost a lot of ground.... and his spectacles. But Chris found them in the water, got up and chased after the field whilst at the same time drying the lenses with a handkerchief, and went on to win the race."
Mike Rowland (Ranelagh Harriers)
"We would talk about the best runners and their coaches. Stampfl had great time for the Hungarian coach, Igloi, but after meeting with him Franz said that although Igloi was undoubtedly a great coach, he didn't have the ability to make a man go beyond the point at which he thinks he is going to die. If you were prepared to go out and die, Franz was the man to prepare you."
CB on his coach, Franz Stampfl
"My spikes weighed three and three-quarter ounces, and there were no lighter spikes for 12 years until all the synthetic materials came along. I was determined not to leave anything to chance. I had contact lenses made in case it rained at the time of the race."
CB on his preparations for the Melbourne Olympic Steeplechase
"Heavy shoulders, thick thighs, solid frame, almost bulldoggish. And typically English, game to the last."
British Olympic Association magazine, Melbourne 1956, reporting on CB's Steeplechase victory
"Blind drunk, totally blotto, with an asinine grin on my face."
CB on his condition at the Melbourne Steeplechase medal ceremony. It had been delayed following CB's initial disqualification and the press had kept him company in the bar.
"Well done the old scrubber!"
Telegram to CB in Melbourne from his training partners in London
"He is five per cent ability and ninety-five per cent guts."
Chris Chataway after CB's victory in Melbourne
"Many years ago while out with CB and Colin Miles, we were crossing the Thames at Teddington Lock when some wise guy at the kissing gate uttered the immortal words....'Who do you think you are, Chris Chataway?'. Hilarious to both Colin and me, but not so funny to CB!"
Ian Milne (Ranelagh Harriers)
"Afterwards Spike Milligan for the Goons protested that the umpire Chris Brasher had ignored a royal command to twist the game in their favour."
'Reynolds News' on the tiddlywinks challenge match between the Goons and the Cambridge University Tiddlywinks Club, 1958.
"I was interviewing the Duke of Windsor about the eminent heart surgeon, Michael DeBakey. The duke had been a patient of Dr DeBakey's, but, in answering my first question, he stuttered. That jolted me back to my youth and I stuttered. The duke thought I was taking the mickey. He was not amused."
CB on overcoming his stutter as a television reporter.
"The plot was launched in a pub, the Dysart Arms, close by Richmond Park. The cast included four men from the Pru, an actor, a retired surgeon and the deputy chief of the Economic Intelligence Department of the Bank of England. The motive was to prove that southerners are not so effete as northerners would have us believe. The location was to be on northern ground: the Pennines, that high, ridged backbone of England along which runs the Pennine Way. It is 267 and a half miles in length and it crosses the boggiest, the most desolate and mind-bending landscape in our island.
We used it as a racetrack for which we apologise and blame the northerners. It was, after all, a northern club, Clayton-le-Moors Harriers, who first set the record: in 1970 they took 34 hours 54 min 57 sec for those 267 and a half miles. Clayton are renowned for their fell running ability; they all live within easy distance of much of the Pennine Way. So there did not seem to be much hope of an ordinary London cross-country club being able to challenge them.
Ranelagh Harriers are such an ordinary London cross-country club. They meet every Wednesday and Saturday in the Dysart Arms, run a distance, according to their age, in Richmond Park and then replace the lost liquid with the assistance of a benevolent landlord. Like all ordinary British cross-country clubs, Ranelagh contains a high proportion of extraordinary, mildly eccentric, charming people. Naturally it was during one of those lost liquid-replacing sessions that the plan was born. We - I must now confess that I am a member - would try to hold Clayton on the mountains and then beat them for speed in the valleys.
Reconnaissance parties set off northwards; squelched over sodden moors; collapsed into northern pubs; consumed huge northern meals and large quantities of northern beer. By the end of May every one of the 105 sections had been reccied by at least one runner. And so one Saturday morning in the early part of this glorious summer we took up our stations along the way. It seems folly to believe that the carefully laid plan would work: 105 change-overs, often on remote cols, had to be made; 24 fragile athletes had to avoid injury; 16 drivers had to find their way over a total of some six to seven thousand miles in cars which must not break down.
follows a marvellous account of CB's own stages, alas too
lengthy to repeat in full here)
I was rather pleased when I ran down towards the road
near Crowden, where I had expected Chris to be already
sitting there in my car waiting for me. However, as I
descended, I could see my car was not there, so the
second of those twin Cs immediately started to dip. Was I
in the right place? Checking map and geography, it
certainly looked right, but it is amazing how the
unexpected can breed uncertainty. I waited half an hour
or so, getting cold and shivery as the hot sweat
congealed on me. Had I left the car in the right place?
