Recorder Chess Column
1899 - 2002

End of an Era as Editor Dumbs Down

© Peter Walker 2002

After a history of 103 years and only four correspondents, the Recorder chess column was killed off on 18th October 2002 when the Ilford Recorder's editor, Chris Carter, wrote to the columnist, Peter Walker, to tell him that the article of 24th October was to be the last. The text of the letter (including the error in the final sentence) can be read here.

The Column, which began around the beginning of the 20th Century, had thrived, although there remains some doubt concerning the identity of the columnist for the first 32 years of the Recorder. F.F.L. Alexander's name has been associated with the Column, although this needs further research. For a time, a "Captain King" edited the piece. Was this Alexander's youthful nom de plume?

From 1933, the column was edited by Tommy George, who did sterling work for a 37-year stint when he handed over to Harry Woolverton, a member of the East Ham Club, in 1970. Harry kept up the high standard for a 16-year period until his sudden death in 1986. Only a week before Harry died he attended the Karpov - Kasparov World Championships Match in the Park Lane Hotel and, although in his eighties, looked very fit. It was a shock and a great loss to the County's Chess fraternity.

Almost immediately, Tom Duncan, the Ilford Recorder's then Editor, consulted George Smith, then President of the Essex Chess Association, to find a replacement. George advised that Peter Walker had been writing some articles for the Southend Evening Echo and Tom wasted no time in contacting him and so it was that Peter wrote his first Recorder article which was published on either 4th or 11th September 1986.

"My first article was a disaster," commented Peter. "If I remember rightly, it was a Sunday evening that Tom Duncan contacted me and he wanted an article for the following Thursday. Clearly, it had to be an obituary to Harry and to say that I was thrown in at the deep end would be a monumental understatement. I found out as much as I could, wrote about 500 words and even managed to find a game of Harry's to publish.

"I felt fairly satisfied that I had done as good a job as I could, having typed the piece out on an ancient Imperial typewriter. The biggest problem was the diagram. I had no means of creating a diagram using standard chess pieces so I cut the grid from a scoresheet and wrote the pieces on, ringing the black pieces in the manner that chess players are accustomed to. I posted it and awaited the cutting which was posted to me as soon as the paper was published. This duly arrived and I was horrified when I saw that the subeditors hadn't changed the banner. 'Chess, by Harry Woolverton', it screamed, followed by a headline 'Harry Woolverton dies aged 81' or whatever.

"After that disastrous start, things could only get better and they did. For a long time my contact in the Recorder's offices was a guy named Phil Wagstaff. Phil was a bit of a chessplayer himself and his brother Mike, also in journalism, was a player in the Colchester area. Phil made life quite easy and was able to understand such niceties as Forsyth notation. I bought some peel-and stick chessmen for the diagrams and after a while I even forked out on an electric typewriter. The article began to look very professional.

"To begin with, gathering material was a bit or a problem. However, there were some individuals to whom I was deeply indebted. Jef Page, Ilford Club secretary, was one of these and he kept me plied with a good deal of stuff. I couldn't use it all, partly because Jef sent me more than I needed and also partly because of the 'whole County' brief: I didn't want the column to become too heavily biased towards just one Club. Richard Manning was also a reliable source of information, sending me what almost amounted to off-the-peg reports concerning the 'Woodbridge' chess club. Initially this club name puzzled me: why would a chess club from Suffolk be playing in the London League? Eventually it dawned on me that it was derived from the names 'Woodford' and 'Redbridge'. In more recent years, John Philpott has been a very reliable source of information and at times I would have been lost without him. However, now the Internet comes to my rescue from time to time and there is never a lack of material. Ivor Smith sends me Chessex, the Southern Counties Chess Union and the BCF have their websites and during the last year or two the Essex Chess Association has also had a very useful site, under its webmaster Ian Hunnable.

"The changes in technology while I was correspondent were remarkable. For the first 90 years, the article must have been produced in pretty much the same way, with the correspondent either putting pen to paper or typing it. There was one occasion, either during a postal strike or possibly during the winter of 1987, when Southend was virtually cut off for a week after a remarkably heavy snowfall, when I dictated it over the telephone: this presented a few problems as the typist at the other end was not familiar with any chess terms at all. Within a year or two of taking over, I discovered that I had (illicit) access to a fax machine and that saved me a good deal of time: instead of rushing it on a Thursday evening to catch the post on a Friday, I spent a more leisurely time researching and writing the piece at the weekend and faxing it on a Monday morning. A little while later, in 1989, I bought my own computer, a Commodore Amiga, and eventually, when I could invest in a hard disc and a printer, I even kept a catalogue of my own files and now some of the articles from the early 1990s can be read on the internet. I would really like to copy up all available articles but there must me more than 5000 of these, all stored on microfiche in the Redbridge library.

