Penny Perry: Dad would have been ecstatic with Andy Murray's success at Wimbledon...
...but, Fred Perry's daughter tells Paul Newman, her father would also have had a tinge of regret at losing the honour of being Britain's last Wimbledon men's champion
In a house in Florida on Sunday evening, amid all the celebrations as Andy Murray won Wimbledon, joy was mixed with a tinge of regret. For Penny Perry, Murray's triumph meant that after 77 years her father, Fred, was no longer the last British man to lift the singles trophy at the All England Club.
"I suppose I would be lying if I said I didn't feel a little strange, but I think that's just a human reaction." Penny said. "I'm thrilled to bits for Andy. I think it's absolutely fantastic and wonderful for Britain. How can one not be? I'm a phenomenal patriot. By the end of the final I was so drained. I was out of it."
For most of her life 54-year-old Penny has made an annual pilgrimage to the All England Club, where her father won the last of his three consecutive Wimbledon titles in 1936. However, a recent double hip replacement meant that she watched this year's Championships at the home near Boca Raton she shares with her husband, Drew Evert, the brother of Chris. Penny describes herself as "blood-British" and spent most of her childhood in Britain, but she has a US passport, her parents having become naturalised Americans after Perry turned professional.
Bobby, Penny's 94-year-old mother and Perry's fourth wife, also lives in Florida. "I don't think she will have watched the final," Penny said. "She's always said that she would be happy if she didn't see another tennis match again. She's lived with it for so long."
Even Penny's son, John Frederick (his grandfather was Frederick John), who lives in Wimbledon, was not watching. "He was climbing up a mountain in Turkey on Sunday," Penny said. "I got a text from him when he heard that Murray had won. He just said: 'Here we go.' We were prepared for it. The phone has been ringing non-stop ever since. Everyone wanted to know our reaction and what Fred would have thought.
"But then again it's been like that for two weeks every year for the last 77 years. We're so used to it. Every year after Fred won it he would get asked the same question: 'Where is the next British winner coming from?' He would just say: 'I don't know.'
"I've been having the same conversations for the last 35 years. We've been talking about this since Mark Cox and Roger Taylor were around, then Buster Mottram, then John Lloyd and even when Tim Henman and then Andy came along. I suppose what it does mean is that we might not get the phone calls for the next 77 years. It's strange that it took 50 years for some people to realise we even had a champion. It's taken them 50 seconds to realise we have one now."
The reference to her father's long wait for recognition is heartfelt. Even when Perry won his first Wimbledon title – which ended a 25-year run without a home-grown champion – he was treated as an outsider by the tennis establishment. A young man of modest means from Stockport who had not gone to public school and whose father was a Labour MP, he was regarded by many at the All England Club as an intruder.
The attitude was summed up when Perry lay in the bath shortly after he had beaten Australia's Jack Crawford to win the title for the first time. Perry heard the locker-room door open and recognised the voices of Wimbledon committee members. "Take this bottle of champagne," one of them said to Crawford. "We're only sorry that this was one day when the best man didn't win."
When he got out of his bath Perry saw his All England Club tie, which goes with the membership granted to champions, draped over a chair. The committee members had not even had the decency to present it to him personally. The hurt lived with Perry until his death in 1995, although bridges were rebuilt in his later life. He said the unveiling of his statue at Wimbledon in 1984 meant more to him than all the prize-money in the world.
Penny, who often refers to him as Fred because she saw the tennis player and her father as almost two separate people, recognises many parallels with Murray. "We always said that Fred had been born on the wrong side of the tracks," she said. "Now we've joked that the tracks have moved a bit further north. If Fred was unacceptable because he came from north of Watford, what does that make someone from north of Newcastle?"
Like Murray, Perry won his first Grand Slam title at the US Open and won his first Wimbledon the following year. Murray will no doubt be hoping that he, too, goes on to win the title three years in a row, which no player achieved after Perry until Bjorn Borg in the 1970s. Perry went on to win eight Grand Slam titles and is one of a select group to have won all four Grand Slam trophies.
Perry's uncompromising approach did not go down well with the traditionalists. He became supremely fit by training with Arsenal's footballers and was a ferocious competitor. "He had the same work ethic that I see in Murray," Penny said. "Fred only ever lost one or two five-set matches in his life. The first time he lost one he said: 'That's never going to happen again'.
"Fred always used to say that to reach the very top you had to have a bit of luck and you had to have that bit of spunk, that something extra. I knew exactly what Fred meant by that. I never saw it in Roger Taylor or in Tim Henman, but I certainly have seen it in Andy Murray."
Until Murray switched clothing companies he used to wear Fred Perry kit. When asked at Wimbledon last week what he thought Perry might have said to him if they had met, Murray replied with a smile: "Why aren't you wearing my clothes?" Penny approved. "Fred had an amazing sense of humour, great northern wit," she said. "It wouldn't surprise me if he had said exactly that."
Was Penny disappointed that Murray had not won the title wearing the kit of the sportswear company her father had founded? "Not really. Fred Perry Sportswear represented the dignified lawns of Wimbledon, the whole elite atmosphere of the place. I don't think that ever quite fitted with Andy Murray. When he was wearing Fred Perry gear, lots of people said to me: 'He looks like an unmade bed'."
Perry was handed a cheque for £10 for winning Wimbledon. Murray won £1.6m, and untold riches will follow through commercial deals. Would Perry have approved? "I'm not 100 per cent sure of that," Penny said. "He was a down-to-earth man. He was steak-and-kidney without the kidney. He was not from an affluent background. It came to him. He played tennis because he loved the sport, not because it gave him great wealth."
And what would Perry have thought about Murray replacing him as the last British man to win Wimbledon? "I think his feelings would have been bittersweet," Penny said. "He would have been absolutely ecstatic because of the whole British, patriotic thing. He would have thought, like a typical northerner: 'About bloody time too.' He had been asked for 50 or 60 years: 'When, when, when?' He would just say: 'How on earth do I know?'
"But I don't think anybody would be human if they didn't have a bit of regret when they thought: 'It's not me now.' I was with Fred when Borg won his third Wimbledon title in a row. He went on to the court to congratulate Borg personally. That was a big deal at the time.
"Fred wasn't just the last British player to win Wimbledon. He was the last player from anywhere [since the First World War] who had won it three times in a row. Then Pete Sampras did it, then Roger Federer, but we're still only talking about four people who have done it. Let's see if Andy can join them."
Perry v Murray: Tale of the tape
Fred Perry/Andy Murray
Stockport Born Glasgow
Right-handed Style Right-handed
6ft Height 6ft 3in
1 (1934) Highest world ranking 2
Grand Slam victories
(1934, 35, 36) Wimbledon (2013)
(1934) Australian Open None
(1935) French Open None
(1933, 34, 36) US Open (2012)
Perry won £10 for clinching the men's singles title at Wimbledon in 1936, compared to Murray's £1.6m
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