Time, Gentlemen please! It's 1938, and Bunny is the great British hope

 

It is Friday 1 July 1938, and we are entering the grounds of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. In the distance, the Riviera Express can be heard sounding its whistle as it steams through Wimbledon station; while all around us there is the noisy clatter of excited crowds arriving at the club's gates. We have just stepped from a London taxi, giving the driver half-a-crown – an extravagant tip, perhaps, but we are in festive mood. This afternoon, at 10 minutes to two, Donald Budge of the United States and our own British hope, Henry "Bunny" Austin, will walk out on court to contest the final of the Gentlemen's Singles.

Budge, aged 23, from California, and the son of a Scottish immigrant who played football for Rangers, is favourite; he is the defending champion, and, having just won the French Championship, holds all the world's big titles. Nor has he dropped a set this Wimbledon, and he certainly never looked like doing so against his first-round opponent, Britain's Kenneth Gandar-Dower. He's that explorer fellow who caused a kerfuffle when he brought a cheetah on a leash into the Queen's Club bar.

Austin, at 32, has never won a major singles title. He did make the final in '32, several years before Fred Perry, our triple champion now in California, having turned professional. But Austin, throughout the Perry years, has been nothing if not dogged, and this year is the ninth time he has reached the quarter final or better at Wimbledon. Articles in the press perennially describe him as the backbone of our Davis Cup team. A stalwart, then, rather than a champion. Let us hope that changes this afternoon.

Heaven knows we could all do with a lift, what with Hitler entering Austria, and everyone being told to get measured for gas masks. Wish I could be as optimistic as the chap I met on the train the other day. We discussed the news in the lazy-with-facts way that strangers do, and he was definitely not one of the worriers. "See," he said, pointing to his Daily Express emblazoned with its slogan 'There will be no war'. "These chaps in Fleet Street. They know." I'm not so sure.

An hour or so to go. Lunch. We can't afford the prices in the refreshments tent (I'm surprised anyone can after the Budget raised the top rate of income tax to 5s 6d in the pound), so we walk down to the outside courts with our knapsacks to have our sandwiches and tea. They're rather good, these new Thermos flasks – they keep a drink warm for hours. As we eat, we watch the crowds. Some are strolling about, anxiously looking up at the greyish sky every so often to check for rainclouds; but most are lolling on the grass. There's a woman perched on a shooting stick who's wearing trousers. Some people are tutting and pointing, but I'm easy about such things. She does, however, look out of place among the summer dresses. Next to us is a chap who wouldn't notice if she was wearing nothing at all. He has his nose in the latest Agatha Christie. Appointment with Death. I'm more of an Evelyn Waugh man myself.

As we walk towards the centre court, I get talking to a chap about what a splendid sporting summer it's been so far: our footballers going to Germany and winning 6-3 (although I'd sooner they'd lost than give the Nazi salute, as they did); young Denis Compton getting a century against the Australians at Trent Bridge; and our golfers beating the United States at the Walker Cup match. Now all we need is for Bunny to triumph, and for Hutton's team to regain the Ashes.

We take our seats, and the players come out in their long whites, Budge the taller and more broad-shouldered, Austin looking a little edgy, as well he might. Budge's serve is hard to see, never mind return. He's six foot one, and the power he delivers gives the ball a kick that Austin can't handle. The American takes the first set 6-1, the second 6-0, and the third 6-3. Almost before we, and Austin, know it, Budge is being presented with the gold cup. If only he'd turned professional last year, as he apparently thought of doing.

Ah well. He'll probably leave the amateur ranks after the US championships later this year. That'll leave the field clear for Austin and those other promising young Britons. Shouldn't be long before we have a home champion once again.

Postscript

Bunny Austin was seeded No 1 in 1939, but lost in the semi-finals. Fred Perry, lacking the connections to amuse himself with a little light stockbroking, as Austin did, played lucratively in the States, owned and ran the Beverly Hills Club, became a US citizen, taught stars such as Bette Davis and David Niven how to play a deft backhand, had an affair with Marlene Dietrich, served with the US army, started his sports clothing firm with its laurel-wreath logo, and married four times.

Austin became a leading light in Moral Re-Armament, a Christian movement that did (and continues to do) much good work, but which contained a staunch pacifist element. In 1940, Austin and his wife, a former actress, went to the US to spread their message. They stayed, Austin became a US citizen, and was conscripted into the army.

In 1961, the Austins returned to Britain. On trying to revive his membership of the All England Club, Bunny ran into allegations that his wartime departure for the US and Moral Re-Armament work made him a "bolter", or even a "conchie". He was blackballed, and was only reinstated in 1984. He died in 2000, on his 94th birthday.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
people
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
people
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
Arts and Entertainment
Warner Bros released a mock-up of what the new Central Perk will look like
tv'Friends' cafe will be complete with Gunther and orange couch
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone