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A Golden Age for Edinburgh Juniors – the 1960s and 70s
Bill Marshall, 2021
The late 60s and 70s saw a dramatic upsurge in both numbers and quality of junior chess in Edinburgh, and among a number of contributory factors was the decision to change the Edinburgh Chess Club’s rules to allow junior members. Prior to that juniors were not really welcome and there was apparently some resistance to this innovation, with dire warnings of disruptive behaviour and lack of concentration. However the urging of some members, notably Alan Borwell, persuaded the committee that the exceptions that had already been made for three very strong juniors – Burt, George, and Waugh, who will be mentioned below – should be made more general and a junior category of membership instigated.
A Fertile Environment
This decision came at a good moment, as there were a number of other favourable factors for junior chess development. These included the Edinburgh League Structure at the time, the existence of the Edinburgh Junior Christmas Congress as well as the number of junior tournaments generally, and the existence of the Sunday Times UK schools team tournament.
Edinburgh and Lothians Chess League Structure
At that time the ELCA league structure consisted of two top divisions, A and B, and then two C divisions – one for adults and one purely for schools - which ran in parallel. The winners of both these C divisions were promoted to B Division. A school that was good enough could go on to promotion to the A Division, and a number of them did. Sometimes a school might be heavily dependent on a couple of strong or fast-improving players and would drop down again once they left school, but the ones with a good culture of bringing on young players were often able to maintain their position and more than hold their own.
Edinburgh Junior Xmas Congress
Organised by the league, this was an annual tournament for juniors and was split into a number of different age groups. It was very popular and the playing level of the top tournament was usually high. The lower levels provided many Edinburgh juniors with their first taste of tournament chess and undoubtedly raised their playing standards considerably.
The Sunday Times tournament
The Sunday Times team tournament for schools encouraged all schools to compete in their annual competition. A number of Edinburgh schools competed regularly in this, and achieved some success playing against teams from other parts of Scotland and further afield. It was played over 6 boards, and my own earliest memory of playing in it was as a raw first year in the age-handicap sacrificial lamb position on board 6 for Boroughmuir against Allan Glens of Glasgow, and being mightily impressed by the intensity of the two captains, Robert Waugh and Roddy McKay, battling it out on board one.
The Sunday Times would soon be joined by The Scotsman Team Chess Championship. It was played over four boards and would later have a grand final for the top four teams. Fans of the US TV series NCIS may recall that Donald “Ducky” Mallard, played by the wonderful David McCallum, tells the story of having played in the Scotsman event as a boy in Edinburgh. Kudos to the writers for excellent research, though McCallum was of course far too busy playing Illya Kuryakin in The Man from Uncle at the time!
There were several other competitions available to Juniors including the Scottish and British Boys Championship, representative matches such as Edinburgh vs Glasgow Schools and other regional events, junior events at the Glasgow September and Dundee Easter Congresses, and for the very best the Glorney Cup international team tournament.
So the situation was ripe with possibilities by the time the Edinburgh Chess Club first opened its doors to ‘Junior’ Members. (As an aside, Alastair White tells me that well known Edinburgh Chess personality Rudolf Austin lied about his age in order to be able to join in 1953 when he was only 17.)
The Rise of the School Clubs
Royal High School
The Royal High School was the first school to achieve notable results. They won the Edinburgh ‘B’ Division in 1963-4 and kept their position in the ‘A’ Division until 1966. They also had some success in the Sunday Times, winning their first two matches 6-0 before losing 4-2 to a very strong team from Ayr Academy.
Their best players were:
Gordon J Burt
who represented Scotland in the Glorney Cup in 1961, 1962 and 1963. He also played in the World Students Olympiads in 1963 and 1964. Gordon Joined the Edinburgh Chess Club in 1963 but resigned in 1966. He was also involved in organising the junior Christmas Congress.
Peter M George
was Scottish Boys Champion in 1963 and played in the Glorney in 1964. He joined the ECC along with his friend and team-mate Gordon Burt in 1963. He was a member of the Scottish team at the Students Olympiads in 1965, 1966, 1967 and 1968. After that he left to work for Shell Oil as a Senior Engineer, travelling the world with them, eventually settling in Holland.
A H McIntosh
was another strong player from the Royal High. In 1964 he was third in the Scottish Boys Championship and won his under-16 section at the Edinburgh Junior Congress. His team-mate D Williamson shared the win in another section.
After a few years gap the school would produce another fine player
who emerged in the late 60s/early 70s, with an elegant flowing positional style. In 1971 he came 3rd in the first ever Open Scottish Boys championship but took the title as the highest placed Scot. He would later be EEC champion and after a few years out he returned and is now a life member.
George Heriots School
Heriots was the next team to achieve success by getting promoted to the Edinburgh ‘A’ Division in 1965, and also holding their position there the following year. Their team included the following:
who won the Edinburgh Christmas Schools congress in 1964. He didn’t play much after that.
describes himself as late starter and was second to Noel in that competition. He joined the ECC in 1968 and has been a member ever since; rising to be President of the club as well as President of the League. He has been a stalwart of the club as well as one of its strongest players. Some of his games can be found in our Games section.
Alec (or Alex) Chalmers
was another chess enthusiast who joined the ECC in 1966. He edited an Edinburgh schools chess Magazine ‘J’adoube’ first with Alastair White and later with Robert Waugh.
The Heriot’s team also included (Sir) Brian F J Langstaff (later Hon. Justice Langstaff, a high court judge). He was never a great chess player but excelled in other fields.
They played a few times in the Sunday Times, and reached a regional final, to be defeated 4.5-1.5 by a strong Allan Glens team.
Chess in Heriots was actively encouraged by deputy head William (‘Bill’) McKerrow, who was Alastair’s onetime Latin teacher. He was a member of the ECC and a vice-president for a time.
Boroughmuir were the next school to rise to prominence and if I can be forgiven a little bias I think that they can claim to have been the most successful of all.
Having been taught the game by my grandfather but having no outlet for my enthusiasm at primary school, I had been delighted to find that, when I went to the “big school” in 1967, Boroughmuir had a well-established and very good chess club which already had three junior internationalists who were making waves in senior competition. They were playing in Div A and would on one occasion finish in 2nd place – a remarkable achievement for a school side. There were also teams for younger players and at one point we even briefly had a girl’s team.
We often did well in the Sunday Times, on one occasion in 68-69 winning our Zone with wins against Royal High, Watsons, and Hillhead, and reaching the Interzonal stage and travelling to Belfast and defeating St Josephs (if I remember correctly). But we then unexpectedly (to our mind) lost to Dundee High School to miss out on the finals. However since Dundee went on to win the event it was perhaps not so bad a result as we thought, particularly as one of our players was ill with jaundice at the time.
In 72 we reached the Zone final again but lost to defending champions Ayr Academy who would go on to successfully defend their title.
We won the Scotsman championships in 1970 beating teams including Glasgow High, Paisley and Shawlands and were also beaten finalists (on board count after a drawn match with Ayr) on another occasion.
Our most notable players:
Robert D Waugh
Robert was an inspirational player and one of the first juniors to be allowed to join the ECC in 1964. He was second in the Scottish Boys Championship in 1964 and won it in 1966. He played in the Glorney Cup, including in 1968 when the school memorably supplied three of the team.
Colin C Campbell and Reg F Campbell
These two brothers, a year younger than Robert, were mainstays of the club. Colin had a fine all-round style. He was also a Glorney Cup player and would later become ECC champion. I believe he became a lawyer.
Reg was a bit more erratic but had a good tactical imagination and a reputation for swindling his opponents from lost positions. He was a great organiser and largely responsible for our successful trips. He later became a Church of Scotland minister and officiated at my wedding.
Eric J Holt
Another year younger, Eric was already an outstanding talent. Also a Glorney player at a young age (he played in 1968, 1969, and 1970) he had an attacking style coupled with superb tactical vision – frequently involved in exciting Sicilians from both sides and specialising in the Modern Benoni which perfectly suited his abilities. He won the Scottish Boys in 1967 (shared with Donald Marr with Colin Campbell third) and went on to compete well in European tournaments, was ECC club champion and then Scottish Champion in 1971 (shared with Roddy McKay). He made a one-off debut in the British Championship where he did very well, before emigrating to the USA where he became a pastor. Sadly he died of cancer a few years ago. Some of his games can be found in our Games section.
