The 1965 British Figure Skating And Ice Dancing Championships

Harold Wilson was Great Britain's Prime Minister. The top news stories were the discoveries of several bodies on Saddleworth Moor and the United Nations vote to allow Great Britain to use force against Rhodesia, where martial law had been declared, if necessary. Beatlemania was in full swing as the popular music group gave their final tour of England. The McCoys had a huge hit with "Hang On Sloopy".

The year was 1965 and on November 5 and 6, a who's who of British figure skating gathered at Wembley to compete in the British Figure Skating Championships. The event was held less than a week after the Richmond Trophy, an international competition held at the Richmond Ice-Drome where women and ice dancers had competed. T.D. Richardson, Alex D.C. Gordon and Geoffrey Yates served as the referees in Wembley and Mollie Phillips, Daphne (Ward) Wallis, Pauline Borrajo and Pamela Davis were among the judges.

Linda Connolly and Colin Taylforth

It was the first year that pairs skated a compulsory short program at the British Championships. The winners of the first phase of the event were Streatham's Valerie Taylor and Raymond Wilson and the free skate was won by Verona Tosh and Kenneth Babington of Altrincham. However, when the marks were tallied, in a three-two split of the judging panel the gold went to the most consistent of the three teams entered and coincidentally the youngest, Linda Connolly and Colin Taylforth of Liverpool. Linda was thirteen; Colin twelve. Their free skating program featured overhead Axel and Lutz lifts.

Left: Malcolm Cannon. Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine. Right: The cup presented to the winner of the women's event. Photo courtesy "Winter Sports" magazine.

In the men's event, twenty one year old Malcolm Cannon, who trained with Arnold Gerschwiler at Richmond, took a massive fifty-point lead over Haig Oundjian in the figures, winning all but the right forward inside rocker. Oundjian, still not fully recovered from a broken ankle, was forced to withdraw before the free skating. Altrincham's Michael Williams landed a double Axel and triple Salchow and won the free skate by over fifteen points, with Streatham's Harold Williams second and Cannon third. Cannon's lead in the figures was still enough to give him the title by over ten points.

There were fourteen entries in the women's event - the largest number of competitors since the first British Championships after World War II, when Cecilia Colledge won her final national title. Diana Clifton-Peach, competing under her married name (Stevens), narrowly won the figures over two-time and defending Champion Sally-Anne Stapleford. Third was Patricia Dodd, who had been Great Britain's top finisher at the Richmond Trophy. Stapleford won the free skate, with Lorna Brown second and Stevens fifth. Her free skate included a two-footed double Axel, double Salchow and double toe-loop. She planned a double Lutz but didn't attempt it. She had damaged the edges of one of her skates in the afternoon practice after skating over a nail, so it was a wonder she was able to skate so well. When the marks were tallied, Stapleford was first overall over Stevens, Sylvia Oundjian, Dodd, Linda Davis and Brown. It was the third year in a row Stapleford came from behind to take the gold. Most remarkable was the story of the skater who finished tenth. Vanessa Simons had to withdraw from the Richmond Trophy after the figures after slamming her leg in a car door, requiring three stitches. The fact she managed to skate through the pain at Wembley was a feat in itself. She'd only had her stitches out the day before the competition.

Top: Women's medallists, the top two pairs and men's medallists. Photos courtesy "Winter Sports" magazine. Bottom: Medallists in the Reginald J. Wilkie Memorial Trophies dance event. Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine.

At Wembley, there was also an open contest for the Reginald J. Wilkie Memorial Trophies, which consisted of compulsory dances only. Seven teams competed. The top three teams were Janet Sawbridge and Jon Lane, Gabriele and Rudi Matysik (Betty Callaway's students who represented West Germany) and Heather Murray and David Gregory. It was new pairing Sawbridge and Lane's third victory in two months. They were fresh off wins at the Queen's Cup open contest and the Tomlinson Trophy, an ice dance competition held in conjunction with the Richmond Trophy.

Photo courtesy "Winter Sports" magazine

The British Ice Dancing Championships were held later that month at Nottingham, with Douglas Walker playing live organ music for each of the compulsories. The dances skated were the Rocker Foxtrot, Starlight Waltz, Quickstep and Tango.

Diane Towler and Bernard Ford. Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine.

Teenagers Diane Towler and Bernard Ford took the lead after the first phase of the competition, though their training mates Yvonne Suddick and Roger Kennerson won the Quickstep. Suddick and Kennerson entertained the crowd with their free dance to the newly released song "Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows" and "Besame Mucho", but were unable to best Towler and Ford, who received marks ranging from 5.7 to 5.9 for their dynamic program. Janet Sawbridge and Jon Lane finished third for yet another medal sweep for Miss Gladys Hogg's pupils at Queen's.

Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine

That season's British Junior Figure Skating Championships were held at Solihull Ice Rink on March 10 and 11, 1966, with an impressive crowd of two thousand, five hundred attending the free skating finals.

Left: Judith Elliott and Donald Wells. Right: Vivienne Dean and Michael Webster. Photos courtesy "Skating World" magazine.

In junior pairs, thirteen year old Judith Elliott and fifteen year old Donald Wells beat Victoria Cecil and David Barker of Queen's by less than a point. Elliott and Wells trained at Altrincham under Peter Burrows and their program included side-by-side double loops, Salchows and Axels. Iris Lloyd-Webb's pupils Vivienne Dean and Michael Webster won the junior dance over John Slater's top couple, Susan Getty and Roy Bradshaw. The compulsories were the Fourteenstep, Blues and Starlight Waltz.

Sixteen year old Adrian Florence was skating in his hometown, but travelled to train in Altrincham with John Goding. His lead in the figures was enough to give him the gold in the junior men's event over a young Birmingham lad named John Curry. A short report in the April/May 1966 issue of "Winter Sports" magazine noted that "Curry fell... but his style impressed." A more elaborate report by David Clements in the April 1966 issue of "Skating World" noted, "In the free skating, John Curry was the first to take the ice. I enjoyed his programme very much - he combined difficult jumps (double Lutz, double Salchow, double loop-Axel) but unfortunately slipped on the double Axel, which in practice I saw him land without any difficulty."

Fifteen junior women competed, with the field pared to ten after the figures. The winner was Norma Bowmar of Nottingham, an eighteen year old with quite a story. Hours before she was to compete in the Martineau Bowl contest in November, she was rushed to the hospital with a serious case of appendicitis. The fact she won in Solihull by almost thirty points was indeed remarkable. She'd been off the ice for two months and despite rushed preparations with coach Monty Readhead, had not really regained her full power in jumping.

It's impossible not to look back at all of these incredible names from a golden era of British skating without making a mental note of how many of them went on to make an even greater impact in the sport as coaches, choreographers and judges. The 1965 British Figure Skating and Ice Dancing Championships may have been over fifty years ago, but the legacy of the skaters who competed in them is still felt today.

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