Gordon Ivor Biscoe, 1932-2021
Through the ups and downs in the fortunes of our Club over nigh on seven decades, Gordon Biscoe was renowned for his wicked sense of humour allied to a determination that he would do whatever he could for Belgrave Harriers as a competitor, committee member, team manager, and administrator. There are very, very few in our history who have worked so hard within the Club, while at the same time representing it in outside organisations at all levels of the sport. On one day he might be marking out the course for a race on Wimbledon Common, while on another, presenting medals as President of the South of England Athletics Association.
We look back fondly on his time with Belgrave Harriers.
… It was a bitterly cold December Saturday morning. Two hoary veterans, though clad in woollen hats, waterproof suits, and wearing stout boots, felt the chill rising from the soggy ground on the Common. The sleet-laden wind stung their faces as they hammered home a row of iron spikes and linked them with plastic tape.
“You know,” said Gordon, “I’m getting too old for this.”
Just then, a rather officious-looking gent approached the duo. “Excuse me. What do you think you are doing?”
Without an instant’s hesitation, up spake Gordon: “We’re marking out the route of the new spur road across the Common from Tibbetts Corner down to Raynes Park.
It was left to Gordon’s colleague to laughingly calm down the now rather apoplectic gentleman. “No, we’re putting up the finishing area for a cross-country race to be held here this afternoon by the local harriers.”
Above. September 28, 1969, and having only just been installed as Road Running & Cross Country Secretary, Gordon celebrates with his team after they had just won the prestigious Johnston Road Relay. The race was held at Hornchurch over ten stages covering 44 miles in all. From left to right, the back row consists of Gordon, Tony Fairclough (an unusual stint as reserve on this day), Dick Piotrowski, Laurie O'Hara, Peter Morris, Pat O'Connor. Front row: G.W. 'Bill' Dance, John Thresher, Gerry North, Geoff North, Trevor Hart. Missing from the line-up is Lionel Mann.
There was the time, the evening before a Belgrave 12-Stage Road Relay, that he was reaching under a car parked on a corner at the top of Wool Road. He was wielding a pot of white paint and a paintbrush when he was accosted by a resident who wondered why on earth this man seemed determined to paint a huge arrow under his neighbour’s car. “We’re diverting the 200 bus route!” was Gordon’s response.
Sometimes the joke was on Gordon, however. The 2005 National Cross-Country Championships at Cofton Park, Birmingham, had come to a pretty successful conclusion for the Bels. Virtually everyone had set off for home and the Club tent was packed up and in the car. "I think I'll just inspect the plumbing before the long journey home," muttered Gordon. A couple of minutes later there was a clanking noise and a hullabaloo broke out before Gordon emerged, pale and shaking, from the portaloo. Workman had arrived and attached chains to it. They were just in the process of hoisting it up to load it onto the back of a truck when Gordon let them know, in no uncertain terms, that he was still in residence. Now that was funny! Goodness knows where he might have ended up if he hadn't got out in time.
Gordon was born on 30 October 1932, the son of Reginald Edward Biscoe and his wife Cicely Mary; younger brother to Dennis Albert Biscoe who was in the York and Lancaster Regiment during World War II, and was sadly killed aged just 19 during the D-Day landings in France. Gordon never forgot his brother and was proud that his name would be on the new Normandy memorial. Reg was Head Warehouseman, Transport Supervisor & Chief Clerk in the removals and warehousing department of Harrods. The family lived in a cottage at the magnificent Harrods Depository site in Barnes. The five-storey depository building, overlooking the Thames, with its riverside quay and cranes, was once described as ‘absurdly grand,’ designed to reflect (but not outdo) the grandeur of the Knightsbridge store it served; it displayrd elegant bands of brick and stone, faience tiling, ornate flourishes, and two domed towers reminiscent of pavilions of the Indian Raj.
What a place to grow up; what a splendid vantage point from which to enjoy the annual Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race. And then, during wartime, there was the prestige of one’s father being a key man in the Harrods Auxiliary Fire Service. Gordon remembered the depository being bombed. Emerging from the air-raid shelter the following morning he was astounded to find the site festooned with broken furniture and bedding. A bomb had scored a direct hit on one of the warehouses. War-time rationing, no problem! Ever resourceful he would cut a Mars bar into seven pieces to ensure that he could enjoy one piece a day.
Gordon went to grammar school in Sheen, where he discovered a talent for running at an early age. He left at the age of 17 and although hoping to become a vet, found himself working for a year at the General Electric Company before embarking upon National Service, and serving with the Royal Air Force, working as ground crew on Lancaster and Wellington Bombers. Athletics became a bit more serious in the R.A.F. where he won a Shropshire County Cross-Country title with them and was flown to Germany in a Lancaster bomber, not to fight but to take part in an Inter Services cross-country race.
