The British Sports Awards goes back a bit. In fact the then Sports Writers’ Association staged their first dinner in 1949 and acknowledged five different sportsmen of the year, including Jim Dear, a world champion in three sports. PHILIP BARKER reports.
A portrait hangs in the hallowed surroundings of Lord’s and this image is reproduced here for the first time with thanks to Clare Skinner and the MCC.
James Dear was lethal with a racket in his hand – rackets, tennis and squash. He was effectively world champion in one sport in 1939, a second sport in 1949 and, at the age of 45, a world title in a third sport.
Born in Fulham in 1910, Dear joined Queen’s Club as an apprentice ballboy in the 1920s. Dan Maskell, who would later become the voice of tennis on the BBC, suggested that young Dear should take up tennis.
Whatever Maskell spotted was well hidden to start with. Dear was by no means an enthusiastic player early on. It was said he came close to being sacked from Queen’s.
Dear had never played squash until a chance encounter with the great Egyptian champion, Amir Bey. Dear went on to reach the final of the British Open three times in the 1930s only to lose to Bey each time. He finally managed it after Bey’s retirement.
War intervened. Back at Queen’s Club, Dear found that the real tennis courts were not yet available as they had been requisitioned but the rackets courts were available, so he ploughed all his energies into winning a second world title.
He would retain the title for seven years, a feat that saw him invited to the first SWA awards dinner in 1949.
In 1948, with the Queen’s Club courts available again for more peaceful use, Dear turned his attention to the original racket sport, real tennis, and played an exhibition match against the legendary French Basque player Pierre Etchebaster, then 55 and who had been world champion since 1928.
It would take him seven years to win the world title, by which time the Frenchman, in his 60s, had retired. Dear eventually died in 1981 and over the intervening years the SWA has also undergone change. The SJA British Sports Awards are widely regarded as the most prestigious awards in Britain, with the sportsman, woman and team of the year voted by the members.
The 2018 edition will be held on Thursday, December 6, at The Pavilion by the Tower of London.