Tag Archives: Ray Middleton

Sports and Participation in the Post Office

As a summer of sport draws to a close, we take a look at sports and participation in the Post Office, through the research carried out by six students during the BPMA and University of the Third Age (U3A) Shared Learning Project at the beginning of 2012…

The U3A students

The U3A students

In the course of his research, Gwyn Redgers found that the Post Office has had a long history of participation in sports – much of which was initiated as a way of coping with split shifts. Postmen in the late 19th Century worked long hours, and often found their duties split into three or four attendances in a single day – meaning that many would start work at 6am and not finish until 10pm. Whilst some postmen took to the pub, others took up sports.

Members of the Gloucester Post Office Recreation Club, 1898.

Members of the Gloucester Post Office Recreation Club, 1898.

By the 1930s, most large towns had Post Office football, cricket and tennis teams and were starting to develop the more recent spread of sports and recreation Associations. Sheilah Lowe scoured the sports pages of The Post Office Magazine (1933-1966) for records of both these groups and of sporting individuals, and discovered a wealth of information – including stories about staff who competed in Olympic Games.

In 1952, the magazine notes that a Mr. K. A. Richmond, Night Telephonist (London Telegraph Region Directory Enquiries) was selected for the Heavyweight Wrestling at the Helsinki Games and took a bronze medal. A little online research revealed that Ken Alan Richmond was a former whale ship crewman in Antarctica, turned wrestler, with another significant claim to fame: he was the shirtless man seen banging the enormous gong which preceded the opening credits of the Rank Organisation’s films, such as Great Expectations and Kind Hearts and Coronets.

Sheilah also found that race walker Ray Middleton, of Golders Green sub-district Office competed in Tokyo 1964, finishing 12th in the 50km walk. Ray is a notable Post Office athlete, with a career spanning the 1960s and extending into the 1970s, during which he won 2 golds, 8 silvers and 4 bronze medals in British Championships and represented England internationally on 11 occasions. He won silvers at the 1963 Lugano Cup and the 1966 Commonwealth Games, and was the first winner of a postal sporting event that has taken place annually since 1962: the Postman’s Walk.

Sylvia Chubbs researched the history of this competitive speed walk event, which is open to postal workers across the UK, from novices to trained athletes. Covering laps of a one mile circuit around Coram’s Field near Mount Pleasant in London, participants originally wore full uniform and carried a sack. Nowadays, the rules are a little more relaxed – the sack is no longer required and shorts and trainers are allowed.

In 1970, 35-year old Ray Middleton led a team of British postmen to victory in the European Postal Road Walking Championship at Crystal Palace – beating teams of competitors from 13 other countries. An article in The Daily Mirror celebrated the success, whilst Ray was later named as one of the top celebrities of the year by comedian Charlie Chester. In September 2011, Middleton attended the 50th Annual Postman’s walk, seeing Dave Allen win for the sixteenth time – making him the most successful competitor in the event ever.

Ray Middleton at the 50th Postman's Walk, 2011, with BPMA Curator Vyki Sparkes and BPMA Access & Learning Manager Andy Richmond.

Ray Middleton at the 50th Postman’s Walk, 2011, with BPMA Curator Vyki Sparkes and BPMA Access & Learning Manager Andy Richmond.

From postmen stomping around London, we move on to look at stamps – the topic of research for three of the U3A students. Olga Selivanova became interested in a stamp she had collected in her native Russia. It showed the bronze statue “Let Us Beat Swords Into Ploughshares” – presented by the Soviet Union to the United Nations in 1959.

This artwork was inspired by a biblical passage (Isaiah 2:4) describing the conversion of weapons for use in peaceful civilian applications. The sentiment of this quote has obvious parallels with the peaceful ideals of the Olympic movement, with many activities related to combat – such as archery, javelin, shooting, boxing, taekwondo, and judo – practised in the Games, but always in keeping with the Olympic Creed and Values of friendship and respect.