Had it still been there when Chris finished his bit? (It
was an easy car to steal remember, in a very exposed
site, with the key under the wheel). Indeed, had he had a
problem, fallen, sprained an ankle, broken a leg,
we set forth. 'We' being Ian Macintosh, a man from the
Pru; Ian Milne, a boffin from the Central Electricity
Generating Board, henceforth known as the Sunderland man
(this was Brasher's journalistic license to make a good
story, much to my father's bemusement. I was born in
Wallsend which makes me a Newcastle man. Sunderland were
playing Leeds in the FA cup final and scored the winner
at the same time that I ran a leg two minutes faster than
schedule. Chris reported this as telepathic
inspiration....IM); and this middle-aged journalist. At
10.16am I took the first leg. It soon became obvious that
anybody abroad that day did not realise the importance of
this world record-breaking attempt because as I leapt off
the cart track to cross the first road a man in a green
Renault came hurtling up the hill. No dedicated athlete
should allow anything to interfere with a world record
attempt and I suppose he wasn't to know. We both came to
a grinding halt within two inches of each other and I
accelerated away making certain signs before he could
wind down the window and give voice.
have just taken part, for the first time, in one of the
best sports in the world. It is hard to know what to call
it. The Norwegians call it 'Orientation'.
Pratt and I met Chris at his office above the garage at
his house in Petersham to discuss another attempt at the
Pennine Way. After the meeting we walked across the
meadows to the Rose of York for a pub lunch. I remember
him discussing as we walked across the meadows how they
must always be saved and not sold for development. Little
was I to know that he would go on to be the prime force
to achieve that and many thousands of people in the
future have him to thank for what I believe is one of the
finest views outside a mountain range."
Mike Riley (Ranelagh Harriers)
"This is the end of a love affair. Every four years, since the beginning of the 1950s, I have renewed a brief idealistic existence with this woman who transforms pure physical effort into an experience of spiritual beauty. Now she is a raddled old tart. It is not her fault. The sceptical world has courted her too fiercely and to me and other romantics she is dying under this treatment. How can you explain that one is falling out of love. How can one rationalise the love itself. It is a chemistry that makes one believe, with utter faith, that the Olympics are something much greater than sport. They are an example of men and women of all colours, creeds and races living together in harmony, striving for that supreme excellence of body and mind".
CB on the Olympic movement in 'Mexico 1968, A Diary of the XIXth Olympiad'
"Are we quite certain that we know what fanaticism has done to sport? There are limits, and I confess that I have been extremely slow in coming to this conclusion. And the reason for that is that people, especially journalists, have always talked about impossibilities - like the four minute mile or climbing Everest - and yet others, the doers rather than the talkers, have refused to acknowledge these limits and were proved to be right.
I wrestle with myself with one part of me standing back, as a good journalist should, and observing that it is all getting out of hand and fanatical. And the other part of me, that part that needs to get involved and test itself against the impossible barrier, saying that these are just the thoughts of a middle-aged man who has lost the fire in his belly.
What distresses me is that utter fanaticism about the human body leads to utter neglect of the mind, and thus to a negation of that completeness of life - the quality, the frame of mind, which treats sport as only a part of life - not the be-all and end-all of existence".
CB in 'Munich 72'
"We must change completely the showpiece of sport, the Olympic Games. We must stop them being a gladiatorial, nationalistic fight - a sort of substitute for war between nations. This means exorcising all nationalistic manifestations. A victory ceremony in which individuals are honoured with the Olympic anthem and the Olympic flag is far truer to the Olympic spirit than the present jingoistic affair. That, I can remember, is what I believed when I was a competitor in 1952 and 1956 and it is now an utter conviction."
CB in 'Munich 72'
"I was lucky enough to enjoy Chris's hospitality on a number of occasions. Like many others I stayed at the Brasher cottage in Snowdonia where the only rent expected was a little nettle clearance or some hacking away at the encroaching rhododendron jungle.
