Socialist Worker

Fred Perry: the radical of Wimbledon

by Bob Holman
Issue No. 2157

Fred Perry winning at Wimbledon in 1934

Fred Perry winning at Wimbledon in 1934

It's tennis time again at Wimbledon and everybody is watching Andy Murray – the great British hope. The last male British player to win the trophy was Fred Perry in 1936. Unlike Murray, the Wimbledon establishment never accepted him.

Born in Stockport in 1909, Perry was the son of a cotton weaver, Sam Perry. Sam was a socialist and moved to London when appointed secretary of the Co-op Party (which was affiliated to the Labour Party).

Fred had a natural genius for tennis. Armed with an old racket, he entered a competition at the Queens Club where, being from a state school, he received a cool welcome.

But Fred made it to the top and won Wimbledon on three occasions. The public school and Oxbridge elite who ran tennis looked down on him. After winning his first title, he overheard a committee member telling the runner-up that this was one day when the best man did not win. No official congratulated him and instead of the All England Club tie being presented to him it was just put on his chair.

Fred gave as good as he got. His feelings of rejection were finally expressed when he took up professional tennis and moved to the US. He became an American citizen and made a pile of money. But after the war he returned to Britain and for three years coached youngsters from his kind of background.

Sam enthusiastically backed his son and often had to finance him. And Fred campaigned for Sam when he stood for parliament in 1929. Sam was elected Labour MP for Kettering in Northamptonshire. Soon after, he refused to follow Ramsay MacDonald when he deserted the Labour Party to form a national government.

Sam, like many other Labour MPs, was defeated in the subsequent election. MacDonald tried to get his support, offering him a seat in the Lords and what was then a massive £5,000 a year as a member of the new Transport Commission.

Sam refused with scorn and with little money but the support of five other socialists he toured the country on behalf of Labour.

When a statue was finally erected to honour Fred, he said, 'There will be a few former members of the All England Club revolving in their graves at the thought of such a tribute paid to the man they regarded as a rebel from the wrong side of the tennis tramlines.'

Today Wimbledon has nobody like Fred and the Labour Party nobody like Sam.

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Fri 26 Jun 2009, 13:32 BST
Issue No. 2157
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