Obituary: John Oakley

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The Independent Culture
THE WIMBLEDON Championships will not be quite the same this summer without John Oakley scurrying about the place chattering to everybody, reporter's notebook and pen at the ready, as they have been for the past 53 years.

A loquacious character who brought great enthusiam and knowledge and prodigious mental and physical energy to the myriad sports events he covered, Oakley loved Wimbledon in particular.

His first assignment at the All England Club was as the 18-year-old sports editor of the Dagenham Post in 1946, after which he became an ever-present in the press box, writing in turn for the Nottingham Evening Post, the Yorkshire Evening News, the London Evening News and the Press Association. Oakley's chattering once prompted Rex Bellamy, the former tennis correspondent of The Times, to enquire if he was the editor of The Listener, a joke Oakley enjoyed telling against himself.

The Frenchman Yvon Petra won the Wimbledon men's singles championship in 1946. Petra, the last man to win the title wearing long white flannels, proudly told young Oakley, "For six matches I played in shorts because I was playing for Yvon Petra. But in the final I wore long trousers because I was playing for La Belle France."

Of all the champions he saw, Oakley rated Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg, Lew Hoad, Jack Kramer and John McEnroe, in that order, as the best of the men, and Maureen Connolly, Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, Margaret Court and Billie Jean King were his choice as the top five among the women.

A keen golfer, Oakley would not let the completion of a round stop him from arguing a point. A lengthy dispute over a rule after playing with a colleague, the late Brian Cutress, of Exchange Telegraph, led to his friend Cutress's obtaining a letter from the Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St Andrews supporting his case. "I still think I'm right," Oakley said.

He was in his element during the closing weeks of the tennis season last autumn, vociferously calculating the mathematical possibilites as Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski battled for world ranking points in the race to qualify for the ATP Tour Championship in Hanover.

Oakley's last event was an evening of table tennis in the Surrey Veterans League on 25 January. He played in two matches and was umpiring another when taken ill.

John Oakley, sports journalist: born Abingdon, Berkshire 1 February 1928; married 1955 Patricia Coleman (two sons); died Guildford, Surrey 30 January 1999.

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