Sunday, June 21, 2015

Harold P. Webber - bowls king

Found in the papers of L.R. Reeve (see A.J. Balfour and many others) a piece, from about 1970, about the life of a bowls champion Harold P.(Percy) Webber. One of Reeve's more minor characters and well beneath the Wikipedia radar but a sort of 'village Hampden' in the world of bowls and the author of a notable book on the subject, written with Dr John William Fisher: Bowls - How to Improve your Game (Pitman, London 1934.) Apart from his sporting skills ('his length bowling was uncanny') Webber was a fine orator…

Harold Webber's recent sudden death, left the members of his club in a state of bewilderment and shock, and had there been a Wailing Wall like the well-known meeting place in Jerusalem, his departure would have caused a record assembly among the mourners. At the time I was very impressed moreover not only by bowlers of other clubs, but by non-players who never went near a club. One acquaintance declared that he couldn't get the deceased celebrity out of his mind. At last his wife said, "It's no use dwelling on his death; it won't bring him back."
Such was his personality. He was the uncrowned monarch of the Torbay Country Bowling Club, the second largest bowling club in Devon. He had only to walk into the pavilion at Oldway, Paignton, for all to feel that the gathering was complete,
for his presence gave us a sense of unity.
We can of course suggest a few reasons for his personal influence. For one thing he had been our secretary for twenty-five years, and we had decided to mark the event with an enthusiastic testimonial; but the "blind fury" paid an unwelcome visit and prevented us from indulging in a happy, united expression of genuine respect and gratitude for his lengthy dedication to the club which meant so much to him and its loyal members.
Further, as a secretary he was in the superlative class. His minutes, reports, notices on the board, annual digests, summaries of correspondence were unpretentious, unmistakable and typical of the man himself. Also he proved himself an excellent organizer when he planned three tours in three consecutive years to Cheltenham, Leamington and Hastings. But everything was always done without any fuss, and many of our members never fully realized that the projects he placed before us were often the result of hours of planning and preparation.
With reference to his eminence as a bowls exponent he had brought distinction to Devon as early as 1925, when he won the English singles championship. Later he was a runner-up on two occasions: in 1930 and 1937. In those days when in Kent I seemed to hear the name of Harold Webber even more frequently than that of the great W. Barlow of Bellingham or R. G. Colquhoun of Bromley, or Jack Snelgar, (and I doubt whether the phenomenal J. Carruthers of Muswell Hill was more frequently mentioned. Still later, when I joined Harold's club at Paignton and noted his persistently accurate length bowling, added to victories in the club and local tournaments, I fully appreciated the national respect among discerning bowlers in various parts of the country.
Let me now refer to something expected to be the penalty of all celebrities in any sport. Various holiday-makers would come to the club and ask, "Which player is Harold Webber?" At times they were an embarrassment, for some not only wanted an introduction, they wanted a game of singles, and had Harold agreed to all requests, they would have upset his time-table of games. Such is fame.
To give a complete account of his bowling life one must mention his usual custom during a trophy match. His rink was usually the last to end a game, which sometimes earned dividends. Should the final stages of a match be critical, Harold had a few woods in reserve for a desperate effort to snatch a victory. At one sensational final, Budleigh Salterton were lying game by two shots when Harold had one wood left. He trailed the jack to two of his club's woods, making three shots, and the Torbay Country Club were the victors by one shot.
I looked upon him as our most reliable skip, yet in a friendly match he was quite willing to act as lead, for length bowling was really his speciality. Percy Baker of Poole, who holds the English record of championships with four wins, once declared in a Sunday paper that at times Webber's length bowling was uncanny. How true.
Harold was the author of one book on bowls, and wrote two in collaboration with Dr Fisher. On many occasions I have heard visitors say, "I've read your book Mr Webber." And as for his competence on the platform he never pretended to be an oratorial wizard, but his clarity, precision and economy of words must have made some orators decidedly envious. Also, his flair as a secretary could have made him supreme in big business.
But my theme is his life in the world of bowls, and when I look back sixty years since I was introduced to the game, four players have impressed me more than any other bowler: David Bryant, Percy Baker, Harold Webber and Fred Horn. Among other bowls giants not already mentioned, I have watched with close interest W. Wright, E. F. Gudgeon, A. W. Knowling, A. A. Keech, A. R. Allen, F. A. Line, G. D. Scadgell, Harold Shapland, Lester Parkinson, Roy Kivell, who holds the record number of games for England, Tom Schofield and J. Phipp, and two brilliant young men who one day may be world famous; K. Boobyer and John Evans of Babbacombe.
Now that I have completed my name-dropping I must emphasize a fact usually the experience of most bowlers, I have forgotten scores of potential world beaters – and hundreds I shall never know.

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