On this day in history….18th May 1909

On this day in history : 18th May 1909 – The birth of English tennis player Fred Perry who – until Andy Murray in 2013 – was the last British player to win the men’s Wimbledon Championship….

Fred Perry – Public domain

Fred was born in Stockport – his father, Samuel Perry, was a cotton spinner but also a Labour Co-operative politician…. Due to his father’s political career the family moved around in Fred’s early years, living in Bolton, Lancashire and Wallasey in Cheshire…. When Fred was 11 they settled in Brentham Garden Suburb, Ealing, West London as Samuel had become the National Secretary of the Co-operative Party…. He then came to serve as the Labour Co-op Member of Parliament for Kettering in 1929….

Fred Perry’s birthplace – 33, Corrington Road, Stockport – Image credit : Zzztriple2000 – own work- public domain

Fred was educated at Ealing Grammar School for Boys and first began to play tennis on the public courts near to the family’s housing estate…. However, his first taste of sporting success was as a table tennis player – winning various titles and medals and eventually the world table tennis singles title in Budapest in 1929 – when he was 19-years-old….

Using the speed and aggressive techniques he had learned during his table tennis days Fred developed his own unique style of tennis…. At first his approach was not appreciated by the Lawn Tennis Association – who regarded him as being rather hot-headed…. There was also a certain degree of stuffiness from them because of his working-class background….

Considered one of the greatest tennis players ever it is no surprise that Fred was to become the first player to win all four singles titles in a Career Grand Slam…. He was to win ten Majors, including Grand-Slam and Pro-Slam singles…. He also won six Major doubles titles – and won the Wimbledon Championship three years running, 1934-36…. Always at his side through his sporting career, lending her support, was his sister Edith…. They also had a half-sister, Sylvia….

Fred Perry (right) with Pat Hughes, Sydney, Australia, 1934 – Public domain

During the 1940s he teamed up with Austrian footballer Tibby Wegner and the Fred Perry clothing brand was formed…. Starting out with the creation of the wrist worn sweat band – then going on to the classic Fred Perry sports shirt, which when launched at Wimbledon in 1952 became an instant success…. The brand’s laurel wreath logo is based on the original Wimbledon symbol….

Classic Fred Perry design – Image credit : Stylecountz CC BY-SA 2.0

Fred also had a colourful life off of the court and was popular with the ladies…. He was romantically linked with actresses Marlene Dietrich, Jean Harlow and Bette Davies and in 1934 announced his engagement to Mary Lawson – however the relationship ended after his move to the US….

He was to have a trio of unsuccessful marriages…. He married American movie star Helen Vinson in 1935 but they divorced in 1940…. He then married model Sandra Breaux in 1941 but that was to be short-lived; as was his marriage in 1945 to Lorraine Walsh…. Finally in 1952 he found ‘the right one’, when he married Barbara Riese – a marriage that was to last until his death in 1995…. The couple had two children, Penny and David….

Fred died in hospital in Melbourne on the 2nd of February 1995, after a fall in a hotel bathroom in which he broke his ribs….

On this day in history….9th September 1949

On this day in history : 9th September 1949 – The birth of English figure skating champion John Curry – the Olympic, European and World Champion of 1976….

1976 Press photograph – Public domain

John Anthony Curry was born in Birmingham…. As a child he wanted to be a dancer – but his parents did not see this as a fitting career for a boy…. So at the age of seven he took up figure skating instead, at the Summerhill Road Ice Rink, where he was taught by Ken Vickers….

Curry’s father died of TB when he was 16…. It was soon after that he moved to London where he was coached by Swiss figure skating coach Arnold Gerschwiler and gained his first British national title in 1971…. Then in 1972 he found an American sponsor, which enabled him to commit full time to figure skating – he relocated to the States to train with coaches Gus Lussi and Carlo Fassi…. Curry was to become British National Champion again in 1973 and held the title until 1977….

Under Fassi he was to achieve the European, World and Olympic Champion titles in 1976…. He was the first to win all three titles in one season – and the first British figure skater to win an Olympic Gold…. Curry brought men’s figure skating to a new level – with his elegant, ballet-inspired style…. He was awarded with an OBE….

After 1976 Curry turned professional, forming a touring dance orientated skating company – and establishing a skating school in New York in 1978…. He would both choreograph and direct productions and his Broadway credits included Icedancing in 1978, in which he both directed and performed – and as an actor in Brigadoon in 1980 and Privates on Parade in 1989….

In 1987 Curry was diagnosed with HIV which was then to develop into AIDS…. He returned to live with his mother for the last years of his life…. He passed away from an AIDS related heart attack on the 15th of April 1994 in Binton, Warwickshire….

On this day in history….26th August 1906

On this day in history : 26th August 1906 – The birth of English tennis player Bunny Austin – the last Briton to reach the final of the men’s singles at Wimbledon until Andy Murray….

Bunny Austin – Image credit (cropped) : Willem van de Poll – Dutch National Archives CC BY-SA 3.0

Henry Wilfred Austin got his nickname ‘Bunny’ from a popular Daily Mirror cartoon strip of the time Pip, Squeak and Wilfred….the latter being a rabbit…. It was a nickname that he carried throughout his whole life, as it had been his school mates who had given it to him….

It was Bunny’s father who pushed his son into a sporting career…. He was brought up in South Norwood, London in a large, comfortable family home which he shared with his parents and sister…. His was a middle class childhood, with servants and a public school education…. He joined the Norhurst Tennis Club at the age of six….

In 1921 Bunny won the under 16s singles in the Public School Boys’ Tournament at Queens…. In 1922 he won the junior championships in the singles, doubles and mixed doubles and then in 1923 the singles and doubles at the tournament…. Success continued to be his; in 1926, his first year at Wimbledon, he made it all the way to the men’s doubles semi-finals….

By the end of 1929 Bunny had ranked ninth in the world and for the next three years he was seeded sixth at Wimbledon…. It was also in 1929 that he met English actress Phyllis Konstantinos, whilst onboard a transatlantic cruise liner travelling to America for the US Open…. They were to become a celebrity golden couple and were married in 1931, going on to have two children…. Theirs was a life of glamour, with friends such as Daphne Du Maurier, Ronald Colman, Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin…. Bunny would often play tennis with Chaplin – he was even known to play the odd set or two with the Queen of Thailand….

Bunny Austin and his wife, 1936 – Image credit : Willem van de Poll – Dutch National Archives CC BY-SA 3.0

In 1932 Bunny reached his first Wimbledon singles final…. He was the first Englishman to do so in a decade – but he was to lose to American Ellsworth Vines in three sets…. However, in 1933 he was back and reached the quarter finals…. Then in 1938 he was to meet Donald Budge, one of the best world players of the era, in the Wimbledon final…. Bunny could only manage to win four games…. 1939 was to be his last Wimbledon – he was seeded No.1 but was beaten by American Elwood Cooke in straight sets….

The British Public had to wait until 2012 before another Briton reached the Wimbledon men’s singles final again…. Andy Murray went on to win the title for the first time in 2013….the first British player since Fred Perry in 1936….

Bunny Austin died in 2000, on his 94th birthday….

Hungary-England Davis Cup match 1929 – Bunny Austin far left – Public domain