David was the same age as I was and we were friends and rivals all through our school careers. He was undoubtedly the better player with a much more rounded style based on good positional play and an excellent memory for openings. He won the Scottish Boys Championship in 1970 in fine style against a generally older field, and was the fourth member of the school to play Glorney Cup as well as playing in a couple of international events. He studied Russian and thus could easily read the Russian chess magazines of the time. I recall he once attended an event where he was rooming with John Nunn and played lots of casual games and analysis with him. He said that Nunn was pretty good but not outstandingly better! David went on to study economics and moved to the south of England, switching to Bridge which he was also very good at.
William A Marshall
My own play was heavily tactical so my results were rather more mercurial. An early win at the Dundee Congress Junior championships wasn’t really followed up until my final couple of years of playing when I won the Glasgow Reserves and the Edinburgh section of the East of Scotland, before finally becoming the school’s fifth Glorney Cup player when I’d actually already retired from playing. (It would be 17 years before I would take it up again) On returning to the club I became Secretary for a few years, organising a series of Sunday Allegro tournaments followed by the first five FIDE rated events held by the club, and then became President of Chess Edinburgh for 16 years.
were the closest rivals to Boroughmuir in the late 60 and early 70s and had another good pipeline of young players coming through. They also rose to the A Division and later showed their strength when a Former Pupils team was formed which went on to win it.
Douglas J May
was their top player. I only played him once and got the impression he was mostly a positional player but he was certainly good enough to win the Scottish Boys in 1968. Indeed all four mentioned here competed in that event with Donald Smith runner up. They also went on to play in the British boys championships.
Donald A Smith
A solid positional player with a calm demeanour who went on to be a member of the ECC Richardson Cup winning team. Both he and May had joined ECC in 1967.
An attacking player with a robust style. He joined ECC in 1968. We were good friends and had a number of interesting duels. He also introduced me to snooker. After leaving school he emigrated to Canada, having found his path to university blocked by a piece of educational misadministration which had unfairly stopped him from passing Higher maths.
In addition to these four, Eric P Smith, the older brother of Donald, also played for the School team, but was better known as an effective organiser of Junior Chess in Edinburgh. He joined ECC in 1970.
Other Prominent Players
Donald Marr (Leith Academy)
Son of the much loved long-time member Johnny Marr, Donald was an outstanding player from a very young age and was the youngest ever to play in the Glorney Cup in 1968. Joined ECC in 1970. Sadly for the game he stopped playing in his mid-teens to concentrate on his school studies. He did come back later and I recall playing him at a congress in Lanarkshire. He was one of the most natural players I ever came across.
Simon Gillam (Stewarts Melville)
A couple of years younger than me but soon progressed into a very strong player, having joined ECC in 1972. He was runner up in the Scottish Boys in both 1972 and 73. Better known as an arbiter these days, he is also an expert Bridge Player (Life master) and an international Scrabble player.
Graham Paterson (Musselburgh)
Played in a number of junior international events and went on to become one of the strongest players in the Edinburgh leagues.
Towards the end of our “Golden Era” two other ECC members also won the Scottish Boys Championship in the 1970s - Edward G Perry in 1974 and Alan Norris in 1976. Both joined the ECC in 1972.
The Best was Saved till Last
A few years later would see the emergence of our best ever young player.
The son of ECC member Phil Condie, Mark was born in 1965. He won the Scottish Boys in 1978 and held junior age records 5 times in his teens. He was 3rd in the European Junior Championships in 1982/83 and in the same year achieved the FIDE Master title. He went from strength to strength, playing in many international events, and achieved his third IM norm in 1984 to be awarded the title of International Master. He won the Scottish Championship in 1985 and 1989 and played in two Olympiads. Sadly he later dropped out of active play due to health issues caused by Wilson's disease. Some of his games can be found in our games section.
Recollections of the Club in those days
Certainly the club was a rather different place then; I recall when I first joined in around 1969 the lighting being poor with pools of light from individual lightbulbs with simple conical shades reminiscent of poker clubs, which hung low over the boards - just about poking through the dense clouds of tobacco smoke. Most players smoked in those days and a number of members regularly smoked large cigars and even the occasional pipe. Lt-Colonel Fortescue and John Wilkes both favoured Churchillian size cigars while Rudolph Austin consumed large quantities of cigarillos. The wallpaper was dark with the brown residue and the result was often a stygian gloom and a smell that clung to your clothes – mum never had to ask where I’d been! I also recall a couple of members favoured a hair cream that smelled of garlic – I was put off garlic in food for years because of that hair cream!
