Famous Five and the Good Old Days – 25th Edition World C’Ships

Friday, July 19, 2019
TEXT BY William Kings | BWF Archive

It will be like old times when some of badminton’s golden oldies converge on Basel, Switzerland, in a few weeks.

But for the England contingent involved in the 25th edition celebrations of the World Championships, it will be more like a grand reunion as the players who became household names in the badminton world set a standard for others to follow.

Gilks, Perry, Tredgett, Talbot and Stevens are names known to everyone who followed the sport through the 1970s and 80s, especially a certain young journalist new to badminton. These were the days when reporters and players were on first-name terms. Today it is different. You don’t get to know a player in the mixed zone the same way.

But there were plenty of opportunities to get to know England’s Famous Five. Mike Tredgett, Gillian Gilks and Ray Stevens are among the elite group of 14 who have played 100 times for England. BWF commentator Gill Clark tops the list on 145 caps and Nora Perry would have joined them but for taking two timeouts to raise a family.

Mike Tredgett and Nora Perry and Gillian Gilks (facing) and Derek Talbot.

A lot of readers won’t appreciate that Derek Talbot and Gilks won the mixed doubles when the sport first appeared in the Olympics. It was a demonstration sport at Munich way back in 1972.

Five years later England’s had six on the podium at the inaugural World Championships at Malmo in Sweden in 1977.

Gilks won silver in women’s singles and mixed doubles with Talbot. Perry took bronze with Mike Tredgett in the mixed and with Margaret Lockwood in the women’s doubles, while Tredgett also gained a bronze with Ray Stevens in the men’s doubles.

England also won a singles bronze through Lockwood and, not to be outdone, Scotland’s Billy Gilliland and Joanna Flockhart were also mixed doubles bronze medallists. What a powerful GB squad they all would have made had badminton been a full Olympic sport in those days.

Of that Anglo-Scottish contingent all but Tredgett, Gilliland and Lockwood, who lives in Canada, will be in Basel to talk about old times and to compare the sport of today with the good old days when men’s matches were played to 15 and women’s singles to 11 with points only scored when serving.

The closest final in 1977 was the women’s singles when Lene Koppen beat Gilks 12-9 12-11. Gilks also lost to Koppen in the mixed when she and Talbot went down 15-12 18-17 to Koppen and Steen Skovgaard.

Dew and Gilks.

For Talbot, who now lives in Malta, the memories are slightly different. The first World Championships seemed strange to me and it was difficult to understand the importance of the event as previously players throughout the world had considered the All England Open to be badminton’s ‘World Championships’ much like Wimbledon was to tennis in the same era.”

Talbot is also quick to point out the difference between past and present.Badminton has become much faster and tactics have changed mainly due to improvements in racket design.

“Defensive play is better and we don’t see the impossible-to-return flattened shuttle from a smash with a heavy wooden racket – a Svend Pri special.

“There is less net play and less deception as a means to score an outright winner.

“Now almost every player in a tournament is super fit so every round is tough. Badminton has improved in many ways, most noticeably in the women’s game.”

Talbot also highlights the other big differences: “The players in my day mixed socially as well as competing fiercely on court. The financial rewards were much less so the benefits of adopting a truly professional separatist lifestyle were the choice of the few rather than the many.”

The social aspect is something Talbot is looking forward to in Basel. “It’s always great to catch up with my badminton family. The chat brings out superb memories from deep in the mind which are never thought of in the course of a normal day.

“I look forward to my annual reunion in Scotland with Dave Eddy, Bob Powell, Kevin Jolly, David Hutchinson and Ray Stevens. It is a week of laughter which is life’s best tonic. Which is why I am looking forward to seeing you and the rest of the gang in Basel.”

Tredgett and Gilks.

Sadly, Tredgett will be one gang member missing because of a clash of diary dates.

Today he enjoys playing cricket around the UK. He has been a member of the Lord’s Taverners for 20 years and enjoys “meeting and playing with some of the world’s greatest cricketers.”

Of 1977 he says: “It was a long time ago and I was not one for looking back. But I won two bronze, with Nora and Ray. I think that my partnership with Nora had just started so I guess a bronze would have been an OK result.

“I loved visiting Sweden and I remember Malmo was a lovely city.

“I reached the World Championships finals twice. The other time in 1980 with Nora in Jakarta where we lost to Christian [Hadinata] and Imelda [Wiguna], beaten by the heat and line calls. It was a big regret.

“In 1983 I reached the men’s doubles final with Martin Dew in Copenhagen. We were odds-on to win but it’s difficult playing singles against a good doubles pair!”

Last word to Stevens, who still keeps in touch with Perry and Talbot in particular.

“That Europe did well in the inaugural championships was wonderful and I recall that Malmo staged a great event.

“My lasting memory is of a great England team is count the medals and compare!”