"After the fax machine, in 1994 I invested in my own PC and I bought a fax / modem card so I faxed the articles straight from my PC to the Recorder's fax machine. The Recorder was a little slow in taking the new technology on board so even though I had my own e-mail address, the newspaper didn't. Phil Wagstaff and I experimented with modem technology using a program called Hyperterminal. I was able to send a text file to a computer in Recorder House by dial-up. This was an amazing advance, as now all Phil had to do was cut & paste the text into the right shape, so that saved the copy typists a job. It was also a reasonably early example of porting from one technology to another as I used a PC but the Recorder used Apple Macs. We never mastered sending the diagram files in this way, though, and right up to my final contribution on 20th October 2002 I sent those by fax to be re-worked by the Recorder staff.

"Sadly, a couple of years ago there was a big shake-up amongst the Recorder staff and Phil was one of several experienced people to leave. Although I am sure that his replacements did their best, they did not have the same level of expertise and professionalism. That's not just sour grapes for the column being knocked on the head by the existing editor: I sent some original chess problems about a year ago, one by Mike McDowell, currently Captain of the GB Problem Solving team and another by an American by the name of Robert A. Lincoln. It wasn't often that I actually got to see the hard copy, but on this occasion I did and to my extreme displeasure I noticed that whoever had re-worked my diagrams had replaced the kings with queens and vice versa. No-one with a knowledge of chess would have ever made this mistake as in the diagram published in the paper only one side had a king.

"For the time being, as a token of thanks (or maybe a punishment) to the loyal readers who have tolerated me for 16 years, I shall continue to spend each Sunday evening writing a chess article and I shall publish it on this website. At the time of writing I am not sure which way things will go, but Jon Manley (Editor of 'Kingpin') and David Smith (Secretary of the Wanstead & Woodford Chess Club) are leading a campaign to persuade Mr. Carter to change his mind over the fate of the Recorder column. Watch this space!"

It is probably most fitting that I include the best game by a local player during my 16 year spell at the Recorder. Many strong players have sent me some superb games during the past 830-odd weeks but I have no doubt that the following encounter, played in round 1 of the World under 18 Championships 1997, is the best of the best. Eddie Dearing was last heard of sharing first place with Karl Mah at the Smith & Williamson Young Masters during July. I wonder what happened to his opponent?

Ponomariov,R - Dearing,E [B22]
World u18 1997

1.e4 c5 2.c3 d5 3.exd5 Qxd5 4.d4 Nf6 5.Nf3 Bg4 6.Be2 e6 7.0-0 Nc6 8.h3 Bh5 9.a3 cxd4 10.cxd4 Be7 11.Nc3 Qd6 12.Be3 0-0 13.Qb3 Rfd8 14.Rfd1 a6 15.d5 exd5 16.g4 Bg6 17.g5 Ne4 18.Nxd5 Qe6 19.Qxb7 Bf8 20.Nc7 Qxh3 21.Nxa8 Qg4+ 22.Kf1 Qh3+ 23.Ke1 Qh1+ 24.Bf1 Ng3 25.Nh2 Nb4

Forsyth: N2r1bk1/1Q3ppp/p5b1/6P1/1n6/P3B1n1/1P3P1N/R2RKB1q

This is a luxury you don't get in a newspaper: the space for an extra diagam!
Dreams are made of this: Black's 25th move has left four pieces en prise and all are immune from capture.

26.Qc7 Rxd1+ 27.Rxd1 Nxf1 28.Nxf1 Nd3+ 29.Kd2 Qxa8 30.Kc3 Qd5 31.Rd2 h5 32.Qc4 Qa5+ 33.Kb3 Nxb2 34.Qb4 Bxb4 35.axb4 Qb5 0-1


White to play and win.

Last week's solution: 1.Re1 Kf7 2.Rxe6 Qxe6 3.Qc7+ Kg6 4.Qxb7 Qe1+ 5.Kh2 Qe5+ 6.g3 Qe2+ 7.Qg2 1 - 0

© Peter Walker 2002

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