I followed a line of prominent juniors who had joined the club in the previous few years. For many of us chess was an all-consuming passion, and when the senior boys at Boroughmuir suggested that David Itcovitz and I apply for membership we jumped at the chance to widen our horizons at the historic Edinburgh club where most of the strongest players gathered - even if they played league chess for one of the other clubs. To a couple of thirteen-year olds it was an invitation to another world, reeking with history and presence (as well as tobacco and garlic) and full of unusual characters.
It was common at that time for new members of unproven strength to be played against three of the club’s older members – Miss Findlay, Mrs Goldie and Mr Badger. Fortunately I passed that test quite easily, though the games are fairly horrifying. They were all rather eccentric - Mrs Goldie had an odd habit of holding any pieces which had been taken in her hands, which towards the end of a game became quite a feat of balance.
In those days the club was regularly busy on all nights of the week – not just on Tuesdays and match nights – and I seemed to be there more often than I was at home. The mixing of energetic juniors and seasoned older members produced many fascinating conversations as well as highly instructive and frequently exciting games. We were also fortunate to have a few people who had not long left the junior ranks which gave us a bridge to the more senior players – Alastair White and Alec Chalmers prominent amongst them. Mention should also be made of A.G. Laing, who seemed to organise everything and was always very kind and considerate to the juniors. As a tactician I always enjoyed watching his Danish Gambits too.
It’s fair to say I learned a lot about moving in the adult world by mixing with the lawyers, doctors, ministers and ex-military men who made up much of the club membership at that time, and I’m sure the same applied to many of my contemporaries. While no doubt we occasionally were a little more excitable than we should have been, the prevailing memory is of how well we were accepted and integrated into the club. We were there on merit and improved quickly, and the vast majority of the members were glad to have us, happy to offer any help they could, and glad to see the enthusiasm and life that we brought to the club.
Freedom from Regulation
One other factor contributed to the flowering of junior chess at that time. From my many years as President of Chess Edinburgh I naturally have had to help ensure the safety of junior players and take great care in following the government guidelines concerning who can coach and organise and transport junior players. However having grown up in the 60s and 70s I remember having a level of freedom that made it much easier to both play chess and to grow into adulthood. There was little regulation and few restrictions. Our outstanding teacher-in-charge at Boroughmuir, Mr Warren, had retired not long after I joined, and his successor was much less hands-on – leaving it to our senior pupils to organise most things. They responded in a very mature manner. We travelled to away matches around Scotland by bus and train with no adult supervision and memorably went to Belfast for a Sunday Times match shortly before the “troubles” started. Such a thing would be unthinkable now yet I can’t help but wonder if the supposed risks were more than made up for by the benefits of learning to look after ourselves and organise trips successfully.
End of an Era
Sadly this wonderful period of Edinburgh junior chess would soon come to an end. The teachers’ strike of the early 80s affected all school activities in a wide variety of sports and games. The secondary school chess structure which had been so valuable simply ceased to exist and it also became more difficult and expensive to hire school premises for congresses. Some progress was eventually made with primary schools, which had been notably absent from the scene up till then, but then there was no-where for the promising players to go once they reached secondary age and with few Edinburgh clubs having facilities suitable for juniors the supply of new talent dried up until the 1990s when discussion between myself and League Secretary Terry Purkins resulted in the training evenings that gave rise to the Tiger Cubs.
More Recent Times
Now it would be wrong to imply that we haven’t had some superb juniors in more recent times – on the contrary we’ve had players coming through such as Andrew Green, Hugh Brechin, Lloyd Hughes, and of course the two WFMs Elaine Rutherford (whose games can be found in our Games section) and Rhian Hughes to name but a few. Mention should also be made of the excellent work with the juniors of the late and much-missed Mark Sanderson, who was tragically killed in a road accident while cycling.
But as good as the junior development has been in recent times, the numbers and quality of that period in the 60s and 70s stand out as exceptional, and it seems unlikely to be repeated without the return of a strong secondary school structure. It was an exciting time to be a small part of and I remember it and the many characters of the period with great fondness. It undoubtedly contributed greatly to the club’s history and to the development of the players involved.