OBITURIES - Hercules Wimbledon AC

Obituary to David Littlewood, MBE 18-07-14
Obituary to Jeff Fenge 24-02-10
Obituary to Andy Glover 24-02-10
Obituary to Mike Varah 24-02-10
Obituary to Vince Hancock 25-09-06
Obituary to Dereje Kebede 23-06-06
Obituary to Geoff Moulden 15-02-05
Obituary to Arthur Whitehead 23-05-03

Posted 18-07-14


David is presented with an IAAF Award by Lord Sebastian Coe

The athletics summer of 2014 was overshadowed by the death, on March 16th, of our club President, David Littlewood, MBE, aged 76. Tributes were paid from across the world of athletics to one of our sport’s best known and highly qualified officials. The litany of David’s achievements is extraordinary. He officiated at three Olympic Games, 26 World Championships, 5 Commonwealth Games and 4 European Championships – “plus a few Athletics World Cups thrown in!”

Inevitably when you spoke to David he was about to pack his bags for yet another international athletics meeting or conference somewhere in the world, as he was a long standing member of the IAAF Technical Committee and the International Panel of Photo Finish Judges, as well as Chairman of the British Technical Officials’ Committee.  The English Schools’ Athletic Association (ESAA) was particularly close to his heart (he himself finished fourth in the long jump for the London team in the ESAA Championships during the fifties), and he was first Chairman, and then the Hon. Secretary of the organisation. Of all the tributes to David, one of the most heartfelt appears on their website accompanied by pictures and captions, thanking him for everything he did to help provide world class competition for youngsters in the sport:

“David had been the ESAA Hon Secretary for 22 years, and was quite probably the nicest person one would ever have the privilege to meet. His love of, knowledge of, and dedication to athletics, and his boundless energy in promoting the fun of the sport has not just touched the lives of countless thousands of children, but changed them for ever. David was a highly skilled technical official, but was never officious. For him, athletics was a sport for fun, and he followed it all over the world”.

David was the men’s race referee for the London Marathon for nearly thirty years, and in between everything else in his busy schedule he was responsible for updating and producing the UKA Rule Book every two years. Fittingly, he celebrated his 73rd birthday in 2010 by receiving an MBE from the Queen, for his services to athletics.

At Hercules Wimbledon, however, we remember him as a friend and colleague, a man with a wealth of stories, an eagle eye for detail and an astounding recall for names, results and times. Above all, he was dedicated to athletics at grass roots level, and to our Club, of which he was a lifelong member, having joined the former Hercules AC as a teenager, when he was not only a good long jumper, but a sprinter, regularly competing over 100 yards, 220 yards and 440 yards. He went on to become Treasurer and held that position for an amazing 43 years before being elected President. Never mind the rain, snow or bitter wind, when Hercules Wimbledon was hosting a cross country league match or road race, David would happily turn out for hours on end to help officiate; he was a regular on the judges stand for home matches, and always ready to help, advise and support rookies to the world of officiating.

Without fail he handed out trophies and awards at the Club’s AGM, encouraging everyone for the coming track and field season; and as ever he was looking forward to being in the photo finish room for the Young Athletes Meeting in April, especially as it was being staged at Wimbledon Park for the first time, after 33 years at Crystal Palace. Sadly he died only weeks before the event took place.

The Young Athletes Meeting was dear to his heart and for the 30th anniversary of the event in 2011, we included a question and answer session with David in the programme. A few snippets are given here, which give a flavour of his long involvement with, and love of, athletics:

You are very involved with the English Schools Championships… which talented athletes do you remember spotting, who have gone on to become stars?
1979 was a special year. Held at Nottingham in good weather I remember saying to a colleague that a certain athlete would become a world beater – as I watched Steve Cram winning the Senior Boys 1500m! I was in Helsinki 4 years later to see him crowned as World 1500m Champion.

In the years that you have been officiating, what is the most memorable race you have seen?
I suppose the most surprising for me was the Women’s 400m final at the Beijing Olympics (in 2008). Being responsible for photo finish in the ‘Bird’s Nest’ I could see the athletes through the window with about 40m to go to the finish and I could see that perhaps Christine Ohuruogu might win a medal. I then had to look at the screen and wait for the photo finish picture to appear, and up popped Christine in first place! I thought at first that the operator must have missed the first two – and was delighted to see the other athletes appear on the screen to prove my fears were misplaced!

What are the closest sprint finishes you have seen?
Most memorable would have to be the final of the 100m for Women in the World Championship in Stuttgart in 1993, where Merlene Ottey lost the title by a fraction of a second to Gail Devers, which still remains the closest finish I have been involved with.  It took a long time for us to agree the result, and the photo was the source of interest and debate for many years afterwards.  Just as dramatic was the finish of the Women’s Olympic 100m final in Beijing. The race was won by Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica, but I had to send an urgent message to the organisers that I was going to declare a dead-heat for second place between Sherone Simpson and Kerron Stewart, and could they make sure they had a spare silver medal handy for the presentation!

