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1950s Heyday

1950s: Races, Relays & Records

The 1950s saw a surge in the popularity of Channel swimming. It was a phenomenon which swept across the world as the best swimmers flocked to Dover and Calais to attempt to tackle the Channel. This surge in popularity lead to several organised races being established.

It was also during this decade that relay swims became popular. Relay swims were completed from 1950, but it was not until 1954 that the first officially observed and timed relay swim was recorded by the Folkestone Club.

The rules for relay swimming are as follows:

  • Only six members and no substitutions
  • Swimmers swim in one hour legs
  • Swimmers must rotate in the same order and enter the water behind the existing swimmer
  • No pace-making is allowed.

Races

  • 1950: The Daily Mail First International Cross-Channel Race (24 contestants)
  • 1951: Festival of Britain International Cross-Channel Race (sponsored by the Daily Mail)
  • 1953-1959: Butlin International Cross-Channel race
  • Since 1959 no race has since been sponsored.

Notable 1950s Swimmers

Tom Blower 1937 - 1951

Tom 'Torpedo' Blower was a factory worker and Second World War hero from Nottingham who made three successful swims in the years 1937-51.

In 1937, aged twenty-three, Blower successfully swam from Cap Griz Nez to Abbots Cliff accompanied by the 'Lady Brassey' tug and piloted by Captain Pearson. His attempt broke a new world record as he completed the swim in thirteen hours and twenty-nine minutes.

 In 1948 Blower swam from Archcliffe beach accompanied by Freddie Upton in his Walmer boat 'Sunbeam'. This feat meant he could claim to be the second person to swim both ways across the Channel.

 In 1951 Blower attempted to swim there-and-back leaving from St. Margaret's Bay. Blower abandoned the return leg after 1 hour.

 In 1947 Blower became the first man to swim the Irish Channel. He sadly died in Devon in 1955, aged fourty-one.

Blower's attempts France to England:

  • 4 August 1937 (success)

Blower's attempts England to France:

  • 30 August 1948 (success)
  • 11 September 1951 (success)

 

Elna Anderson 1946 - 1953

Anderson was a Danish swimmer who attempted five times to swim the Channel, all were unsuccessful.

Anderson's attempts England to France:

  • 2 August 1951 (failed)
  • 14 August 1952 (failed)

Anderson's attempts France to England:

  • 17 September 1946 (failed)
  • 27 July 1947 (failed)
  • 6 August 1953 (failed) 

Daniel Carpio 1947-51

Daniel Carpio's was a Peruvian swimmer who successfully swam the Channel twice. His first swim was a solo attempt in 1947, in which he swam from Cap Gris Nez to Abbots Cliff accompanied by Jack Burwill in 'June Rose.'

 His second success took place as part of the Second Daily Mail Channel Race in 1951 (Festival of Britain Race).

Carpio's attempts France to England:

  • 4-5 September 1947 (success)
  • 16 August 1951 (success)

The Egyptians 1947 - 1955

Each year Egypt sent a team of swimmers to live at Folkestone for the summer, training in the outdoor pool and making various attempts on the Channel.

1947

  • Fahmy Attalah fails France to England 5/9/1947

1948

  • France to England 29/8/1948
  • Hassan Abdel Rehim succeeds
    (41 year old Army Officer. St. Margaret's Bay to Cap Gris Nez)
  • Mahri Hassan Hamad fails
  • Megid Mohammed fails
  • Fahmy Attallah fails

1949

  • Six Man Relay Team succeeds
  • England to France 5/8/1949
  • Mahri Hassan Hamed fails France to England 29/8/1949
  • Fahmy Attallah fails France to England 4/9/1949
  • Abdel Moneim Abdu fails France to England 4/9/1948
  • Hassan Abdel Rehim succeeds England to France 17/9/1949
  • Mahri Hassan Hamad succeeds France to England 18/9/1949
    (31 year old Army Warrant Officer. Cap Gris Nez to St. Margaret's Bay)
  • Fahmy Attallah fails France to England 2/10/1949

