Mr Bruce Birchall

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Stewart Reuben
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Re: Mr Bruce Birchall

Post by Stewart Reuben » Thu Mar 14, 2013 12:23 am

I don't remember assistance to people drawing up their wills. I am sure David Anderton offered this when asked and it included a chess bequest.
The more recent problem is that, done in the right way, chess, not just for juniors, can now form a charity. But it has never been done. For example, I have been waiting to change my own will as appropriate, but I have no intention of leaving money to junior chess. So my will remains unaltered since 2002.

I don't think it demeaning for me to contact the cousins and offer them a copy of the video of the 1993 play. Neil, if you could trace that Nottingham cousin, that would be very good. Heir Hunters may not be prepared to provide me with the conact details.

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Michael Farthing
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Re: Mr Bruce Birchall

Post by Michael Farthing » Sat Apr 05, 2014 12:25 pm

This topic is now old, but I am a newbie here.

I met first met Bruce in 1964 when aged 11. He was 18 and Captain of Chess at Nottingham High School, then, as now, a strong chess school. That strength was largely due to Bruce's untiring efforts: a school team for every year group; an internal inter-form Swiss competition; a ladder; a school chess magazine which in one edition sold 200 copies within the school. Bruce's mother taught at a school for girls and she too championed chess there. Oh what an opportunity to be part of those 36 board matches between the two schools where one could encounter that mysterious opposite sex! Slowly I was weaned off attempting Scholar's mate in every game, graduated to the Royal Oppers, as Bruce pronounced it (I was thrilled to be playing a Royal Opening) and finally achieved attendance at BCF congresses as part of the grand Nottingham contingent.

To me he was a god, until the day walking down into the centre of Nottingham he overtook, offered me a sweet (which I accepted) and then said, "Eating in the street, Farthing. You're to report to the prefects". Well, of course, that didn't happen and not for a moment did I believe him, but from then on he was a good friend as he was to so many others in the school.

Already his theatrical interest was evident and I remember his (somewhat over-acted) army sergeant portrayal in a school production. Less pleasant was his request that I should participate in his verse speaking choir (a peculiar Nottingham custom). I certainly had no desire to do this, but knew instinctively that friendship demanded it - and it was great fun.

Even then Bruce's controversial side surfaced for he took French leave from the Founders' Day Cricket Match, instituted in 1513 as a reward for pupils who had prayed for the soul of Dame Agnes, the Founder, and by 1964 an unwanted chore. Bruce was stripped of his honours and lost his prefectship. He laughed it off, but I secretly shook my fist at the Headmaster's office!

I met him only once after he left school and have seen the controversy and chaotic career from a distance, but my memory remains of someone with enthusiasm, constantly encouraging, and constantly kind to everyone he met. It is that memory that I would hope should survive him.

Gordon Cadden
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Re: Mr Bruce Birchall

Post by Gordon Cadden » Sat Apr 05, 2014 1:01 pm

Very interesting Michael, and it does help to restore his somewhat tarnished reputation, towards the end of his life. Interesting to learn that his mother was a chess player. This may explain why he was so keen on promoting chess for girls. Very kind words in memory of Bruce. Requiescat in Pace.

Martin Crichton
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Re: Mr Bruce Birchall

Post by Martin Crichton » Sat Apr 05, 2014 5:48 pm


I only met Bruce once back in 1993 or 1994. He came up with the novel idea of trying to run graded rapidplays in London for minimal entry fees. There were no prizes apart from a book prize for 1st place which he donated.
I remember that there was only an entry of 5 or 6 and that it ended up an all play all twice. I finished second behind Daire McMahon (0.5/2 against Daire). I think the poor turnout finished that novelty idea by Bruce. Might be worth trying it again 20 or so years later?
Member of "the strongest amateur chess club in London" (Cavendish)

my views are not representative of any clubs or organisations.

Roger de Coverly
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Re: Mr Bruce Birchall

Post by Roger de Coverly » Sat Apr 05, 2014 11:36 pm

Michael Farthing wrote: He was 18 and Captain of Chess at Nottingham High School, then, as now, a strong chess school.
Picking up the story, he presumably became a student at Cambridge University either in 1964 or 1965. I believe, like many chess players, he started out studying Mathematics but unlike many switched to English.

My first year at Cambridge was 1968-69, by which time Bruce had renown as a left wing activist and radical playwright (and the hair). Any chess reputation had long since disappeared and it was a surprise to see him playing in the Islington tournaments of the early 1970s. I had always assumed he had taken up chess as part of the Fischer boom, not so, it would seem, if he was part of the BCF's successful chess in (posh) secondary school initiatives of the 1950s and 1960s.

Neil Graham
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Re: Mr Bruce Birchall

Post by Neil Graham » Wed Jul 16, 2014 10:38 pm

The Heir Hunters programme was repeated on Monday and therefore should be available to view again on BBC I-Player.

In answer to Stewart's point raised over a year ago; I have no idea who his cousin was and although I haven't re-watched the programme yet, I recall she quite clearly had little interest in Bruce or his life.

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