#Unearthed: Politicians, Diplomats And Skating

When you dig through skating history, you never know what you will unearth. In the spirit of cataloguing fascinating tales from skating history, #Unearthed is a once a month 'special occasion' on Skate Guard where fascinating writings by others that are of interest to skating history buffs are excavated, dusted off and shared for your reading pleasure. From forgotten fiction to long lost interviews to tales that have never been shared publicly, each #Unearthed is a fascinating journey through time. Today's 'buried treasure' is a fascinating piece about the skating backgrounds of a number of British, Canadian and American political figures. It was written by NSA historian Dennis L. Bird, with assistance from Captain T.D. Richardson and Benjamin T. Wright, and first appeared in "Skating World" magazine in September of 1965.


A few weeks ago Edward R.G. Heath became the new leader of the Conservative Party. In the ballot which secured his election, he had a narrow majority which proved to be decisive. Until the last minute, however, political correspondents and opinion polls were predicting that the honour of becoming Party leader and possibly the next Prime Minister would go, not to Mr. Heath, but to a member of the National Skating Association - Reginald Maulding.

Reginald Maulding

Most of the newspaper articles on Mr. Maulding's career have stressed his youthful lack of enthusiasm for sport. It is true that as a schoolboy he was not over-fond of team games, but he certainly enjoyed figure skating. He joined the NSA in 1930, when he was thirteen, and eventually passed the International-style bronze medal test. In a recent letter to the Skating World he says "I did my skating at Hammersmith, and was taught by Freda Whitaker. I enjoyed free skating more than set figures, and I am afraid I never had the patience to persevere for the silver."

After serving in the RAF in the war, he entered Parliament in 1950 as Conservative MP for Barnet. Since then he has held increasingly high office in successive Governments, culminating in his appointment as Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1962. Since the Conservatives defeat in last year's General Election, he has been the Opposition's spokesman on foreign affairs, and has had no time to spare for skating. He writes that he had hoped to attend the Royal Skating Club's party at Queen's last October, but, much to his disappointment, was prevented by pressure of work.

Sir John Simon. Photo courtesy National Portrait Gallery.

Nowadays it is rare for British politicians to be skaters. It was not always so, however. Before the Second World War, skating was a popular pastime in high society, and many MPs, peers, even Cabinet Ministers were to be seen on the ice at Grosvenor House or the Westminster Ice Club. Some, of course, preferred the old English style. Notable among these was Lord Balfour of Burleigh, who sat in the House of Lords from 1922 to 1963 as a representative peer for Scotland; he has been an NSA member for over sixty years, and holds the Association's English-style gold medal. Another English-style medallist (this time bronze) was the late Viscount Simon, Foreign Secretary from 1931 to 1935 and probably better known as Sir John Simon.

Sir Samuel Hoare. Left photo courtesy National Portrait Gallery.

Lord Simon's successor at the Foreign Office was an even more enthusiastic figure skater, but in the International style. He was Sir Samuel Hoare, later Viscount Templewood, sometime President of the NSA and holder of many of the greatest offices of state. between the two World Wars. He was a notably reformist Home Secretary, and served also as Secretary of State for India, Lord Privy Seal, and finally Ambassador to Spain. When the Ice Club, Westminster, was opened in 1927, he was persuaded to go there by a life-long friend, our distinguished contributor T. D. Richardson. Lord Templewood wrote in 1930, in his preface to "T.D.'s" book "Modern Figure Skating," "I am under an obligation to the author. At the most helpless moment of my life he came to my rescue. do not mean when I was born, but rather when I first set skate upon ice. This is the moment when we want a helping hand, and this is the moment when Captain Richardson outstretched his to me. At the critical turning point, battle as hopeless, he put me on the right way to learn something of a delightful art and a very exact science."

Lord Templewood certainly did not "give up the battle". He found skating an excellent relaxation from problems of government policy, and he achieved the remarkable feat of passing the NSA silver figure test when he was over fifty years old. His ice-rink activities on one occasion interfered with his political life; in December 1935, at the height of this political life; in the Hoare-Laval pact which resulted in his resignation, he was hors de combat in Switzerland, having fallen on the ice at Zuoz and broken his nose.

Sir Charles Cayzer. Photo courtesy National Portrait Gallery.

Other politicians of this period who sought their pleasure on ice included Sir Charles Cayzer, Conservative MP for Chester from 1922 until his early death in 1940, and Captain Leonard F. Plugge, MP, whom Captain Richardson describes as "very keen and not a bad performer up to about silver standard."

Sir Peter Markham Scott. Photo courtesy National Portrait Gallery.

At least two NSA members have made unsuccessful attempts to become Conservative MPs. One was Peter Scott, the famous artist, ornithologist, dinghy sailor, and TV commentator. He was a bronze figure medallist, and in 1932 he won a pair-skating competition at the Ice Club with Joyce Macbeth. In the 1945 General Election he was defeated by only 435 votes at Wembley North. Five years later, at Greenwich, another skater lost his chance of a seat in the Commons. This was Ronald Dashwood Gilbey, now chairman of the NSA Council and a former member of Westminster City Council and the LCC.

