The late Billy Chambers who went on to Princes, and then to the Haymarket, Edinburgh; Leonce, a dapper little Basque with all his countrymen’s verve and charm; Eugene from Paris who seemed to exercise a fatal fascination for the elderly ladies both these also found their way to Princes. Then there was the great Belgian teacher Charles Landot then very young who years later in 1948 trained the World and Olympic pair skating champions Mlle M. Lannoy and Pierre Baugniet. But the greatest of all, not as a skater but as a character straight from Dickens was Chevalier Crowther. A Yorkshireman by origin, how he ever came to be there as a skater I never knew. A tall and commanding figure of a man, with a superb physique and a dominating personality; clad in a frock-coat, white waistcoat, tight pepper-and-salt trousers, white sided kid boots, gardenia, gloves and Malacca cane, all surmounted by a rather wide boater, the gallant chevalier would drive from his lodgings each morning in a fiacre, down to the sea-front, past what is now the Jardin Roi Albert and then, large cigar rampant, slowly and with tremendous dignity he would stroll nonchalantly along the Promenade des Anglais to the admiration of the ladies. It was an extraordinary sight and one unlikely to be seen ever again. The same curious control over the public was seen when he gave his almost nightly exhibition, even when really great performers were on the same programme. He would do a spiral or two, a ponderous hop which might be called a jump, a spread-eagle or two and some kind of a swiggle and then come to a stop, left arm across his heart, right hand in the air pointing to the sky, while he waited for the tumultuous applause that invariably followed. He was indeed a unique personality and a great show-man.
Two things that all these teachers of the past had in common were: a certain glamour, an air of romance; and above all a tremendous sense of style and a feeling for elegance but then it was still an age of elegance, of luxury and opulence that will be long a-coming once more.
In the meantime Edgar Syers and his brilliant wife became known, not only in this country, but abroad, as distinguished converts to the new International Style. After several successes in pair competitions abroad, the time came in 1906 when the LS.U. instituted its championship which, with the mens, was renamed Championship of the World in 1924, Madge Syers won the event that year in Davos, and repeated her success in 1907 in Vienna, becoming the prototype of womens skating here and on the Continent, until the advent of Sonja Henie who completely revolutionised it and created a new era, one that seemed even more vivid than that of her great predecessor because of the participation of the public in figure-skating. With the opening of new rinks in Manchester in 1910 and Edinburgh in 1912, as well as many on the Continent, and even more so with the entry of the U.S.A., Canada and Australia into the sport, it was only to be expected, and quite rightly, that the Press should become deeply interested.
It should not be forgotten, however, that there might have been considerable delay in World recognition of womens skating had not Madge Syers entered for the I.S.U. Championship there being no rule barring the ladies, for surely it was unheard of that they dare participate. Madge, however, was second to the great Ulrich Salchow. Rumour, nay more than rumour, a good deal of expert opinion, thought she should have won it. Anyway, this obviously wouldnt do and the highly offended males quickly instituted a ladies championship, which was won by her in 1906 and 1907 and by Lily Kronberger of the Berlin club four times, in 1908-9-10 and 1911, and then three times by Meray Horvath of Budapest up to 1914. Meanwhile, another Swede came upon the scene one whose tremendous influence and fame as a teacher cannot be exaggerated: for wherever one may go where skating is taught, those who teach, in some way or other, are or have been influenced by the tutelage of Bror Meyer, whose book Skating with Bror Meyer remains a classic work. Before 1914 Bror taught mainly at St. Moritz with brief autumn visits to the Ice Palace, Manchester. He was a man of exceptional physique and considerable personal charm and what is more, he loved teaching. I saw him each year between the two wars and again during the Winter Olympic Games at Oslo in 1952, and then once more in that city during the Worlds Championships in 1954. Well over seventy, he still skates in beautiful style, and is still one of the outstanding authorities.
The Early Years upto 1914
Part 9
The Early Years upto 1914 (Part 10). The Early Years upto 1914 Index.