Obituary: Ken Baily

Leigh Hatts
Sunday 23 October 2011 02:18

Ken Baily, athlete and sports enthusiast: born Somerset 1911; died Bournemouth 10 December 1993.

'WHAT are you doing here?' asked the Queen on spotting Ken Baily among a crowd in a Sydney street. 'I'd go anywhere for you, Ma'am,' replied Baily.

Baily, England's self-appointed sporting cheerleader, did go almost anywhere for sport and at home in Bournemouth he was always present at a royal visit. When Prince Charles attended his first trade union conference Baily was at the door presenting him with a carnation buttonhole.

Ken Baily died of cancer in a nursing home at Bournemouth, where he had long been the town's most famous resident. He was a familiar figure on his bicycle returning the greetings of members of the public with a salute. His place in the community was established early in the Fifties when, as 'Genevieve' in the Bournemouth Times, his Tatler-style column featured not only social occasions but national sporting events.

He was already in The Guinness Book of Records for running the most recorded miles and famous as the man who had run all the way to America by going round and round on a ship's deck. He also carried the Olympic torch when the games were held at Wembley in 1948.

For the next 30 years he continued to be a torch-bearer - taking a flame along the Bournemouth promenade to start the annual regatta fireworks. As the years passed there was concern that he might not be able to keep up with the younger runners. But he did and his fitness was partly maintained by regular sea-bathing which included a dip on Christmas Day and at midnight on New Year's Eve with the Bournemouth Spartans.

Another annual custom for Baily was an appeal for nearly new sports equipment for young teenagers wanting to take up a sport. In a career which as well as journalism had embraced work as clerical assistant in the telephone exchange, he had faced financial uncertainty; and he had to overcome a speech difficulty whilst a public figure.

An inheritance later allowed Baily to spend the last quarter-century travelling to all the main international sporting occasions. It was Baily who came to the rescue at Twickenham in 1982 by covering the streaker Erica Roe with his Union Jack. More recently he was at the Barcelona Olympics in his familiar top hat, red tail-coat and Union Jack waistcoat just as he had been at the 1966 World Cup when he became known as World Cup Willie.

He often wore this John Bull outfit on the plane and train all the way back to Bournemouth. The town's summer illuminations are still candlelit by the public and on August Wednesday nights right up to this year holiday-makers would be amazed to find themselves collecting their taper from England's cheerleader in full costume.

(Photograph omitted)

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments