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Dear Old Member…

November 29, 2008 in John Blacker Society

I am writing to announce the formation of a society to bring together members of the Balliol College Boat Club, past and present. As you may have read in Floreat Domus, Balliol Men’s First VIII went ‘Head of the River’ during Summer Eights this year, and the Women’s First are hoping to do the same next year. The impetus to establish a society of this kind came from Balliol’s Old Members, many of whom got in touch to express their support before Eights, and later their pleasure on learning of our achievement. In the words of the current President of the Boat Club, Hunter Harris (2006): “The support and encouragement of Old Members was a tremendous boost to all of us this year. Receiving ‘good luck’ emails and letters from many of you during Torpids and Eights was one of the highlights of my time as Men’s Captain. The Boat Club is a community which plays a significant part in all of our lives while up at Oxford, and I hope that it continues to play a role in our lives after we leave.”

Old Members have expressed what those of us currently in the BCBC feel: rowing at Balliol is more than a sport – it forms a community that supports you during your time here and, in many cases, forges friendships that continue after you leave College. I realise that not everyone who receives this letter will still be interested in rowing or the fortunes of the Boat Club. However, judging from so many messages of goodwill and support, and the presence of so many of you down at the river during Eights Week, I believe a good number of you are. I hope that, by writing to everyone we have from old boat lists, those of you who would like to keep in touch with the BCBC via the Society will make yourselves known to us.

We have named the Society, the John Blacker Society, in honour of the Balliol oarsman whose efforts put Balliol Head of the River in 1952, for the first time since 1879. John was an inspiration to generations of Balliol rowers, not least the current generation. He was with us at the river during Eights Week last Term – only months before his death on 28 September 2008. Please find his obituary in the attached newsletter, written by Neville Mullany (1950), honorary Senior Member of this Society.

I have gladly accepted the task of organising the Society with the full support of BCBC members and the BCBC Trustees, and am pleased to enclose the first edition of our termly newsletter, The Blacker Bulletin. It contains information about the current status of the Boat Club, updates on race results, and contributions by members on key times and features. Please do send us any articles, anecdotes, tales, or records of your own rowing memories at Balliol. We would also appreciate any stories of how rowing has affected your lives.

For the Society to reach its full potential, it will need the involvement of Balliol’s Old Members who rowed at College and who would like to stay in touch with the BCBC. To do this, we ask you to visit our website,, and sign up online to become a member of the Society, through which you will receive the newsletter by email. If you prefer not to sign up online, please do contact me, either by email or by post so that we can keep in touch in other ways; naturally, please do let us know if you’d rather not receive the newsletter in future.

Yours faithfully,
Maya Bahoshy (2006)
Women’s Captain 2007-8

Marlow Fours and Pairs Head

November 24, 2008 in Captain's Blog

It doesn’t snow that frequently in these parts, but it just so happened that at 6am (or 6.10 to be precise) it was doing just that. Luckily by the time of the first division at out Eton’s Dorney Lake the snow had given way to merely light rain and temperatures in the low single digits. Balliol had a coxed four (Christopher Wright, Tobias Witting, Hunter Harris, Oscar Schonfeld, Alice Lighton) and a single sculler (Tobias Witting) entered in the days three divisions.

The first race was in the four and saw perhaps the best rowing that this crew has done. Carrying out a detailed race plan, the four won the Senior 2 category reasonably convincingly from Imperial College by two seconds. Balliol ended up the third fastest crew in the division losing only to a quad and a very talented single sculler. Along the way, the crew beat the four Oxford Lightweight fours entered by five, fifteen, twenty, and thirty-five seconds respectively – particularly satisfying since the fastest of the lightweight bunch contained our very own Jack Devlin.

In the second division, Tobi raced in his single in the Senior 4 category while the rest of us put our feet up and munched on Soreen. In only his second race, Tobi tore the field to shreds, beating his closest rival by ten seconds to claim the win. It is now two wins out of two in Tobi’s burgeoning sculling career.

Reconvening for the third and final division, the four was entered into Senior 1. Conditions had changed somewhat with a decent tailwind providing solace for lighter crews but also some pretty choppy water particularly in the second half of the course. In all honestly, the crew didn’t cope with the conditions terribly well, showing some inexperience or perhaps rustiness in choppy water
and also suffering from the earlier racing. Still we posted a decent time beating three of the four Lightweight crews but allowing Jack’s four to recapture some pride posting a time nine seconds faster than our own effort.

It was a pretty shattering day’s racing but useful in terms of race practice and balls-to-the-wall training as well as providing invaluable experience for Alice who performed admirably in the cox’s seat all day.