Another such sport – fencing – was the subject of Pat Boumphrey’s research. She found many examples of stamps featuring fencing, including ones from places as diverse as Afghanistan and Vietnam. As a keen fencer herself, Pat penned a little ditty to inspire Team GB’s female athletes in advance of London 2012:

There are bad times just around the corner,
The horizon’s gloomy as can be.
The British male,
May often fail,
OUR FAITH IN SPORT IS SHAKEN,
So English girls awaken,
And save the nation’s bacon…

It certainly seems to have done the job: the Team GB women won 10 gold medals and 22 in total, making it their most successful Games ever. At least some of that success can be credited to Dame Marea Hartman. Ray Watkins found a stamp dedicated to Hartman, who is credited with the integration of British women athletes into full competition and parity with male athletes. She was Chairwoman of the Women’s Commission of the International Athletic Federation for 13 years, as well as the first woman to serve as President of the Amateur Athletic Association from 1991 to 1994.

Dame Marea Hartman stamp from the Famous Women issue, 6 August 1996.

Dame Marea Hartman stamp from the Famous Women issue, 6 August 1996.

Finally, to bring our story full circle, we return to Gwyn, who found the following quote from an early edition of the St. Martin’s circular. It shows that, as with many things, the Post Office led the way in encouraging British sportswomen:

Not the least of the many medical and scientific discoveries in the 19th Century is the fact that athletic exercise can be indulged in by women without injury to their bodily health. … we have discovered that, as a result of open air exercise, women retain their youth for a longer period than at any time in our history

from St Martin’s 1898, pg. 395.

– Andy Richmond, Access & Learning Manager

Post Office Olympians

by Richard Wade, Archives Assistant

The Post Office has always had many clubs and associations that its staff could get involved with, especially where sport was concerned. Most large offices had their own football, cricket or tennis teams, and Post Office staff have taken part in many other sporting championships besides.

Most of these sports had countrywide postal leagues such as the Courier Cup. There was also a Civil Service athletics championship in which postal workers often featured, and there were regional athletics competitions within the Post Office.

An article from Courier magazine (October 1968) about Post Office employees competing at the Mexico City Olympics.

An article from Courier magazine (October 1968) about Post Office employees competing at the Mexico City Olympics.

Given how seriously sport was taken it is perhaps unsurprising that there were more than a few people from the Post Office chosen to represent Great Britain in the Olympic Games. These athlete’s achievements were celebrated in the Post Office staff magazines, and by looking through these one can find out about a lot of the people that were chosen and their athletic achievements.

The following list should represent the large number and diversity of the Post Office’s Olympians. Only a very small handful of medals were gained by Post Office employees, but there were a lot of people who either took part or were shortlisted for the Games.

It is not always clear what happened to individual athletes, but if any information about their results is known it is included. If nothing is given then they certainly did not win any medals and in many cases may not have reached the final selection of athletes.

The period covered is from 1936 to 1988, excluding the war years when there were no Olympic Games. Before 1936, the staff magazines were in a different format and did not really celebrate the achievements of particular staff in the same way. Ending in 1988 gives a period of roughly 50 years which were studied and seemed a sensible place to stop as after this time; the Olympics really became dominated by professional athletes and the chances of anyone from the Post Office taking part would have been much smaller.

1936 – Berlin

  • Mr A. J. Norris from the Savings Bank department was chosen for the marathon. He had already won the Post Office’s polytechnic marathon several times.
  • From the Money Order department was Miss B. O. Crowe who was selected for the Women’s Gymnastic team.

1948 – London

  • This year had a poor showing, which was a shame considering these games were in London. The only person selected was Mr G. F. Ward for the 10m high board diving. He worked as a clerical officer in the Savings Bank department and already held the title for the Men’s High Diving Championship in England.

1952 – Helsinki

  • Mr K. A. Richmond, a Night Telephonist from London Telegraph Region Directory Enquiries, was selected for the Heavyweight Wrestling and took the bronze medal.

1956 – Melbourne and 1960 – Rome

There was nobody selected from the Post Office at all in 1956 or 1960, but these were the only two Olympic Games where this happened during the period I looked at.

1964 – Tokyo

The first of several Olympic Games where the Post Office was well represented:

  • Maureen Tranter, a telephonist at Wolverhampton, was shortlisted for the 220yd relay and went out to Tokyo, but in the end was not selected. At the age of 17 she was still young and had potential, as can be seen by her appearances in future games.
  • Ray Middleton from Golders Green Sub-District Office was selected for the 50km walk and finished 12th place out of 32.
  • Syvanus Blackman, a postman from Acton Sub-District Office, took part in the Light Heavyweight weightlifting and finished 10th place.
  • Kenneth Hill from the Postal and Telegraph Office in Liverpool reached the shortlist for the cycling team, but there are no further references to him, so presumably he was not chosen to go to Tokyo.

