THE Winter Olympics are upon us, and by the rumble of reports from Vancouver, pretty much downhill all the way.
Other than the nearflightless Eddie the Eagle, Britain’s best-remembered snow man may be Keith Schellenberg, and he last competed in 1964.
Interesting chap, old Schellenberg. Yorkshire rugby captain, Cresta runner, vintage motor sport enthusiast, water skier, power boat racer – as recently as 2008, aged 79, off Cowes – adventurer, millionaire, and perhaps most famously of all, former Laird of the Hebridean island of Eigg.
If not exactly ovoid, that one certainly went pretty pear-shaped.
Since 2001, he and his fourth wife Jilly have lived in a former Benedictine monastery in Richmond, North Yorkshire, in the papers for little more than a vandal attack on his favourite garden seat or the theft in January 2005 of a couple of toboggans.
Schellenberg’s message to the thieves may resonate across the Atlantic, nonetheless. “In 1964 I was the only member of the British team to finish the course,” he said.
“One man finished in the hospital and the other in the mortuary. Let that be a lesson to these people.”
The Winter games a happy coincidence, he crosses these columns’ path – at speed, probably – after a passing reference in Thursday’s John North.
That he hasn’t so far been able to return our calls is unfortunate but not insuperable.
Among more recent Internet clips is a 2009 YouTube posting, a five-minute compilation of Schellenberg’s sporting highlights with the background music of Still We Have Fun.
Remember the lyrics?
“There’s nothing surer, the rich get rich and the poor get poorer.”
Laird astray? There follows a wealth of information.
BORN in Middlesbrough in 1929, said to be heir to a gelatin fortune – you can make a fortune from gelatin?
– he has been variously described as international playboy, extravagant gentleman, king of Yorkshire sport, flamboyant – forever flamboyant – and, inarguably, a godsend to newspaper diary columnists Someone even called him rambunctious, apparently meaning boisterous. That’s pretty self-evident, too.
Particularly he has been fond of old Bentleys, once owning eight, though it was a 1930 Rolls Royce in which he’d drive along Eigg’s only road, three miles of single track, scarf blowing in the wind.
He’d owned the Whitehall shipyard in Whitby, the Neasham garage group on Teesside – sold for £2m in 1987 – and been a director of Croft Autodrome, near Darlington. He lived in Stokesley, in Sandsend and in a north Scottish castle.
He was also Liberal candidate for Richmond in the 1964 and 1966 general elections, pictured on the 1964 leaflet outside his flash house with one of his flash cars and assuring the electorate that in their hearts they knew that voting Liberal made sense.
Whatever their hearts; reaction, their heads voted in Tim Kitson, the Tory.
“Schellenberg was a lovely man, but no one took any notice of him,” an old boy in Reeth told one or other of these columns.
In the 1956 Olympics he was in the bobsleigh team, eight years later in the luge.
In the great tradition of British winter Olympians, he finished somewhere out in the cold.
HE’D bought Eigg for £600,000 in 1975 – 7,400 acres, fewer than 100 people, once described as Britain’s most expensive stretch of bracken – promised great things but quickly fell from favour with some islanders.
The feeling seemed mutual.
Following divorce from his third wife Margaret – the former Margaret de Hauteville Udny-Hamilton – ownership was split between them, Schellenberg’s share passing to Cleveland and Highland Holdings, one of his companies Still the natives grew restless, said not least to be upset that the traditional Eigg Games, an inter-island activity, had been taken over by the laird’s visiting chums.
Holiday making guests treated locals with “utter contempt”, a judicial hearing was told, events culminating in a late-night fire that destroyed not only the Rolls Royce but, somewhat ironically, the vintage fire engine kept nearby.
The laird responded furiously, and publicly, dubbing islanders “dangerous” and “barmy revolutionaries.” The police said there was no evidence, though sure as apples Schellenberg had neither started the fire himself nor the Roller spontaneously combusted.
It was about that time that he also sent a Christmas card with the legend “Isle of Eigg Bailiffs plc”, a picture of himself between two large gentlemen wearing Father Christmas outfits and carrying croquet mallets and the festive message: “We specialise in recalcitrant tenants, squatters, junkies, weirdos, hippies, new age travellers and reds.”
In a subsequent libel action against The Guardian, arising from other matters, he described the card as “just trying to make fun.” (See under YouTube, above.) Schellenberg claimed that he’d only tried to conserve one of Europe’s most beautiful islands, and its wildlife. The Guardian, victorious in the libel action, supposed him a Toad of Toad Hall figure.
“No doubt in his own mind, the islanders of Eigg were the weasels and stoats who drove him from the Lodge, Eigg’s version of Toad Hall.”