Cox To Stroke: Alice Lighton, Oscar Schonfeld, Hunter Harris, Tobias Witting, Chris Wright

Cox To Stroke: Alice Lighton, Oscar Schonfeld, Hunter Harris, Tobias Witting, Chris Wright

John Blacker

November 10, 2008 in John Blacker Society

Neville Mellany (1950)
John Blacker
John was a member of the 1952 Eight that went Head of the River, and attended this year’s Summer Eights and watched the 2008 1st VIII in their triumph regaining the headship. John was also a member of Leander Rowing Club after competing in the 1950 University Boat Race. He came to Balliol in 1948 to study history and politics and went on to study for a PhD at LSE. John worked as a demographer throughout his life working finally as a free-lance consultant in demographic statistics after work in East Africa, several governmental departments and universities.

John was probably the oarsman who had the most impact on Balliol rowing in over a century. An exaggeration? Let us see.

John came up in 1948 having already won the Ladies at Henley with Eton. One day he was asked to sub in the Leander Grand crew – rowing so well, he was given the seat and duly won the Grand. He got his Blue in 1950, but was told not to do the Boat Race again on medical grounds. Oxford’s loss was Balliol’s gain.

Balliol had not been Head of the River since 1879 and John made up his mind to put that right. At London Rowing Club he asked the President, the legendary Jock Wise, multiple winner of the Wingfield Sculls, to be the head coach. He also recruited Tony Rowe, a fellow Etonian, past President of OUBC and Trinity man! He got enormous support from Hugh Stretton, a Fellow of Balliol, who also coached the 1951 VIII.

But this was not enough. John wanted more. In the Thirties Balliol had two eights in the First Division and John recruited Stephen Jones and Arthur Pyper. These two, with Jock Wise and Jim Lindars, the BCBC President, coached our Torpid to the Headship in 1954. The arrival of Don Cadle, another legend, to Balliol in 1950 was just what John needed. With Don we had more superb coaching, enhanced by its continuity. Balliol started winning everything!

But the real impact had come with what the 1st VIII achieved. Starting 10th in 1950 they went up to 7th and up to 3rd in 1951, activating the first Bump Supper in living memory. And then came 1952! On the Saturday, right in front of the OUBC, Balliol bumped Merton, with its 5 blues, to row Head of the River for the first time in 73 years ! Monday’s Times had a memorable first paragraph: “The totally unexpected but not altogether unforeseen occurred at Oxford on Saturday when Balliol bumped Merton to row Head of the River.”

John had put things right. With the exception of himself, Don and Ken Keniston, all the other five rowers and cox were homegrown. Our ’54 Head of the River Torpid had only one man who had ever rowed before. Very much the same with the Head of the River VIII of ’56. This continued through the Glorious Fifties – all due to the continuity and excellence of coaching.

The impact of his work was immediate. Some, like Jim Hugessen and myself, were quickly converted and started tubbing – the original Cadle Pair! The next term, Michaelmas 1952, Don put together a novice VIII. We won the Novice Pennant in the University Long Distance Race by half a minute. The following term, as the 2nd Torpid, we made 6 bumps in the 6 days of racing never rowing more than 25 strokes. The 1953 summer 2nd VIII will always maintain that they were faster than the 1st VIII, which was 2nd on the river, having destroyed all in their way. The Balliol VIII duly won the University Long Distance Race in 1953. The previous year’s 2nd Torpid became the 1954 1st Torpid, regaining the Headship lost in 1930. The 1959 Torpid won it back again. Balliol boats were always at the top – in Torpids and Eights. Success after success seemed to be the norm in the 50s! John – and Don – had done an incredible job.

John’s interest in BCBC never wavered. I shall always be grateful for the massive support he gave me with the BCBC Training Fund. We spoke frequently and met on Saturdays of Eights. This summer he borrowed my blazer and tie and attended the celebratory dinner, before getting on his bike and cycling back to the station for the train to London. He would have roared with laughter at seeing himself on the cover of the Balliol Record!

John’s timing was always impeccable. He lived long enough to see Balliol row Head of the River again. He died a couple of days before a BCBC Trustees meeting and a Balliol Society dinner to give us a chance to honour his memory. A legend. A great man, A lovely man. Thank you, John.

John With the 2008 Headship VIII

John With the 2008 Headship VIII

Autumn Fours Success

November 4, 2008 in Captain's Blog

As part of the build up to Fours’ Head of the River the four of Christopher Wright, Tobias Witting, Hunter Harris, Oscar Schonfeld and Alice Lighton entered Autumn Fours on the Isis. Although the format of racing was of course dramatically different from what they will face on the Tideway (Autumn Fours is an 800m side-by-side race) it was a valuable opportunity to work on a solid race rythme which can be transferred to the longer distance to come. Following a first round row-over, Balliol saw off Trinity, Jesus, and two St Catz crews to claim the title. Each race saw solid wins with the margin being impressively stretched out from half-way to the finish, boding well for Fours’