1950

  • Hassan Abdel Rehim succeeds France to England 22/8/1950 (1st in Daily Mail Race)
  • Mahri Hassan Hamad succeeds France to England 22/8/1950 (3rd in Daily Mail Race)
  • Fahmy Attallah fails France to England 22/8/1950 (Daily Mail Race)
  • Abdel Moneim Abdu fails England to France 5/9/1950

1951

  • Abdel Latif Abdu Heif succeeds France to England 28/7/1951
    (22 year old student. Cap Gris Nez to Fan Bay)
  • Mahri Hassan Hamad succeeds France to England 16/8/1951 (1st in Daily Mail Race)
  • Hassan Abdel Rehim succeeds France to England 16/8/1951 (3rd in Daily Mail Race)
  • Saied el Arabi succeeds France to England 16/8/1951 (4th in Daily Mail Race)

1952

  • Mustafa Dawoud fails France to England 22/7/1952
  • Bakr Hussein succeeds France to England 15/8/1952
  • Fahmy Attallah fails France to England 15/8/1952 (7th and last attempt)
  • Helmy Maraghy fails France to England 15/8/1952
  • Youssef Girgis fails France to England 15/8/1952
  • Said Yassin fails France to England 15/8/1952
  • Hassan Radii fails France to England 15/8/1952
  • Abdel Moneim Abdu succeeds France to England 17+18/8/1952
    (27 year old newspaper reporter. Cap Gris Nez to Shakespeare Cliff)
  • Ahmed Abdel Kader fails France to England 27/8/1952
  • Omar Gemaie fails France to England 27/8/1952
  • Saied el Arabi succeeds England to France 29/8/1952

1953

  • Abdel Latif Abdu Heif succeeds England to France 2/8/1953 (swam 1st leg of relay and continued solo)
  • Six Man Relay Team succeeds England to France 2/8/1953
  • Bakr Hosein Soliman fails England to France 3/8/1953

1954

  • Bakr Hosein Soliman fails England to France 15/8/1954
  • Abdel Moneim Abdu fails England to France 15/8/1954
  • Mahri Hassan Hamad succeeds
  • France to England 21/8/1954 (2nd in Butlins Race)
  • Nazik Riad fails France to England 27/8/1954
  • Fouad el Gazali fails France to England 27/8/1954

1955

  • Abdel Latif Heif succeeds France to England 15/8/1955 (1st in Butlins Race)

 

Phillip Mickman 1948 - 1952

Philip Mickman was an RAF National Serviceman from Yorkshire. At the age of eighteen he became the then youngest swimmer to swim the Channel.

Three years later, at the age of twenty-one, Mickman became the youngest swimmer to have done the 'double' swim across the Channel: In 1949 he swam from Cap Gris Nez to Kingsdown and in 1952 from St. Margaret's Bay to Cap Blanc Nez. Both times Mickman was accompanied by Jack Burwill.

Mickman's attempts England to France:

  • 23 August 1950 (failed)
  • 28 July 1951 (failed)
  • 14 August 1952 (failed)
  • 21 September 1952 (success)

Mickman's attempts France to England:

  • 31 August 1948 (failed)
  • 24 July 1949 (failed)
  • 22-23 August 1949 (success)

Shirley May France 1949 - 1950

Shirley May France Massachusetts schoolgirl was only seventeen years old when she made her first attempt at a Channel Swim. France quickly became a media darling and was adored by the public on both sides of the Atlantic.

France never succeeded in swimming the Channel, despite three failed attempts. Nevertheless, the media frenzy that surrounded her exemplified just how popular Channel swimming had become. It had become clear that swimmers, whether they succeeded or not, had the potential to become international celebrities.