1968 – Mexico City

This seems to have been a good year for the Post Office with four people going out to represent Britain. Unfortunately, they did not bring any medals back with them, although several personal bests were achieved.

  • Maureen Tranter tried again, this time for the 200m sprint and the sprint relay. She got a personal best time of 23.5 seconds in the 200m sprint, bit it wasn’t enough for a medal.
  • Syvanus Blackman also entered in the weightlifting for a second time.
  • Mike Bull was the son of John Bull, who was a Belfast telephonist. Mike was entered for the pole vault. He managed 16’5″, a British record, but still one foot short of the winner and not enough for a medal.
  • Robin Baskerville, the son of Sid Baskerville (an Information Officer at Royal Mail Headquarters) was entered for high board diving and took part in the heats, but failed to qualify for the final.
An article about Post Office employees competing at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics from Courier magazine, October 1968.

An article about Post Office employees competing at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics from Courier magazine, October 1968.

1972- Munich

  • Maureen Tranter went out for the third time, this time in the 4 x 400m relay.
  • Phil Griffiths, a technician from Stoke on Trent, was a participant in the cycling.
  • Alan Almond, a technical officer, was a participant in the coxed fours.
  • Brian Brinkley, who was the son of Corinne Brinkley (a cleaner at the Head Post Office) entered in the 100m, 200m and 400m freestyle swimming. He competed in the heats, but did not reach the final. Interestingly, he went on to win bronze with three others in the 4x200m relay and reached the final for the 200m butterfly in the 1976 Olympics, but this does not appear in the magazine. Maybe he had left the Post Office in between.
  • Nick Nearchou, a senior mechanic in the London Postal Region, entered for weightlifting.
  • This is more of a sideline, but a notable achievement all the same so deserves a mention: the Olympics for the handicapped at this time took place every two years in Brussels. In this year, Jim Gladman, a night telephonist from Torquay, gained silver in the table tennis, a bronze in the shot put and came fourth in the discus.

1976- Montreal

  • Mary Stewart, a clerical officer, entered in the 1500m.
  • Phil Griffiths entered again in the cycling with Trevor Gadd, both of them technicians. Trevor finished 12th place in the men’s individual pursuit.
  • Peter Weston did not take part himself in the Olympics but did manage the archery team that represented Great Britain. He was a Technical Officer at London Telecoms West. The highest place reached by any of the archery team that year was 21st.

1980- Moscow

  • There was a possible Olympic hopeful in Steve Cronshaw, but it wasn’t clear whether he went to the Olympics, just that he was a strong contender to be selected.

1984- Los Angeles

  • Dennis Jackson and Benny Graham were both hopefuls for the 50km Road Walking, but again, but neither of them made the final selection.
  • Arthur Spencer, a Doncaster Sub-Post Office Assistant, finished 28th place in the free pistol shooting.

1988- Seoul

  • Mike Jones, who was a Security Driver at the Redhill Mechanised Letter Office, represented us in the hammer throw, but he did not make it through to the final.
  • In the Paralympics of that year however, Ian Hayden won gold in the javelin and discus and took silver in the shot put. He was an equal opportunities officer at Royal Mail Oxford.

As can be seen, although very few medals were brought back, the Post Office had quite a strong presence in the Olympic Games and considering they were competing against the world’s best, they did pretty well. In all the years researched, bar two, there was somebody representing the Post Office and in some cases there were several. There can not be many employers with that sort of a record.

As has been written at the beginning, this is only the tip of the iceberg as far as Post Office sport goes. There were also many national, international and regional competitions that Post Office employees took part in and the Post Office’s own sports leagues, all of which are reported on in the staff magazines, copies of which can be found here at the British Postal Museum and Archive.

For more information on other sporting heroes of the Post Office, including Albert ‘Tiny’ Sangwine who represented England at the 1924 Paris Olympics, please see the BPMA’s online exhibition Playing for the Cup.