Of the legendary athletes that you have met, who are the ones who have left the greatest impression on you, and why?
I suppose two stand out. I had the pleasure of meeting and dining with the incomparable Czech athlete Emil Zátopek on more than one occasion.  Who else is going to win the 5,000m, 10,000m and Marathon all in the same Olympic Games? (Zátopek achieved this in 1952). A charming and modest man, he seemed more pleased that I recognised his wife Dana (an Olympic gold medallist in the javelin at the same Olympics) and asked for her autograph, than the fact that I knew what he had achieved! Matching this was spending a weekend in the company of Fanny Blankers-Koen from the Netherlands – Fanny who won 4 golds in the 1948 Olympics and wasn’t able to find time to compete in the high jump for which she was also the world record holder! It was her great sense of humour and sense of fun that remains with me.  We had so many laughs together and I treasure those two days.

For sheer performance, who is your favourite athlete of all time?
My favourite?
The man who always looked as if he was enjoying himself, a beaming smile all over his face and a master over so many distances, accumulating world records and titles as he went.  Who else but Haile Gebrselassie?

David, you will be very much missed by all of us.

Sheila White, Hon. Secretary

Posted 24-02-10
JEFF FENGE - 1946 - 2009

Jeff Fenge, Surrey's top pole vaulter four decades ago and Hercules Wimbledon AC record holder, died suddenly on November 6, aged 63.
He suffered a heart attack during one of his regular rifle shooting sessions at Bisley. He felt unwell and walked back into the office there where he collapsed. An air ambulance was called but paramedics were unable to resuscitate him.
His younger brother John said: "Jeff had no history of angina or cardiac problems. He didn't drink or smoke. It seems there was a build up of cholesterol which caused a blood clot. His death was a real shock. As a member of the TA (Territorial Army) he spent a lot of time since he gave up athletics in rifle shooting.”
Fenge, who lived in Raynes Park, took up pole vaulting when joining the army aged 15 after leaving Hillcroft Secondary School, Tooting. He won the AAA Junior title in 1964 clearing 3.96m and was Surrey senior champion in 1968, winning the South of England title at Motpsur Park two years later.
His best year was 1975 when he represented Britain four times - in the British International Games, against France in Dieppe, in the Philips Golden International Games at Crystal Palace and in a match against the Soviet Union also at Crystal Palace in August.
He was also runner-up for Surrey in the Inter-Counties championships which were staged at Crystal Palace that year. At the end of the season he again improved his lifetime best in winning a competition at Woking with 4.80m which still stands as the Hercules Wimbledon club record.
Fenge, who was also a competent sprint hurdler and long and triple jumper, enjoyed only two more seasons in athletics retiring at the end of the 1977 summer. John Fenge said: "Once Jeff found he was not improving, he could not carry on performing at a lower level."
After he left the army he worked initially for his father's building company and then as an engineer for British Telecom taking early retirement a few years ago. During his time in the army, Jeff Fenge was a member of the highly successful 21 Signal Regiment team which won the Army team championship for a record nine consecutive years.
Fenge was one of three pole vault internationals Hercules Wimbledon boasted 40 years ago, all coached by schoolteacher "Killer" Clark. The others were Martin Higdon who won the inter-counties title four times from 1967 to 1970 and Peter Lyons. Before joining Hercules Wimbledon, where his younger brother was already a member, in the early 1970's, Fenge was a member of South London Harriers.
Tom Pollak


