Bridge player and columnist
Saturday 10 September 2005
Alan Fraser Truscott, bridge player and journalist: born London 16 April 1925; Bridge Columnist, The New York Times 1964-2005; married first Gloria Gilling (two sons, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1971), second 1972 Dorothy Hayden; died New Russia, New York 4 September 2005.
Although for the past 41 years Alan Truscott was the bridge columnist of The New York Times, he was born in Brixton, south London, in 1925. He learned to play bridge at the Whitgift School in Croydon, when he was 15, honing his skills in air-raid shelters during the Blitz.
After service in the Royal Navy, from 1944 until 1947, he went up to Magdalen College, Oxford, to read Modern History. There he was chess champion for four years, and represented the university at both bridge and chess. In 1950, he entered the British bridge trials with his Oxford University partner, Robert D'Unienville, the youngest pair to do so, and after many weekends of play, and whittling down of the field, they were still there, among the last eight - in fact, lying second. The pairs format then reverted to teams, and he and D'Unienville could choose their team-mates. They selected Boris Schapiro and Terence Reese, and this team won the trials and went on to represent Britain in the European Championships of 1951, playing in Venice, where they took the Bronze Medal.
It is perhaps ironic that Truscott voluntarily teamed up with Reese and Schapiro, for he, along with their American bridge table protagonists B.J. Becker and Dorothy Hayden, were the leading accusers of this pair at the 1965 World Championships, held in Buenos Aires. After the briefest of hearings Reese and Schapiro were adjudged guilty of cheating by the World Bridge Federation, but the year-long British Bridge League inquiry that ensued, chaired by General Lord Bourne and Sir John Foster QC found them not guilty of using finger signals to convey information.
Tony Priday and my late husband Alan Hiron, The Independent's former bridge correspondent, were the independent assessors of the technical evidence of the bridge hands, and the conclusion reached was that this world-class pair could not have failed to do better if they had had access to illicit information, as the results that they achieved were - for them - distinctly below par.
In 1958 Truscott, this time partnering Maurice Harrison-Gray, again represented Britain on a team which included Reese and Schapiro in the European Championships, held in Oslo, and there they took the Silver Medal, being closely pipped by the Italian Blue Team for the Gold.
Truscott and the Dutch journalist Herman Filarski had edited in 1955 the first series of Daily Bulletins at a European Championship, which was held that year in Amsterdam. So popular were they that these bulletins are now an institution at all major championships worldwide.
Alan Truscott became Secretary of the British Bridge League in 1958, and this included responsibility for the organisation of the European Championships, which were held in Torquay in 1961. He had been partnering Tony Priday in Surrey events since 1958, and the pair entered and won the British trials in 1960, which qualified them to represent Britain in Torquay. In spite of Truscott's having organisational duties, the British team won, and the following year the same team went to New York to compete in the Bermuda Bowl World Championships. It was there that he fell in love with one of the scorers in particular, and America in general, and decided to cross the Atlantic.
A leading American player, Richard Frey, chartered Truscott's services as a contributor to the American Contract Bridge Bulletin, which Frey edited. He was also asked to co-edit the first edition of the mammoth Official Encyclopedia of Bridge (1964) - and was executive editor of all ensuing five editions.
In 1964 Alan Truscott succeeded Albert Morehead as Bridge Columnist of The New York Times, a position he held until his death, although since the onset of Truscott's illness, the column had been written by Phillip Alder, another expatriate.
Truscott authored 13 books, which included Basic Bridge in Three Weeks (1987). I received a copy for review, and on seeing the title, was dismissive, being reminded of Terence Reese's review "The author should hasten to take them" on receipt of Bridge in Ten Easy Lessons (or some such title) by an unknown author. Then I noticed the name of this author - and no such derisive comments could ever be applied to Truscott's writings.
Alan Truscott was a kind and thoughtful man. When my husband died, his letter of condolence was one of the first that I received, and, having heard that I was following in my husband's footsteps as The Independent's Bridge Columnist, his letter was closely followed by a thick envelope containing first-class column material, just in case I was short of suitable copy of my own in the early days.
During the World Teams Olympiad of 1968, held in Deauville, bidding boxes, which are now in standard use, were demonstrated for the first time. As Britain had not entered a team that year, as the World Bridge Federation had refused to accept the findings of the British Bridge League inquiry into the Buenos Aires affair, Tony Priday - a mainstay of British teams at that time - was in Deauville in a journalistic capacity, as was Truscott.
They readily agreed to act as guinea-pigs for these new devices, but, on seeing them apparently playing together, Rixi Markus, a staunch supporter of Reese and Schapiro, emptied a jug of water over, not Truscott, but Priday, for "consorting with the enemy". (Priday later confided that, although he was very wet, he was grateful that it was nothing worse than water.)
Alan Truscott kept himself fit and entered and finished the New York Marathon at the age of 61.
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