A few years earlier it had been a quite different kind of accommodation. Thanks to Chris, Ivan Boggis and I were unofficial guests of the Olympic Press Village car park in Munich in 1972. Chris was there covering the Games for 'The Observer' and, because he wanted to travel on to an Orienteering event in Czechoslovakia afterwards, he had driven to Munich in his camper van. This became Ivan's and my home for the duration. A spare pass got us into the press centre and athletes' village and Ivan even blagged his way into the stadium with it on one occasion.
Chris expressed a wish to take a look at the marathon course, so we decided to run the whole route over three days of eight or nine miles per day. The blue line was already down on the road and as we followed it on the last section through the city to the Olympic Park we were joined by a motor-cycle policeman. Naturally mistaking us for Olympic athletes he accompanied us all the way back, roaring ahead to stop the traffic for us at each intersection. We lengthened our stride and picked up the pace in a desperate bid to look the part. I'd like to think it was Ivan and I who had been taken for athletes and CB perhaps our coach - were it not for the fact that it was Chris, of course, who was pushing the pace!"
Steve Rowland (Ranelagh Harriers)
"Chris liked a beer but whisky was perhaps his favourite tipple. In 1971 he obtained a hogshead of whisky from friends in Scotland. It was to come out of bond in 1981, Ranelagh's centenary year, and those club members with some money to spare bought shares in it.
Another time he was given twelve bottles of whisky and invited a number of us from the club round to the Navigator's House to help him out. His wife Shirley kept out of the way!"
Bob Maslin (Ranelagh Harriers)
"One evening in 1978 in the bar at the Dysart I happened to mention to Brasher that that year's Finchley 20 miles road race would be my 21st in a row. Chris was kind enough to turn the conversation into an article in 'The Observer', to appear the day after the race which in those days was held on a Saturday afternoon. But of course the article had to be submitted before I had actually completed the race. 'Whatever you do,' said Chris, 'For Christ's sake make sure you finish!!'"
John Hanscomb (Ranelagh Harriers)
"During a training run with Chris we were climbing up into Spanker's Hill wood and the sole came off my running shoe. I had to finish the run shoeless. Brasher was greatly disgusted but didn't ask whether they had come from the Sweat Shop!"
Bob Maslin (Ranelagh Harriers)
"After three days of walking my feet, clad in the conventional walking shoe of the late 1970s, were killing me. I wondered why I couldn't experience the comfort of a good running shoe".
CB on walking the 'Roof of Wales' route, 1979.
"I recall one Wednesday evening either late 70s or early 80s, a group of us were in the bar of the Dysart, combating dehydration. Chris came in, a crutch under each arm and one foot heavily bandaged. We were naturally very sympathetic and anxious to know what had happened. He had been walking in North Wales and field testing a new walking boot which he had designed. He said that he had tripped over his own feet and this was the result. I am sorry to have to say that amidst gales of laughter we were all of the opinion that the Brasher Boot would never be a success."
Rex Lofts (Ranelagh Harriers)
First Meeting of the Thames Hare and Hounds and the
Ranelagh Harriers, 1881.
They were turning down the gas lamps on the top of Putney Hill,
The fog was whirling up from Barnes, the evening very chill,
When faster than a Hansom Cab came three Thames running men.
They were going like the clappers for the pub was shut at ten.
They had whistled past the Windmill, they were clattering down the track
When all at once in front of them they saw another pack.
'A mystery, sir,' said one Thames man, 'Who they are I do not know.
They cannot be our second team, they're running far too slow'.
Those brave Thames men like young gazelles increased their fluent pace
And soon caught up the pack in front, for 'twas no equal race.
are you?' cried the Thames men, 'Why do you hobble thus?'
'We're Ranelagh!' came the bold reply, 'And our feet are killing us!'
Just then from out the darkness, padding through the night,
Came a hunched and gnome-like figure in an old tracksuit, once white.
He ran a while beside the pack then said, 'I see you're lame -
You should all go to the Sweat Shop - Brasher, sir's the name!'
And so the mighty Ranelagh were cured of all their ills
And together with the men from Thames they filled the Sweat Shop tills.
Now a hundred years have come and gone and we've run through many a race,
But the friendships formed so long ago have always stood the pace.
For runners come and runners go but friendship never ends,
So we salute you Ranelagh, our neighbours and our friends."