Posted 24-02-10
ANDY GLOVER 1937 – 2009

Andy Glover, although primarily a long serving member of Croydon Harriers, was elected as an honorary member of Hercules Wimbledon for his invaluable services to the club. The following is extracted from a eulogy presented by Nick Getting at a funeral service full to overflowing.
Andy Glover was born in 1937 in Caterham and came from a military family. He was educated in that area and it was at school that Andy discovered his love for athletics and he soon joined Surrey Beagles. Upon leaving school he had to do National Service and in good family tradition joined the army to serve queen and country. It is rumoured that Andy did a lot more athletics for the regiment and the army than time on the parade ground! When he returned to civvy street, he spent his working life in the hardware business.
He left Surrey Beagles for Croydon Harriers in the late 50's and was a very fine club athlete, racing over 880 yards and the Mile and recording talented performances and being part of what was then a formidable 1960's Croydon Harriers team. His key qualities being enthusiasm and reliability.
At the conclusion of his competitive athletic career and being the character he was, he decided that he wished to put something back into the sport he had enjoyed so much and became a starter and one of the most successful that we have had in this country. He graduated through club, county and regional meetings and duly reached international status.
Andy also qualified as a coach and assisted many aspiring youngsters to good standards and he also managed the Surrey Ladies Cross Country team. Still feeling he had more to offer Andy joined the committee of Croydon Harriers and served as their President and for some time became treasurer.
Still anxious to do more for the sport, Andy, joined other committees to enhance the sport notably South of England AAA, and England Athletics (London region) he also wanted to bring his experience to some of the many committees that the athletics world creates but he wanted those committees to be very proactive and once elected he pushed very hard to have agendas agreed, implemented and then most importantly delivered. He was particularly successful in eliciting money from would be grant funders and those who offered financial support to the sport and fairly, Andy always made sure the money was evenly distributed . Many clubs were indebted to his work in this area.
Andy was elected to the Presidency of the Surrey AAA in the millennium year. He thoroughly deserved the accolade and served the office with distinction.
Andy was a great benefactor, he gave that most precious of commodities to anyone and everyone …he gave his TIME…and he gave it unconditionally. Andy would help anyone he could in the athletics world and whenever he received an invitation or a plea for help, if he was free and could Andy would. It did not matter whether it was a school or a club, an institution or the county. If Andy could help any of them conduct the meeting he was there. He once officiated at 15 matches on fifteen consecutive days.
Andy was a great help to the County Officials Committee and acted as an Officials secretary for the Surrey schools. At Hercules Wimbledon we appreciated his efforts on behalf of our Club so much that in 2001 we invited him to become an honorary member and we were delighted that he accepted the invitation. Many of you are aware that since 1981 Hercules Wimbledon had hosted a large Young Athletes Open Meeting at Crystal Palace and Andy officiated at every one until 2009 when his health problem forced his withdrawal.
At the end of a long and busy track season, Andy was found to be starting Cross Country and Road Races, out in all weathers assisting whoever needed help.
Andy was also much appreciated by the athletes and despite his status as an international starter he treated the athletes whether cub debutants or international professional runners with the same patience, dignity and respect.
My first recollection of Andy was starting a youngster’s race at Albert Rd in which my son (Dominic) made his debut for HW and he was noticeably good at settling all these youngsters. The last time I saw Andy on "Official" duty was leading the "Starter/Marksman" induction course for new Officials in October 2008 at Walton. I mention these two incidents, one being about helping to settle young athletes and the second incident in bringing on the next tranche of officials. Andy, as I have stated, was helpful to everyone in the sport and always happy to impart his vast experience to newcomers.
Because of his health problems Andy could not commit to officiating at any meetings during the past summer but it was always great to see him visiting meetings and keeping in touch with us all.
He also had a great sense of humour and a wonderful collection of anecdotes. One day he told me of the visit of the police to verify and audit his gun licence.
Bearing in mind Andy lived not half a mile from Epsom Downs racecourse, the young policeman did his job and everything was OK. Mine host offered the young man a cup of coffee and got to polite conversation. The policeman asked, "Do these pistols go off with a loud bang?" "Yes," said Andy "it’s essential that the timekeepers get the best signal possible: a good flash and a loud bang." "Good lord," said the young constable, "I was always taught that racehorses were extremely highly strung, nervous and jumpy and should not be scared by loud noises of any kind…." Andy looked questioningly at the young man and said "Horses, what do you mean, horses?????"
Athletics in Surrey and the UK has lost a great man and we all mourn his passing…..
Andy, you have lived a full life, your race is run, the pistols are now silent and we will all miss you walking round the track in the red blazer and red cap from start to start to start.
But for sure you will not be forgotten….thank you and farewell.


Posted 24-02-10
MIKE VARAH (1944 - 2007) 

