Howard Bass, Skating Scribe

"You can never stop learning about skating. It is highly specialized and progressively fascinating the more one gets to know it." - Howard Bass, "This Skating Age", 1958

Born October 28, 1921 in Waltham Cross, Hertfordshire, England, Howard Bass happened upon skating almost by accident. At the age of nineteen, he was an instructor in the Royal Air Force when Bournemouth's Westover Ice Rink was requisitioned to train pilots. He worked the night shift and slept during in the day in the office of the rink's manager. His 'bedside reading' was a stack of discarded issues of "The Skating Times". He fell in love with the sport, which he had only been briefly exposed to in a trip to Switzerland just prior to the outbreak of World War II.

Howard later recalled, "Towards the end of the war, with victory in sight, my job in Germany became redundant and I spent the final month of mobilization at Bückeberg as an R.A.F. educational teacher in English and journalism, at the same time editing the 'B.A.F.O. Times' newspaper for the British Air Forces Overseas. In the latter capacity I had a W.A.A.F. sargeant interpreter, Marion Schreiber, to assist my dealings with German printers. I wrote to several celebrities for articles, and one of these was Cecilia Colledge. She responded admirably with an interesting feature about skating and subsequently invited me to see her when on leave. So, by pure chance, having already befriended Graham Sharp at Bournemouth, the only two skaters I knew in the world, and with whom I now found myself on excellent terms, were also formed World Champions."

When Howard was on a leave in England, he met Bob Giddens, the editor of "Ice Hockey World" magazine. Giddens invited him to freelance, editing a page on professional skating. One of his first assignments was a trip to the Empire Pool, Wembley. While interviewing Herbert Alward, who had won the bronze medals at the 1938 European and World Championships, he was introduced to his interview subject's wife. She was Marion Schreiber, the sargeant interpreter he'd worked with in Germany.

In the post-War years, Howard emerged as one of the most active sportswriters in England. Covering skiing and hockey but primarily figure skating, he founded a publishing company with his father and produced and edited three magazines - "The Skater", "The Skater, Skier and Ice Hockey Player" and "Winter Sports". In the years that followed, he served as the winter sports correspondent for the "Daily Telegraph", "Evening Standard" and the American magazine "Christian Science Monitor". He also penned entries on figure skating for the "Encyclopaedia Britannica" and "Guinness Book of Records" and produced The Skater's Radio Programme for Radio Luxembourg. He was one of only a handful of journalists to extensivelly travel around the world to provide international coverage of figure skating in the fifties and sixties. His reports on international competitions, which also appeared in "Skating" and "Skating World" magazines, serve as some of the most detailed accounts of these competitions we have today.

Brenda Williams, Jennifer Williams, Pamela Davis, Alex Gordon, Leslie Tear, Courtney Jones, Kathleen Warne, Howard Bass, Diana Kingswood, Antony Swaine and Veronica Blunt. Photo courtesy "Winter Sports" magazine.

Over a career that spanned over five decades, Howard wrote prolifically about figure skating. He penned nearly a dozen books on the subject, including "Winter Sports", "Success In Ice Skating", "Encyclopaedia of Winter Sports", "Let's Go Skating", "Tackle Skating" and an excellent biography of Robin Cousins. British skater Erica Batchelor once remarked, "Howard Bass... indeed seems to be every skater's friend... His uncanny understanding of skaters' problems and feelings has been acquired, no doubt, through knowing so many leading performers, whose trust he seems easily to win and never to betray. I learned a long time ago that he never prints anything told in confidence - and of how many writers may that be said truthfully!" Though he admirably never 'scooped' information skaters asked him not to, he was one of the first to tackle one issue head-on that few other sportswriters dared touch with a ten foot pole - the financial hardships skaters faced under the ISU's strict rules of amateurism. He had no qualms with calling English politicians out for not investing in their country's athletes. In 1963, he quipped, "The time has come when British sportsmen should no longer have to suffer the indignity of appearing the 'poor relation'."

Photo courtesy "Winter Sports" magazine

Sadly, Howard's five-year military service during World War II thwarted his own skating dreams. He felt he started skating "too late to be seriously ambitious" and in 1966 remarked, "The opportunities [to skate] are now so few that, when I do escape and dare to perform in public, initial shakiness surely inspires the justified observation, 'And he actually has the nerve to write about it!' So let it be stressed that I am not a star performer but can claim to have spoken and virtually eaten and slept constantly in a winter sports environment throughout the post-war years, enjoying the good fortune to pick very many of the most expert brains. I have witnessed championships, competitions, exhibitions, galas and matches galore, organizing and even compèring some of them. I have learned to recognize the ecstasies, hazards and pitfalls while in the company of the greatest and smallest, and enjoyed rewarding pleasure through being able to accelerate and simplify the progress of new adherents by passing on the wisdom gained from their predecessors. Winter sports enthusiasts are the most unique community in the world, the most fanatical about their respective arts and partly, because of that, the most difficult to understand and misunderstand. Only years of long experience in their company and atmosphere can possibly enable one to appreciate their ways and outlook."

An extremely important contribution to skating that Howard made that is often overlooked was his work in founding the International Figure Skating Writers' Association. The international co-operative of journalists was founded in March of 1965 at the World Championships of Colorado Springs with the aim of keeping "the world's leading specialized newspaper correspondents in touch with round-the-world ice news." Howard served on the Board Of Directors, along with Canadian journalists George Gross and Brian Pound and American sports editor Lee Meade. Without the Association's efforts, the quantity and quality of figure skating coverage in print and radio in the sixties and seventies would likely have been diminished.

Howard passed away on October 30, 2007, two days after his eighty-sixth birthday. Though he always wanted to stay out of the limelight, his important contributions to figure skating absolutely deserve our respect and admiration.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":