John Bryant of Thames Hare & Hounds, written on the occasion of Ranelagh's centenary in 1981.
all started in a pub, the Dysart Arms hard by that great
running territory known as Richmond Park - the home of
Ranelagh Harriers which, at the time, was 98 years old.
Men (no women were allowed to join until the club was 100
years old) drifted in from our Wednesday night run and
talked, over their pints of bitter, of this marathon
where the spectators never allowed you to falter - much
less drop out.
At the time, the early months of 1979, I was ambivalent about the most punishing event in the Olympic calendar - the marathon. Peter Wilson of The Daily Mirror, one of the greatest sports writers of this century, had taught me that the one event that had to be covered from start to finish was the marathon - an event which, he said, was always packed with human drama.
Obediently, I followed his guidance and will never forget the sight of two African runners, Abebe Bikila, of Ethiopia, and Rhadi Ben Abdesselem, of Morocco, their bare feet whispering on the ancient cobbles of the Via Appia, taking Rome by storm in the 1960 Olympic Marathon.
That was when I knew that if I was to understand this event which embodies courage and fortitude, I had to experience it myself.
But the prospect of putting one foot in front of the other for 26 miles 385 yards of boring road filled me with foreboding. I could run the distance on the glorious hills of Britain but to do it on the roads, watched by three cows and a dog, was surely the height of masochism. Until I heard these stories in the Dysart Arms - stories of an incredible event known as the New York City Marathon.
So I entered, ran, finished, flew home and then sat at my desk in the small hours of an October night and wrote the following article first published in The Observer on 28th October 1979".
CB on the birth of the London Marathon. Extracts from that Observer article follow.
"To believe this story you must believe that the human race can be one joyous family, working together, laughing together, achieving the impossible. I believe it because I saw it happen. Last Sunday in one of the most trouble-stricken cities of the world, 11,532 men, women and children from 40 countries of the world, assisted by one million black, white and yellow people, Protestants and Catholics, Jews and Muslims, Buddhists and Confucians, laughed, cheered and suffered during the greatest folk festival the world has seen. And at the end of it all the story was written in their faces - faces of contentment and happiness.
I'm sure that it was written in my face because I was one of those thousands who won the New York Marathon. For more than 10,000 of us who finished, it was a great personal victory over doubt and fear, body and mind. And for most of us, we won only because one million New Yorkers came out of their homes and holes to feed and water us, to make music and brotherly love and to be Good Samaritans to all who felt like dropping by the wayside.
I have heard the crowd shouting Sir Gordon Richards home in the Derby; the roar of the winning goal at Wembley; Olympic chants in four continents; but I have never heard such fervour as came from the crowd who cheer you as you approach the finish of the New York City Marathon.
Nearly 2,000 years ago, Paul saw a vision on the road to Damascus. Last Sunday millions of us saw a vision of the human race, happy and united, willing their fellow human beings to a pointless but wonderful victory over mental doubt and bodily frailty.
I wonder whether London could stage such a festival? We have the course, a magnificent course, but do we have the heart and hospitality to welcome the world?"
CB in 'The Observer', October 1979.
"Never ask the ratepayers to bail you out. Not a penny from the ratepayers".
Chairman of the GLC Sir Horace Cutler's terms for backing the inaugural London Marathon in 1981
"1. To improve the overall standard and status of British marathon running by providing a fast course and strong international competition.
2. To show to mankind that, on occasions, the family of man can be united.
3. To raise money for the provision of recreational facilities in London.
4. To help London tourism.
5. To prove that when it comes to organising major events, 'Britain is Best'.
6. To have fun and provide some happiness and sense of achievement in a troubled world."
CB and John Disley's aims in promoting the inaugural London Marathon
"Four days before the race Brasher toured the course with his great friend Ian Wooldridge, not in running shoes but in the back of a limo hired by the 'Daily Mail'. As Wooldridge recalled, 'The boot was loaded with champagne, we called at several prominent pubs for refreshment down in the Isle of Dogs stretch and had a lingering lunch at an excellent restaurant near Tower Bridge. Our time was something like 8.27.43, considerably outside the record. "Splendid," said Brasher, "I think we need a nightcap". We repaired to a Fleet Street bar where Brasher consumed a further two large gins and tonic, mysteriously produced tracksuit and running shoes from a bag and set off on the run back to his home nine miles away in Richmond'. Less than 100 hours later Brasher, aged 51, ran the Marathon in under three hours."