Mike Varah who died from pneumonia on April 2, aged 62, was not only a top class middle-distance runner more than four decades ago but also gained a reputation as an outstanding officer in the probation service; serving for many years as chief probation officer in Surrey before stepping down early in April 2004.
He took up athletics when at Spencer Park School, Wandsworth, in 1961 when he found "I could run a bit faster than those at school with me and consequently I began training to improve and see exactly how far I could go."
He came under the coaching regime of RFR "Killer" Clarke, a master at Wandsworth School and an outstanding athletics coach with the former Hercules Athletic Club, particularly with pole vaulters. (At one time his pole vaulting squad under the old tilly lights at Tooting Bec running track included all of Britain's top pole vaulters).
While a PE student at Loughborough College, Varah was coached by Olympic 400m runner Robbie Brightwell but after graduating from the college he once again came under Clarke's supervision.
He progressed from a modest 880 yards club runner to a notable international and his best times were 1961: 2:20.0; 1962: 2:08.2; 1963: 1:59.9; 1964: 1:55.5; 1965: 1:51.2; 1966: 1:48.5; 1967: 1:48.2. This was achieved when he finished fourth in the AAA Championships at London's White City and lifted him to ninth place on the then UK all-time list. He was at one time holder of the UK all-comers indoor 880 yards best with 1:51.4.
He also had a best 440 yards time of 49.2 (48.3 relay leg) and a best 1500m time of 3:49.1.
He was Surrey 880 yards champion in 1966 (1:49.6). He ran the second leg in 1:48.9 for the British team that broke the world record for 4 x 880y with 7:14.6 at Crystal Palace, London on June 22, 1966, but the record was disallowed because a false time was called out to one of the other team members. The other team members were Graeme Grant (1:49.5), Chris Carter (1:48.0) and John Boulter (1:48.2). Carter, a retired police officer, is current secretary of the South of England Athletic Association.
Varah ran in four internationals for Great Britain in 1966 and 1967 and was fourth in his heat at the 1966 Commonwealth Games in Jamaica.
He won the UAU 800 yards title at Loughborough in 1967 and the following year the South of England 880 yards title at Motspur Park.
He continued to run for the merged Hercules Wimbledon AC until he retired at the end of the 1969 season.
Hercules Wimbledon's former Surrey cross country champion Bob Holt, like clubmates Fred Green, Mike Fuller and Mike Kortenray, a contemporary of Varah's, recalled: "I have two distinct memories of Mike. One was at a training evening at Nobby Clarke's Winter Monday night circuit training at Wandsworth School. The session often ended with some sort of speed or hill work out on the roads near the school and on this particular occasion Mike had no training shoes with him, only a pair of spikes. (He had done the circuit training in either bare or stockinged feet). He therefore donned a pair of thick socks over his spikes and ran on thus attired. I don't think it did his calves much good!
"My other memory was of an episode when he and I (plus my brother Dave) were at a training camp for British "Olympic Possibles" in May 1968 at the high altitude venue at Font Romeu in the French Pyrenees. An impromptu volleyball match took place one afternoon at the indooor arena between a team of British athletes and a French athletes' team. During the match, some of the British "supporters" (primarily the college members amongst us) struck up a rendering of a very rude version of the "Marseillaise" and one of the ring leaders in this jollity was Mike Varah. The French team responded at the end by doing a collective "moonie".
George Peter Michael Varah, who was born on October 19, 1944 was the son of Chad Varah, the founder of the Samaritans and co-founder of the Eagle comic.
Mike, who was one of a set of triplets, taught at Rugby School for five years before joining the probation service. He was Chief Probation Officer for Surrey from 1988 to 2004 when he took early retirement apparently disillusioned with the restructuring of the service and its lack of resources. His decision to retire early resulted in a question being asked by South West Surrey MP Virginia Bottomley in the House of Commons who wanted the Home Secretary to look into the reasons for his early departure. She pointed out that under his leadership Surrey ranked third out of the 42 probation services in the UK. A notice in the April edition of the National Probation Service Bulletin described him as "a pioneer of the service."
Varah continued to serve the community by joining Surrey Crimestoppers and was its chairman at the time of his death. He was also Deputy Lieutenant of Surrey and High Sheriff in Nomination.
Tom Pollak


Posted 25-09-06


Photo by Ray O’Donoghue

Members of Hercules Wimbledon AC were saddened and shocked to hear of the death of Vince Hancock from cancer on August 19 at the age of 62.
Resident in France for the past few years, the enthusiasm and joy of running by Vince – we never called him Vincent - went a long way towards making HW one of the leading M50 teams in the country with most of his best performances being provided as an M55.
It was as an M55 that Vince collected British Masters titles over 10 miles on the road and 3000m indoors, with individual medals also earned over 10,000m (track) and 10km (road).
Pleasing as these titles were, selection for England in the 2001 Masters International Cross Country probably gave him the most satisfaction, especially after being controversially selected as a reserve the previous year. Such was his obvious everlasting pride in having been selected; his English vest was draped over the coffin during the funeral held at the L’Eglise du Saint Vincent church in the village of Savignac-de-Duras.
Relatively speaking, Vince’s time as an M55 provided the most success in his athletic career with numerous Surrey County titles coming his way over track and country.
He was also three times a member of the HW’s winning M50 Surrey Road Relay team including the 1999 race where the team provided a course record with an overall winning margin of over four minutes.
Golden team medals were also secured by a Vince led M50 team in the South of England Road Relay championships in 2001 but it was at Sutton Coldfield in the 1995 British Masters Road Relay that arguably provided the most memorable performance by both Vince and the rest of HW six-man team.
In what is considered to be the most competitive event in the Masters’ calendar, Vince went from 42nd to 11th position on the second stage with the team going on to claim the bronze medals behind the mighty Northern teams of Hallamshire Harriers and Bingley Harriers. The following year, HW came close to repeating this effort when placing fourth, and yes, Vince was once again on his favourite second stage.
As an M45, Vince ran a more than useful 55:07 for 10 miles (road) which is still an HW record for that category and later was to set M55 club road records over 5 miles, 10km, 10 miles and half-marathon.
Vince joined what was then Hercules AC in 1957, along with a host of talented young athletes from Wandsworth School who came under the wing of one of their teachers, who, due to some of his legendary tough training sessions, was known as ‘Killer Clarke.’
With his brothers, Bob, Bill and Jon also members, Hercules AC boasted a formidable quartet of Hancocks.
Vince went on to represent both Wandsworth and London Schools but at the age of 17, was advised to discontinue athletics because of a hole-in-the- heart which, almost 10 years later, proved to an incorrect diagnosis.
Ten years unnecessarily out of the sport, Vince returned to running but with the added handicap of having one leg shorter than the other due to having suffered from osteomylitis shortly before his first birthday. The condition led to Vince being completely encased in plaster from the waist down to his ankles for some five months.
The return to running occurred when Vince was employed as a Structural Engineer in Nigeria, shortly after qualifying as the youngest ever Fellow of the Institution of Structural Engineers, and such was his enthusiasm, he was instrumental in forming a local club known as Eko Runners named after the then recently constructed Eko Bridge. Vince also organised a Lagos Marathon, for which the conditions were so hot, that no one finished the race!
Among the non-finishers in Lagos was Vince and here his brother Jon recounts the tale of what happened next. “Vince came back to London on leave and ran a marathon on Battersea Park track – on his own – early one morning. I was there and ran with him for a few laps to keep his morale up. He just scraped under three hours – solo.”
On March 17, 1983, Vince joined Hercules Wimbledon but it was the previous year, on the occasion of the second London Marathon that he met up with members of the club and as a result incurred the wrath of race organiser Chris Brasher.
Vince and two of his brothers, Bob and Jon, wanted to compete and to increase their chances of entry they each had applications forwarded from both Nigeria and London. By chance all six entries were accepted with three of them being passed on to HW athletes and when six ‘Hancocks’ went to collect their numbers, Brasher sent a telegram asking for an explanation!
An unknown side to Vince was his generosity which was first put to use when ‘Killer’ Clarke retired to Herne Bay and shortly afterwards received a large donation of funds from Vince for a project to set up an athletics track there.
Also, in 1998, on the occasion of a dinner celebrating the 65th anniversary of the founding of Hercules Ladies AC in 1933, Vince generously provided funds for the supply of souvenir mugs.
The funeral, at which many personal and moving tributes were paid to Vince, saw Jo Wackett in attendance not only on behalf of HW but also as a close friend of the family.
Our thoughts at this sad time go out to Vince’s wife, Carmelina, who herself often wore an HW club vest in competition, and their daughter Anastasia, also known as ‘Archie’ and who in recent months has been seen training with Dennis Roll’s squad at Wimbledon Park.
Pete Mulholland


Posted 23-06-06
Dereje Kebede 1981-2006

It is with deep regret that Hercules Wimbledon Athletic Club report the death of Dereje Kebede who was a member of the winning Ethiopian team at the IAAF World half-marathon championships in Bristol in October 2001.
His performance in Bristol where he finished 62nd in a personal best of 64:30, an improvement of almost two minutes on his previous best half-marathon time, was probably the highlight of his short and traumatic life.
Kebede's father was murdered when he was just seven and although he was in the Ethiopian police force he was subjected to considerable ill-treatment. Despite knowing that he would be leaving his family behind (he mother and sister still live in Ethiopia), Kebede decided to seek asylum in Britain.
He joined Hercules Wimbledon towards the end of 2002 and regularly raced in road running events across the country setting course records in the Leeds half-marathon and Stratford Shakespeare half marathons in 2005.
He was also a talented cross country runner, finishing runner-up in the Surrey cross country championship at Banstead in January 2003. He was selected to run in the UK Inter-Counties championship that year. He also won the South of the Thames five miles race in Richmond Park race in November 2005.
Soon after that he settled in Britain he came under the care of Dr Michael Korzinski, co founder and clinicial director of the Helen Bamber Foundation Dr Korzinski arranged for Kebede to live in various hostels around the capital. Following an investigation into Dereje's death, the St Pancras coroner ruled it was not suspicious but could not decide the precise cause although he considered it was clearly related to his suffering from epilepsy.
Last year, he arranged for Kebede to spend two months training in Kenya. Unfortunately, he appears to have picked up a bug while in Africa and when he returned to London he fell ill. He was treated at University College, London where experts from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine were unable to identify what was ailing him but they did discover he was suffering from epilepsy and he was put on medication to treat his condition.
In March this year, he was granted British citizenship and his aim was to run for Britain at the Beijing Olympics. Earlier this year he moved into his own flat in Islington. It was there that he was found dead on June 5.
A post mortem failed to identify the cause of death although it is thought it was related to the epileptic seizures he had been experiencing.
Roehampton University's Sports Performance Assessment and Rehabilitation Centre gave Kebede sport science support and along with the rest of his support team are trying to raise funds to enable Kebede's body to be flown back to Ethiopia where he is to be buried alongside his father. They are holding fund-raising raffle at All Bar One in Wimbledon, in Wimbledon Hill Road, next Wednesday, (June 28), at 8pm. As many Hercules Wimbledon members and anyone else who knew Dereje are urged to support this venture.
Ceri Diss, senior lecturer in Sports Science at Roehampton University is helping to coordinate the fund raising and anyone wishing to contribute to the fund should email her at


Posted 15-02-05

Members of Hercules Wimbledon Athletic Club will be very sad to hear of the passing of Geoff Moulden at the age of 75.
Geoff was an early member of the former Wimbledon Athletic Club which was formed in 1952 and was a founder member of Hercules Wimbledon Athletic Club in 1967 serving as its president a few years later. He was also a past president of Surrey County and for many years served as their junior men's track and field team manager with his wife Claire, also a member of both clubs, given the task of washing endless county vests after each match.
From the club's perspective, Geoff will probably best be remembered for launching the Wimbledon open 10 miles road race in 1961. It is still going strong some 44 years later and he was involved in helping at the race each year except on one occasion when it clashed with his daughter, Sarah's, wedding.
Many people knew he was a qualified track judge but, perhaps less well known was that he was a qualified starter, timekeeper, track judge and coach.
He moved to the Wimbledon area in the early 1950's from Aldershot where he had helped establish an athletic club at Farnham that subsequently merged to form Aldershot, Farnham and District Athletic Club. When he arrived at Wimbledon, he had planned to join Belgrave but on calling the AAA, which was then based in London, they requested that he joined the newly formed Wimbledon Club where he became a pivotal figure as club captain, along with the then vice-captain Terry Elmer and chairman Tommy Robertson in driving the new club forward.
A report in the Merton and Morden Borough News in May 1960 stated: "Geoff will try his hand at anything, either on the track or field but he is a triple jumper and sprinter." Claire was also a member of the Wimbledon club. He acted as clerk of the course at a representative match in May 1961 to mark the opening of the new stand at Wimbledon Park track.
While Wimbledon Athletic Club committee meetings were held at a room in the now demolished South Western pub opposite Wimbledon Station, early committee meetings of the newly formed Hercules Wimbledon club were held in the Moulden house in Lambton Road into which they had moved a year or so earlier, and while Geoff and Claire always offered a warm welcome, visitors were always forced to negotiate their way past their latest dog!
Apart from his passion for athletics, Geoff was also a keen model train enthusiasts and philatelist and was a member of both the Wimbledon Model Railway and Philatelist clubs. He also served as a magistrate on the Wimbledon bench for more than 20 years and was also a trustee of the London Coaching Foundation.
He met Claire while working for the former London County Council at County Hall, Westminster, and they married in November 1954. He then moved to the City Corporation working in their planning department, becoming something of an expert on their cemeteries.
He later switched to become involved in sport and leisure promotion in the square mile and for many years was the City's representative on the London Marathon organising committee from its inception in 1981. He also ran a feeding station at the 23rd mile and formed a 23rd mile running club from City Corporation employees who ran in the marathon or operated the station designing special T-shirts for club members.
The funeral is taking place at the North East Surrey Crematorium, Lower Morden Lane, Lower Morden, on Tuesday, February 22 at 2.30pm. Claire requests no flowers but that any donations should be sent to Kingston Hospital ITU.