France's attempts France to England:

  • 6 September 1949 (failed)
  • 8 August 1950 (failed)
  • 22 August 1950 (failed)

 

First Daily Mail Cross-Channel Race 22/8/1950

Twenty-four swimmers participated in this inaugural race. Only nine completed the full distance. The swimmers started at Cap Gris Nez.

Succeeded (in order of arrival):

  • Hassan Abdel Rehim, Egypt
  • Roger le Morvan, France
  • Mahri Hassan Hamad, Egypt
  • Sam Rockett, GB
  • W.E. Barnie, GB
  • Eileen Fenton, GB
  • Zasson Zirganos, Greece
  • Antonio Abertondo, Argentina
  • Jenny Kammersgaard, Denmark

Failed:

  • Eduard Mussche, Belgium
  • Emile Sonor, France
  • David Frank, USA
  • Willy Croes Van Rijsel, Holland
  • G.E. Brewster, UK
  • Germaine Pique, France
  • Wanda Boutagy, Israel
  • George Blomme, Belgium
  • Edmund Olsen, Denmark
  • Alfonso Cruz, Guatemala
  • Lars-Bertil Warle, Sweden
  • Pantagiotis Kemberos, Greece
  • Elna Andersen, Denmark
  • Margaret Ann Feather, UK
  • Fahmy Attallah, Egypt

 

Florence Chadwick 1950 - 1955

Florence Chadwick was a typist and swimming coach from California, who, at the age of thirty-two, became the first woman to successfully swim the English Channel in both directions.

Chadwick made ten attempts at swimming the Channel and was successful four times. She also became the first woman to swim from England to France in 1951; she swam from St. Margaret's Bay to Sangatte.

Chadwick's three England to France swims each took the record for the fastest time. She swam the Channel in 16 hours and 22 minutes in 1951. By 1955, her swim only took 13 hours 55 minutes.

During her last three successful swims Chadwick also attempted to swim there-and-back, but gave up on the return legs.

Chadwick's attempts England to France:

  • 10 September 1951 (success)
  • 2 August 1953 (failed)
  • 15 August 1953 (failed)
  • 4 September 1953 (success)
  • 15 August 1955 (failed)
  • 23 September 1955 (failed)
  • 26 September 1955 (failed)
  • 12 October 1955 (success)

Chadwick's attempts France to England:

  • 26 July 1950 (failed)
  • 8 August 1950 (success)

 

 

Sam Rockett 1950

Sam Rockett was one of nine finishers out of twenty-four competitors during the inaugural Daily Mail International Channel Race of 1950, Cap Gris Nez to England, which took place on 22 August 1950. Rockett was also the first Briton home. Rockett was a fascinating figure; for more on his Channel Swimming feats and his life please follow this link:  More on Sam Rockett.

Eileen Fenton 1950 - 1955

Eileen Fenton was a twenty-one year old English and Divinity Teacher when she swam Cap Gris Nez to England in 1950 in the First Daily Mail Channel Race. Fenton was the first woman to complete the Race and was rewarded with an £1000 cash prizefor her efforts.  Fenton received a hero's welcome upon her return to her native Yorkshire.

Fenton's attempts France to England:

  • 22 August 1950 (success)
  • 16 August 1951 (failed)
  • 15 August 1955 (failed)

 

Antonio Abertondo 1950 - 1961

Antonio Abertondo was an Argentinean who attempted five times to swim the Channel. He succeeded on four of these tries. Abertondo's four successes were in the Daily Mail and the Butlins' races of 1950, 51 and 54. In 1961 Abertondo became the first man to swim the Channel both ways non-stop. He took only a four minute break.

Abertondo's attempts France to England:

  • 7 August 1950 (failed)
  • 22 August 1950 (success)
  • 28 July 1951 (success)
  • 21 August 1954 (success)

Two-way double swim:

  • 1961 (success)

 

The Second Daily Mail Cross Channel Race

16 August 1951

The Second Daily Mail Cross Channel Race took place in  August 1951. There were twenty entrants and veteran Sam Rockett was the supervising trainer. Training took place at the Folkestone open air pool.