The island, in truth, had had a succession of improbable owners, including an arms dealer said – chicken and Eigg – to be on the run from assassins and the supposed German doctor, mustic, fire worshipper (and bankrupt, it transpired) who briefly took over from Schellenberg.
It was finally bought for £1.5m by an islanders’ trust, much of the money said to have been provided by a female benefactor in the North-East who retains her anonymity.
The Schellenbergs bought St Nicholas, their Richmond home, for £900,000. Previously it had been owned by Lady Serena James, much loved locally, who died at 99.
“With a place like this, you don’t go in for structural surveys,” he said, adding that he would continue to open the 50-acre gardens to the public, and for charity.
“I’ve a great love of old things and tend to keep a lot of quirky features that most people would discard,” he said. “The community should be able to share in it.”
It has been a promise kept.
As someone once said in a song, still we have fun.
RODDYMOOR FC, they of the Celtic hoops, plan a reunion on March 5. Folk are expected from all over Britain, from Spain and from Russia. “He’ll be the one dressed like he’s just come down from Tow Law,” says our informant.
Roddymoor’s above Crook. I watched them once, crowd eight, home to Wearhead in the last game of 1997-98 and needing a point for the Crook and District League title.
There, too, just as he had been home and away for the previous 40 years, had been 83-year-old Joseph Henry Parkin, known universally as Tut.
Tut was Roddymoor’s biggest fan, given a long service salver the week previously – “I cried my bloody eyes out” – but still cherishing the critics’ right of complaint.
“Some of these buggers couldn’t kick me,” he said before the match.
Darkness fell, the game still goalless, ever harder to see where one would come from. It ended 0-0, Roddymoor champions.
“The buggers will have the game done away wi’,” said Tut.
Tut died, his son among those expected at the gathering at Crook Golf Club where David Wright, organiser and former team manager, will shortly take over as captain. Dave would particularly like to hear from players of the 50s and 60s. He’s on 07960 848385.
ON MONDAY it was announced that Sedgefield Racecourse is to hold its first Sunday meeting – not so much remembering the Sabbath hitherto as being unable to shift for car boot salesmen.
On the same morning, the Echo carried a coincidental line in the On This Day section: “1981.
Football League games were played on a Sunday for the first time.”
The game was Darlington v Mansfield, as Geoffrey Gregg in Tursdale recalls, the occasion reported both on the front page (by me) but on the back, by David Lewis. Threatened church group protests failed to materialise.
“As well as twice the usual crowd, ten times the usual press gang (which is three) turned up,”
said the Echo. “They sold all 2,000 programmes and all 1,000 pies.”
The match ended 2-2, Ian Hamilton and Alan Walsh scoring for the Quakers, the Daily Mail man so disappointed at the Sabbath calm that he threatened not to write a word but to go home and watch Match of the Day.
“What do you mean?” said Darlington secretary David Thorne, inarguably, “you’ve just watched it here.”
IT WASN’T just a Fulham defender’s rear which felt the force of Dugald McCarrison’s boot. So, recalls Ronnie Chambers in Hartlepool, did Pools fans like him.
“We have very painful memories of him,” says Ronnie. “He scored a hat-trick against us, 4-0 down at half-time if my memory serves me correctly.”
Past columns have recalled McCarrison’s brief Quakers career, on loan from Celtic. Ronnie’s recollection is a little hazy, however.
It was November 1991, old third division, McCarrison making his home debut alongside former England international Nick Pickering. Both, said the Echo, were “key factors in a rousing home victory.”
Hartlepool manager Alan Murray was less happy. “Some of the players wouldn’t get a game in a school team,” he said.
McCarrison scored once, 18- year-old Lee Ellison twice, John McPhail adding an own goal. “It looked like Darlo had unearthed a real gem,” says Ronnie.
First impressions proved misleading, the engagement ending with that red carded assault on the Fulham guy. What the Scot emphatically didn’t need was a kick up the backside.
TO THE splendid question in Tuesday’s column – seeking the 1970s England international footballer, the referee of the 1974 FA Cup semi-final between Newcastle and Burnley and the north London railway station which all have the same name.
It was Gordon Hill. The station’s between Kings Cross and Stevenage, the player won six caps with Manchester United and the referee was a headteacher from Leicestershire who in a distinguished career never once sent off a player in the Football League or the two main cup competitions.
David Walsh emailed the correct answer at 8.40am. No one else knew. Someone rather surprisingly suggested Gordon Kew, prompting an interesting contrast with referee Hill – in 1972-73, South Shields born Kew sent off seven players in a season, a record at the time.
Anyone know who holds it now?
Today, at any rate, Keith Bell in Ottawa – oh aye, readers all over – invites the name of the North-East village from which three post-war Sunderland managers have hailed.
Back from a little trip to sunny Scunny, the column returns on Tuesday.