Posted 23-05-03

There was an eerie silence around the Lauriston Cottage courtyard on the fine spring evening of Friday May 2 and a notice displayed in the changing room explained why. It was an announcement simply informing 'That Arthur Whitehead (a long standing member of both Belgrave Harriers and Hercules Wimbledon AC), had died in a Kendal hospital on April 24th just two weeks after his 90th birthday. He suffered a severe stroke a month ago and had been in a coma ever since.'
There was an addendum saying 'that it was Arthur's express wish that his death should not be announced until after his cremation which took place today, May 2nd'. That was Arthur's style. Always having the last word in the matter.
"He had a good innings," was an often-said reaction to the news. It may be a cricketing expression but it is the world of athletics that is all the poorer for his passing. Born in Hindhead, Surrey in 1913 it was as a teenager at Sedbergh School situated in the then Yorkshire fells that his love of running developed. Boys at the school regularly took part in 10-mile runs or more as part of their training for the school's all-important rugby fixtures.
On leaving school Arthur, now in Wimbledon, studied law to qualify as a solicitor in 1937 but two years later on the outbreak of war he was commissioned in the Black Watch regiment. One of his contemporaries in his unit was Tommy Robertson, who was later to play a key role in the formation of Wimbledon Athletic Club. During preparations for the 'second front' Arthur honed the Unit athletics' team to victory in the Divisional Championships.
Then came D Day when his unit came under heavy fire resulting in many casualties and unfortunately Arthur, the second-in-command, was one of them. Struck by flak, which punctured one lung, he laid on the beach for eight hours while tanks roared past and the deadly cross-fire raged unabated around him. One arm was virtually torn away and there seemed little hope for his one remaining lung. Lauriston legend has it that as the stretcher bearers lifted him Arthur calmly said, "Er, don't forget my arm, gentleman."
With only one lung and one useable arm, Arthur was seemingly destined for a lengthy spell in hospital but his contempt for illness or injury proved otherwise. Within three months he was out and convalescing. Later, in the 1960s, medical specialists gleaned from him as much as possible on his amazing recovery from injuries that normally incapacitates car crash victims for life.
In 1945, Arthur moved into Lauriston Cottage, which dates back to 1668, a building that was previously the stabling quarters of the adjacent Lauriston House - formerly the residence of William Wilberforce - where his mother Lady Fell resided. Then came a fateful - for athletics that is - Saturday morning in the autumn of that year when Harry Parker and a group of fellow Belgrave Harriers met on the common opposite the cottage. Arthur introduced himself and enquired about the possibility of joining the group and was immediately made warmly welcome.
In his early days Arthur used to take part in five-mile runs with 1908 Olympic gold medallist Joe Deakin of Herne Hill Harriers and Surrey AC. Together with his early morning swims in the Queensmere pond on the common these activities laid a solid foundation for fitness.
"I was then promoted to the 'slow' pack led by George Still," Arthur was to admit, " and by 1947 I joined the 'medium' pack with 'Champ' Smith leading the way." "Before long I invited the runners to change and bath at the Cottage on the evenings Belgrave Hall was closed."
"It was all very primitive but we packed into my little sitting-room upstairs, washed in 'black' water in my bath and enjoyed tea and plum cake afterwards. And we talked!" Soon Arthur was competing in long distance road races for the Harriers alongside the likes of Arthur Penstone and Dennis Brickwood and by 1953 he had won a Belgrave honours badge for his performance in the AAA marathon of that year - a race that saw Jim Peters set a world record of 2:18:42. Later followed a successful completion of the London to Brighton (15th in 6h 44m) but although still training and swimming regularly he shortly decided to retire from active competition. "I was mercifully released from racing," he confessed.
That wasn't the end of Arthur's involvements with athletics. In 1952 he had inaugurated the now much missed Belgrave 20-mile road race and in 1954 the Lauriston Christmas morning paarlauf through the suggestion of Charlie Smart, of Belgrave who had brought back the idea from Germany.
Arthur was also an interested party at the meeting in 1953 at Wimbledon Town Hall that witnessed the founding of Wimbledon Athletic Club and was also much involved in the founding of the Road Runners Club alongside Ernest Neville. For 12 years the newsletters of the RRC were typed by Arthur and printed at the Cottage on a second hand duplicator that had been picked up by Arthur Penstone. They were posted in nearby pillar boxes and as the club grew so did the scale of the operation. Complaints were received from the Post Office as the boxes became jammed with newsletters.
It was around this time that Joe Brett, then cross country secretary of Wimbledon AC (A merger with Hercules AC took place in 1967) asked Arthur if the club could make use of the Cottage for racing and training and fifty years later the club are still able, thanks to the hospitality of Lauriston Runners Club, taking advantage of what is arguably the most ideal facility in the land for the sport we all love.
Arthur was very much an individualist: group decisions from committees didn't appeal to him one little bit and he soon began to concern himself solely with matters at Lauriston where the numbers grew to such an extent that he formed Lauriston Runners Club. The club crest - which is in fact the family crest of the founder - is a stag's head, which Arthur at the time admitted, "Was appropriate for a club that runs so much in Richmond Park." The motto reads 'Dura Virum Nutrix' meaning 'The Hard Nurse of Man', "or as," Arthur added, "Joe MacDonald - a much loved early member - might say, run your eyeballs out mate!"