Back in ‘civvy street’ and returning to London, Gordon worked for an engineering company in Chiswick, and spent thirteen years at evening classes gaining qualifications in electro-mechanical engineering. He later moved to Vatric in Morden and then on to the Electrical Research Association in Leatherhead, working in the field of servo systems and later robotics.
Above. Gordon was involved in every scheme that we dreamed up. Here, on 13 May, 1973, we started training sessions at Wimbledon Park on Sunday mornings. The target was to gather 100 youngsters and form a brand new team. The adults on the left of the group, left to right, are: John Martin, Frank Simmons, Bob Taylor, with Jim Heathfield below Bob, kneeling. Next but one from Bob, at the back is Reg Hopkins Jnr. and then his father Reg. On the right of the group, left to right, are: John Baker (almost obscured), Philip Gee, Peter Hilliar, Gordon Biscoe, 'Micky' Pyer, Gordon Doubleday, Alan Mead and Bill Couzens.
For a larger version of this picture, click on the image.
He also determined that he’d like to continue his running and decided to join Belgrave Harriers. He was elected a member in April 1953. Like many another young man, Gordon found that accomplishments in a sport at school and the services were not necessarily naturally followed by continued success among a ‘band of brothers’ whose aim was to achieve victory at area, national, and even international level. But Gordon slipped happily into a group always known as the ‘engine room.’ They backed up the star-studded teams; and he could bring his organisational skills, flair, and sheer love for the club into play, qualities without which no club could be successful. Gordon’s first love was always the road, not that he completely forsook the track where he could run half a mile in a few seconds over two minutes, the mile in just over four and a half minutes and three miles just inside the quarter-hour. He liked to recount that he probably held the record for the ‘Bridges,’ a circuit taking in the Thames Embankment and the perimeter of Battersea Park, if one only counted those who had run in two left shoes; and that he was selected more times than anyone else as the first reserve for the London to Brighton Relay.
He was a natural for Road Running Captain in 1964, and after three years became the Road Running Secretary, taking over from Derek Crookes. Social events were important to Belgrave in the ’60s, and for a couple of years Gordon was organising events that included a visit to Belgrave Hall by the legendary Ken Colyer and his Jazzmen; thus, our man was able to overlap two of his passions. Then in 1969, when Bill Lucas stepped down as Cross-Country Secretary, Gordon added that job to his portfolio as well.
When it came to organising races, Gordon cut his teeth on the Belgrave 20 Miles Road Race, a prestigious event that often-incorporated county and intercounty championships and attracted runners from all over the country. It was thanks to this race that Gordon met his future wife, Margaret, who was the Centre Organiser of the Wimbledon Red Cross who always gave medical support to the event.
The old London to Brighton Relay came to a halt in 1964, the roads becoming too busy to carry such an event any longer. Belgrave stepped in to organise a replacement 12-Stage Relay around the roads of Wimbledon and soon this included the South of England Championship, lasting until 1992, and carrying the burden of the organisation of the race for over a quarter of a century, on behalf of the Bels., was G.I. Biscoe.
The Belgrave Committee benefitted from Gordon’s presence since the early 1960s and always, if there was any club activity being organised in any sphere, one could guarantee that Gordon would be involved, perhaps chairing sub-Committees, sorting out heaps of junk before a jumble sale, and for our later generation of top runners in this millennium, helping to put up the team tent at crack of dawn on National Road Relay days … he was everywhere.
Gordon was elected a Life Member in 1976 and was made President for 1985-1986. He became a Club Trustee in 2002. He served on the Surrey County AA Committee, the South of the Thames Cross Country Association Committee, and South of England AA General Committee; he was President of the South of Thames for 1984-1985, Vice President of the SEAA in 2006-2007, and President from 2007-2009 (when he was delighted to present medals to his young club-mates on several occasions.) On top of all this, he was a member of the SEAA Road Running & Cross-Country Working Groups for eleven years and was the SEAA’s representative at the English Road Running Association. All this and a qualified timekeeper as well.
No wonder that the London Federation of Sports & Recreation presented Gordon with a ‘gold’ award for over 30 years of service to athletics, and then ten years later a ‘platinum’ award for over 40 years of service.
Gordon passed away on 12 February 2021 in his 89th year, having completed almost 68 years of membership.
Left. The London Federation of Sports & Recreation awarded Gordon a 'platinum' diploma for 40 years of service to athletics.
The National Archives of the UK (TNA); Kew, Surrey, England; General Register Office: Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths.
TNA. 1939 England and Wales Register.