The Race was not without controversy. Famously, the Egyptian swimmers refused their prizes on the grounds that the Daily Mail newspaper had slandered the King of Egypt in its pages.

In order of finishing;

  • Mahri Hassan Hamad, Egypt
  • Roger le Morvan, France
  • Hassan Abdel Rehim, Egypt
  • Saied el Arabi, Egypt
  • Brenda Fisher, UK
  • Godfrey Chapman, UK
  • Winnie Roach, Canada
  • Enrique Duarte, Argentina
  • Lars-Bertil Warle, Sweden
  • Raphael Morand, France
  • Daniel Carpio, Peru
  • Jenny James, UK
  • Zasson Zirganos, Greece
  • Antonio Abertondo, Argentina
  • Jans van Hemsberger, Holland
  • Sally Bauer, Sweden
  • Dr. W.E. Barnie, UK
  • Jenny Kammersgaard, Denmark

    Failed:

  • Eileen Fenton, UK
  • Alain Louis Bombard, France

 

Kathleen Mayo (Mayoh) 1951 - 1952

Kathleen Mayo was a twenty year old Bolton factory girl when she swam from Sangatte to East Wear Bay in 1952. Mayo was one of three successful swimmers who attempted to tackle the Channel on 15 August 1952. Mayo went on to win the first Butlin International Channel Race in 1953, despite the fact she did not finish. She was declared the winner as she was less than a mile short and no one else finished.

Mayo's attempts England to France:

  • 26 August 1953 (failed)

Mayo's attempts France to England:

  • 27 July 1951 (failed)
  • 15 August 1952 (success)

Abdel Latif Abdu Heif 1951 - 1955

Abdel Latiff Abdu Heif was twenty-two year old student from Egypt in 1951 when he successfully swam the Channel. Heif was the only one of a team of six Egyptians to successfully swim the Channel from Cap Gris Nez to Fan Bay. 

Following his successful Channel Swim, Heif joined the Egyptian Coastguard. A few years later, he made two more successful Channel crossings. In 1953 Heif was first leg in a successful Egyptian Relay attempt from England to France. When his leg was over Heif did not retire and continued to cross the Channel of his own accord, securing personal as well as team success.

 In 1955 Heif was one of four swimmers out of sixteen to successfully finish the Butlins Cross Channel Race, Cap Gris Nez to England.

Heif's attempts England to France:

  • 2/8/1953 (success)

Heif's attempts France to England:

  • 28/7/1951 (success)
  • 15/8/1955 (success)

Marilyn Bell 1955

 

17 year old Marilyn Bell

Marilyn Bell was a seventeen year old Canadian schoolgirl when she successfully swam the Channel. Bell's success also meant she held the title of the youngest swimmer to swim the Channel for many years.

Bell swam from Cap Gris Nez to East Wear Bay on 31 July 1955, accompanied by her trainer Gus and piloted by Jack Burwill.

William Pickering 1955

William Pickering was a thirty-four year old Bloxwich baths manager, who weighed fifteen stone. Pickering made just one attempt on 27 August 1955. His attempt was successful and he overtook Florence Chadwick's fastest time record.

Pickering swam St. Margaret's Bay to Cap Blanc Nez piloted by Jack Burwill.

Post-1959: A New Era for Channel Swimming

In the years since the successes of the 1950s, Channel Swimming has remained a popular sport for talented swimmers across the world. In recent years, Channel Swimming has also become a popular challenge for comedians, actors and other celebrities as a way of raising money for charity.

Recent successes prove that Channel Swimming is in no way a dead phenomenon: it remains as rewarding, challenging and popular as ever before.

This list is based on research for Dover Museum's collection - it is not a complete list of all swimmers

 

 

 

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