Geoffrey Page

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Geoffrey Page, journalist, oarsman, rowing coach and artist: born Barnes, Surrey 9 April 1929; married (three daughters); died London 1 April 2002.

A more passionate supporter of the sport of rowing could not be found than Geoffrey Page – lifelong oarsman, coach and rowing journalist. Although he could not make what would have been his 58th Boat Race attendance, he followed every stroke of last Saturday's thrilling contest on the radio from his hospital bed, and had been planning to watch the video when allowed home.

Born in Barnes, Surrey, in 1929, Geoffrey Page was destined to grow up on the river. His father, Freddie Page, five times captain of Thames Rowing Club, signed his son up as a cadet member of the Putney club at the tender age of six weeks. The young Geoffrey began his own rowing two miles upriver at St Paul's School, where his father taught, and was made captain of the school boat club for his last two years.

Moving to study art at the Slade in 1948, the enthusiastic Page was shocked to find a lethargic boat club at University College London. His mutterings about the "lack of spirit" ensured that he was elected captain of the club in his second term at college. Enlisting the help of several distinguished coaches, he set about reviving the club's fortunes, and in 1949 co-founded the London University representative boat club, gaining his Purple by rowing in the first UL crew to be formed.

In 1953 Page graduated to row at Thames, winning the Head of the River on his début for the club, followed by trophies at most of the major regattas. His own international aspirations brought him two medals at the 1954 Empire Games, although he rowed several times at Henley Royal Regatta without ever winning one of the coveted medals. He continued to coach, both at Chiswick Grammar School and at UL as well as Thames, and wrote his first book, Coaching for Rowing, in 1963. Page was proud to be appointed national coach and selector for the 1964 and 1968 Olympics, and continued his own participation, captaining Thames RC four times between 1959 and 1969, and elected President of the club early in 2002.

Nineteen sixty-five saw the beginning of Page's journalistic career, as first The Sunday Telegraph and then The Daily Telegraph appointed him their rowing correspondent. His acute coach's eye for technique and talent for description brought him a global reputation as a writer, and he soon established his favourite viewing spots at all the great rowing events. Journalism and rowing only clashed once, when, as part of the Oxford coaching team for the 1987 "mutiny" Boat Race, he felt obliged to step down from his involvement with the crews when he realised he was going to have to write about their problems in the national press.

The Boat Race continued to be his passion, and he wrote with an even-handed severity about both Oxford and Cambridge when they failed to live up to his high standards, although his heart remained firmly Dark Blue in private. One of the official timekeepers for the race, he had a grandstand view from the press launch for nearly 40 years, and would have loved to have been at last Saturday's epic battle.

Rowing at all levels continued to attract Page, even though in recent years age and health problems made it difficult for him to climb the steps of regatta viewing stands. Summoning the energy to attend the Sydney Olympics, he watched Steve Redgrave win his fifth gold, and provided the expert analysis last summer as Matthew Pinsent and James Cracknell won two gold medals in a day at the Lucerne World Championships. He never forgot the youngsters, however, and took particular care to encourage those just beginning on their international careers, rewarding success with approving comments in his Telegraph articles.

Page's early artistic leanings continued throughout his life, and he always described himself as a potter, although he also sketched and painted, producing several excellent portraits of rowing figures amongst his opus. He was a published poet, and became an accomplished graphologist, using his eye for detail to analyse the handwriting of those unwary enough to put pen to paper. As an archivist he wrote histories of Thames, UCL and Leander rowing clubs, the last co-authored with Richard Burnell.

As President of the British Association of Rowing Journalists, Page chaired the annual BARJ meetings, held in the press box over the river on the last day of Henley Royal Regatta, with laconic wit. He always managed to draw the meeting to a close in time for the first final of the regatta, ever aware of the real business of the day. This year's regatta will not be the same without Geoffrey Page, telescope to his eye, judiciously pronouncing the winner before the two crews are more than halfway up the course.

Rachel Quarrell

Comments