A pre-war championship contender with political leanings is B. J. Humby. He skated for the British men's title three times, and passed his gold test in 1940, just before joining the RAF for war service. In recent years he has played an active part in local politics, and just completed three years as vice-chairman of Croyclo, South Conservative Association.

Violet Helen (Millar), Countess Attlee. Photo courtesy National Portrait Gallery.

It is noticeable that all the British politicians interested in skating have been Conservatives. This is perhaps a consequence of the social esteem in which the sport has been held in the past; perhaps it presents an insufficiently democratic "image" to attract the Labour Party. The only prominent Socialist whom 1 can remember being associated with skating is the late Countess Attlee, who during her husband's Premiership regularly attended the British championships at Wembley, and presented the prizes.

Colonel Viktor Gustaf Balck

Diplomats as well as politicians have sometimes been active skaters. One of the most notable was the Swedish diplomat Colonel [Viktor] Balck, who was President of the ISU from 1925 to 1933 and presented (in the name of the Stockholm Allmanna Skridskoklub) the "Swedish" cup awarded each year to the British men's champion.

David Bertram Ogilvy Freeman-Mitford, 2nd Baron Redesdale. Photo courtesy National Portrait Gallery.

In the heyday of Princes SC, Knightsbridge, many ambassadors accredited to the Court of St. James's were regular skaters, among them the representatives of Chile (Don Augustin Edwards), Brazil (M. de Bittencourt), Siam, Belgium, and France. The first Lord Redesdale, too, who had represented. Britain in Japan, appeared every morning at Princes; he was a remarkable character, best remembered now as the father of "the Mitford girls" (the Duchess of Devonshire, Lady Mosley, Nancy Mitford, and so on).

Jaochim von Ribbentrop. Photo courtesy National Archives Of Poland.

Adolf Hitler's ambassador in London, Joachim von Ribbentrop, was at one time a competitive skater. In his youth he was attached to the German Embassy in Ottawa, and he joined the Minto SC there. In February 1914 he was a member of the Minto team which travelled to the United States to contest the Ellis Memorial Trophy against the SC of Boston - one of the earliest international competitions in North America. The famous American champion Mrs. Theresa Weld Blanchard, who was one of the victorious Bostonians, remembers him as an interested and reasonably skilled skater, and a pleasant personality. Some twenty years later Ribbentrop was at the 1936 Winter Olympics, and often told T. D. Richardson (who was acting as the British chef de mission) that "he would like to go on to the rink and skate -- only the limited space available for the competitors stopped him."

The Earl and Countess of Minto skating on the Ottawa River. Photo courtesy Library And Archives Canada.

Mention of the Minto SC brings us to the Countess of Minto, after whom the club was named. Her husband, the Earl, was Governor-General of Canada from 1898 to 1904, and they were both staunch supporters of figure skating; they donated the cups which are still awarded for the Canadian men's and pairs' champion-ships. On their return to Britain, Lady Minto was often to be seen at the Ice Club, Westminster, and Captain Richardson recalls many pleasant waltzes with her.

Red Kelly. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

Since those days, there seem to be few links in Canada between skating and politics. One, however, is represented by Leonard P. Kelly ("Red" Kelly), the Liberal MP for York West. He first made a name for himself as an ice hockey player with the Toronto Maple Leafs before entering Parliament in June 1962. He is married to Andra McLaughlin, who was on the US team for the World figure skating championships of 1949, 1950, and 1951.

Joseph Kennedy and Megan Taylor

American politicians have not shown much enthusiasm for ice sports, although I believe Charles E. Wilson, President Eisenhower's Secretary of Defence, once had the misfortune to fall and break his ankle while skating, during his period of office. The Kennedy family of Boston, however, have long had an interest in it. When Joseph Kennedy senior was US Ambassador in London before the war, his sons used to take winter sports holidays in Switzerland, and I have in .my collection a happy photograph of Joe Kennedy junior, snapped at St. Moritz with Megan Taylor, then champion of the World. When Joe was killed in the war, his family had built in his honour the Joseph P. Kennedy Memorial Skating Center at Hyannis, Massachusetts.

President John F. Kennedy, J. Edgar Hoover and Robert F. Kennedy. Photo courtesy National Archives.

Joe's younger brothers all had connections with skating. John Fitzgerald Kennedy was at Harvard with Tudor Gardiner, who later married 1956 Olympic champion Tenley Albright. Mr. Kennedy became President of the United States less than a month before the disaster of February 15, 1961, in which the entire US World team lost their lives. He issued a special tribute to the team from the White House, and he and his family gave strong support to the creation of the USFSA's memorial fund.

Ted Kennedy. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

At the benefit carnival that initiated the fund, Edward Moore Kennedy (now the junior Senator from Massachusetts) came to read a personal message from the President. Edward himself had a particular sympathy with the fund, for when he was a freshman at Harvard he shared a room with one of the crash victims - Dudley Shaw Richards, the 1961 U.S. pairs champion.

Another member of this gifted family, Senator Robert Francis Kennedy, often takes an opportunity to get his skates on. When representing the President en a goodwill tour of Japan in 1962, he skated at the Korakuen rink in Tokyo, and now that he is a Senator-for New York State he is sometimes to be seen at Rockefeller Center rink in Manhattan, guilding uncertain steps of some of his nine children.

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 the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.