Duncan Mackay on the first London Marathon in 'The Observer', March 2003
"Many people came up to me afterwards and said it was one of the happiest days of their lives. So that made it one of the happiest days of my life".
CB on the first London Marathon
"In the first London Marathon we had a bet, 20 pints to 2 on who would be first to finish. I passed Chris after one mile, beat him by two minutes and he still owes me five pints!
I have no doubt Brasher is planning another marathon up there so I am taking my racing shoes with me when I join him."
John Hanscomb (Ranelagh Harriers)
"I was very fortunate to have run many times with Chris, whilst training for the first London Marathon. Every run was different when he was around. Always so energetic, innovative and extremely enthusiastic."
Ken Powley (Ranelagh Harriers)
"He's come up with some ideas over the years has Brasher. Good ideas. He's different, isn't he!"
Deputy Race Director Dave Bedford in the 1989 London Marathon programme.
"Nothing since Adolf Hitler and the Blitz has done more for London's community spirit than Brasher and the London Marathon".
"The Chris Brasher Sporting Life Trophy".
New name for the London Marathon winners' trophy.
"Had the campaign concerned a beautiful listed building, there would have been no question but to protect and conserve it. But because it is a very old, wonderful and priceless track it has been ignored and left unprotected from rural vandals".
CB on the Ridgeway path, which has suffered badly from use by off-road vehicles.
"He was a man who was never afraid to stand up for his beliefs".
Racehorse Owners' Association President Jim Furlong
"Every public action which is not customary either is wrong or, if it is right, is a dangerous precedent. It follows that nothing should ever be done for the first time".
Francis Macdonald Cornford - another favourite CB quotation. Restricted to 18 letters and spaces, he named one of his race horses 'Dangerus Precedent'.
"Statistics and its place in the evolution of medicine as an evidence-based science".
Title of the inaugural Chris Brasher Memorial Lecture at Kingston University, delivered on May 6th by Prof Andy Grieve.
"Last July, the Knoydart community made Chris their guest of honour at celebrations for the third anniversary of the buy-out. We, like others, travelled to Knoydart sedately by boat, but Chris - as always - did the journey the tough way, clambering over the mountains of the Rough Bounds of Knoydart and sleeping out overnight at 3,000 feet. He was in his 74th year".
Nigel Hawkins 'The Scotsman' March 2003
"CB's business success enabled him to finance all manner of good works in the outdoors, the mountains and the wild places of Britain. In central Snowdonia he secretly purchased a run-down eyesore of a petrol station and returned the site to green hillside. Word of all this somehow leaked abroad, and in 1994 in Florence a very embarrassed Chris was presented with a special award by Italian mountain-lovers as being the individual who had done most for mountain conservation anywhere in the world over the previous decade. He was greatly respected by hikers and climbers and many of us involved in the outdoors feel that a knighthood was long overdue - he'd have been a far more worthy recipient than most - but alas, he has died before our lobbying could take effect."
John Cleare in 'The Times', March 2003
"That this House pays tribute to the late Chris Brasher, Olympic gold medallist and founder of the London Marathon, for his life-time of service to UK athletics; recognises in particular his lasting contribution to athletics through the annual London Marathon which over the past 23 years has become the most important mass participation event in the world; notes that more than 32,000 people took part in this year's Flora London Marathon on 13th April, each of them covering a distance of 26.2 miles; congratulates the participants and their sponsors for raising more than £32 million for a wide range of charities; thanks all those in the organisation of the event; and looks forward to further equally successful London Marathons in the years ahead."
Colchester Labour MP Bob Russell in a Parliamentary Early Day Motion dated April 29 2003.
"The fourth World Cup for Mountain Running came to Keswick, Cumbria, in 1988 and, thanks to his association with it, the sports-shoe company Reebok was the main sponsor.
I remember him, one Saturday afternoon, in the Youth Hostel by the River Greta that was the event's nerve centre. There he was puffing away on his pipe with the sun streaming through the window, preparing his dispatch for The Observer. Brasher's pipe-puffing had been magic. He came up with unforgettable words that began 'It was a day made in heaven' and ended 'On a weekend of matchless splendour this old man is tempted to tread the hills to heaven'."
Neil Shuttleworth in 'The Times', April 2003
Compiled by Steve Rowland