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Post 10. Captain Ewart Kempson & the first British broadcast of a Bridge programme Friday 15th September 2017.

Good evening everybody,

Captain Ewart Kempson is my kind of hero.   Nothing’s easy - “nose to the grindstone” every day - I bet he wore that grindstone right down.   He was Bridge editor for several newspapers including the “Newcastle Chronicle”, the “Manchester Evening Chronicle”, the “Aberdeen Press & Journal” & the “North Mail”.   He was born on 3rd September 1898 in Kingston, Jamaica and died on 4th May 1966.   His was a two-fold “captaincy”, captain in the army and captain at Bridge.

He must be one of the most prolific Bridge writers of all time - maybe the most prolific.   In his book “Contract Bridge Hands, 1950”, he confides :

     "Early in 1925 an article, about two sticks in length, appeared in the “Newcastle North Mail”.   At the foot of the article were the initials E. K. It was my first article on Bridge, and it was horrible.   Since then I have written about twelve thousand articles, most of them on Bridge, and not all as bad as the first".

It’s not just that he wrote about who won which cup, and why.   Some of his articles are absolutely fascinating.  Take this one - in the “Newcastle Evening Chronicle, Friday, 29th September 1939, page 7” :

       "The theory that queens are most likely to sit past, rather than in front of, knaves applies particularly to rubber bridge, where, during the course of an evening’s bridge, the cards form themselves into patterns.   It is certainly the case that insufficient shuffling prevalent in rubber bridge - binds together certain cards.  You start an evening’s session with a new pack, and, sooner or later, you finesse knave on which the next player thumps his queen .   The trick is turned so that the queen - which was above the knave when the cards were lying on the table - is now immediately below the knave.   This latter card - unless separated in the shuffle - is dealt immediately before the queen, thus the queen is sitting over the knave for the second time.   This goes on and on throughout the evening, the various shufflers merely riffling the cards two or three times, which is entirely inadequate". 

     "The queen over knave theory - born in Newcastle-on-Tyne and now in circulation as a London invention - “works" at least 55 times in 100, and is thus a winning play".

His works are still in copyright and for that reason I’ve spent days, nay weeks, trying to trace his descendants.  I have a copy of his will, but sadly, his wife Lyn died three days before him.   The trail of descendancy was transferred to Jamaica (I believe that’s correct), and I just haven’t got the inclination to go there to follow it up.  If anyone knows who owns the Kempson copyrights - that would be very helpful.   This can happen and did with Mr William Dalton.  He and his wife died on the same day, but in different places.

Some of Captain Kempson’s books are extremely scarce.   This one was printed in a limited edition of just 12 copies ( I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bound book limited to so few copies before).   My copy was given by Ewart to the brilliant player, Mr. Graham Mathieson, and is dedicated accordingly. Here’s its collation : 

   “1932, Ewart Kempson, North v. South Bridge Contest, T. & G. Allan, Newcastle Upon Tyne, 1st edition, burgundy cloth, 12.8x19 cm, (10)+100+(4) pages including score sheet at rear, Limited to twelve copies”.

And by the way, in the 100 boards of this match, that’s 200 games, there’s not a single example of the 2♣ response over 1NT asking for majors.   There are no transfers and so far as I can see no conventions what-so-ever.  No wonder England began to lose its grip on Bridge at about this time.

Daily broadcasting by the B.B.C. began in Marconi’s London studio, 2LO, in the Strand, on 14th November 1922.   In the very first issue of “Contract Bridge Journal, Vol. 1, No. 1, September 1946” Ewart Kempson wrote an article “bridge on the air”.   The introduction to that article has been widely reported everywhere and sits on various websites as fact. It reads :

     "The first person to broadcast on Contract Bridge, way back in the ‘twenties, was Ewart Kempson. In the two years preceding the war he gave a fortnightly series of Bridge Half Hours on National and Regional".

The B.B.C. recently started what they call “The Genome Project”.   They have been going through all the back issues of their “Radio Times” digitising the items into a searchable database - you can find it if you wish.   It’s very strange to me.   Because in the late 1960’s I was Chief Systems Analyst responsible for implementing a major database of musical works (we called it the “Active Works File).   As part of that exercise, we received tapes from the B.B.C. of their broadcasting.   And here I am searching through B.B.C. broadcast records nearly 50 years later, albeit for another reason.   Life goes in circles, no doubt about it.   I was looking for all broadcasts with Bridge content.   I have written up the whole story in Volume II of my book - it includes many famous names and some fascinating experiments.

The very first issue of “The Radio Times” was on 23rd September 1923.   But I knew something that was not in the Genome (by now it may be, I haven’t looked).   I believe that the earliest broadcast of a Bridge program ever in Britain was on the London station 2LO on Monday, 16th July 1923 at 9pm for 15 minutes.   It was entitled “Auction Bridge” by "Valet de Pique".   A second programme was transmitted on the Manchester station 2ZY on Wednesday, 1st August, this time termed “Royal Auction Bridge”.   I’m not sure whether these were regular broadcasts, I cannot locate any more.   This must be a highly significant landmark in the history of Bridge.   I wonder if someone, somewhere, has a recording - wouldn’t that be interesting.

So who was Valet de Pique ?   He/she wrote just one book - “Bridge And Auction Bridge, London, 1912”.   That book is not really rare, indeed I notice there’s a copy for sale on the internet at the moment.   Valet de Pique translates as “Jack of Spades”.   Sadly, even after two separate searches of the B.B.C. archives at Caversham, it has still not been possible to discover who “Valet de Pique” was.   Running at about the same time was a famous steeplechase horse of the same name - there’s a mystery waiting to be solved.

Best wishes,

Ken in Bournemouth..

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