The club, although affiliated to Surrey County AA, is not competitive in the sense that it takes part in leagues or open races but being based at such a location it attracted numerous runners who became members on a second-claim basis including many an international. 1980 Olympic 800m champion Steve Ovett, a regular visitor was made an honorary member.
Among others who had trained from the Cottage were 1972 Olympic marathon winner Frank Shorter, 1966 European marathon champion Jim Hogan, former marathon world record holder Derek Clayton, five time world cross country champion John Ngugi, former 10,000m world record holders Gordon Pirie and Dave Bedford and Andrew Lloyd 1990 Commonwealth 5000m champion. Talk about inspirational!
Such inspiration drove Dave Clarke of Hercules Wimbledon to three times becoming National cross-country champion and competing in 11 World Championships after joining Lauriston as young lad and teaming up with his coach John Sullivan.
Sullivan, in fact, had a formidable group, often referred to as the A Squad, operating out of Lauriston with the likes of Clarke, Commonwealth 1500m silver medallist John Gladwin, and British 800m champion Nick Smith leading the way.
A little over a decade previously such was the depth of talent, both in 1967 and 1971 the Surrey teams that won the Inter-Counties cross-country championship were solely composed of athletes belonging to Lauriston Runners Club.
One of those athletes was John Roberts, who as well as still training from the Cottage on a daily basis is also the long standing club treasurer.
It was also during this period that Hercules Wimbledon AC enjoyed their greatest successes over country and road. No less than seven consecutive Surrey cross-country championships, two Southern Road Relay championships, a Southern Counties cross-country championship and a second and third in the National cross-country came the club's way. At the heart of the team were those such as Bob and Dave Holt, Mike Beevor and Mike Fuller, all regular trainers from the Cottage. As Dave, a 1972 Olympian, recently said, "Bob and I owed much of our success in the sport to Arthur's benevolence." A sentiment that many an HW athlete could echo.
Over the years, it was a regular practice of Arthur to organise long weekends or weeks in the Yorkshire and Lakeland fells. Daily outings (or rounds as Arthur described them) of 20-30 miles over the tough terrain, were the plan. Arthur was in his element in the hills with extraordinary strong legs and breathtaking speed downhill. He was particularly pleased with one 'round' consisting of a route around the three of the major mountains of the lakes - Scafel Pike, Helvellyn and Skiddaw - a distance in excess of 50 miles covered by a small group in 1959.
During these years, Arthur also oversaw extensive alterations to the running facilities with the result that the club now enjoys the use of a large shower room, a spacious changing room, a kitchen, ample toilet requirements, a weight room and a spare room that stocks a complete collection of Athletics Weekly, a boon to athletic researchers.
The December 25, 1971 issue of Athletics Weekly, alongside a lengthy tribute to Arthur by Clive Shippen, published a lengthy letter from Ray O'Donoghue - still a regular attendee - that perhaps encapsulated what Lauriston was about in those days.
'Any runner who attends Lauriston often enough must get fit. The whole atmosphere is ideal for training. Even on the bleakest of nights there is always someone training from there. It is certainly much easier to get out with a pack than it is to go out on your own. I suppose what I have always found most enjoyable than the actual training is the sort of Crazy Gang jokes afterwards in the dressing room. Oh yes as well as having to be fit to train at Lauriston you have to have a sense of humour and a thick skin.'
Though often critical of veterans' class athletics in 1978 Arthur won, in his first serious competition for 18 years, the National M65 cross-country championship.
The story goes, and as with most Lauriston tales it becomes embellished as the years pass, local reporter Tom Pollak was interviewing him at the Cottage when a telegram arrived for the great man. It read: CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR SUCCESS ARTHUR stop HOPE YOU ARE NOT TALKING TO THE PRESS stop STEVE OVETT.
"This interview is now concluded," Arthur announced, folding the note and turning for the privacy of his study.
Some years ago Arthur moved north to the village of Sedbergh (now part of Cumbria) close to the surroundings of his fondly remembered schooldays and ran or walked as a free spirit over his beloved fells up to the final year of his long and much appreciated life. The number of athletes now training from Lauriston may be a far cry from those heady days and the A Squad of today is of the older variety but the banter and the enthusiasm is as keen as ever.
There is no longer plum cake on offer but the club secretary Dave Beard runs a 'tight ship' and ensures that basics such as tea, biscuits and soap are in plentiful supply. Yes Arthur, it is not only Hercules Wimbledon AC, Belgrave Harriers and Surrey County AA that have much to thank you for in playing such a vital role not only in their successes but also for supplying such enduring memories for all those who have passed through the portals of Lauriston Cottage. Some man. Some legacy.
Pete Mulholland
Acknowledgements are due to Clive Shippen and Dave Cocksedge for the use of previously published material plus additional information from Charlie Dabbs.



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