The master sportsman: Norman Borrett
- Credit: Old Framlinghamian
When I played squash in 1950s, on the wall of the balcony of the squash court, in Seaton, there hung a photograph of the many times British Squash Champion, Norman Borrett.
He only ever used the court to practise before the Championship in London on his own, there being nobody in the area who could give him a game.
Few readers will be aware of the court, which was built as part of the Seaton Golf Club clubhouse complex. The clubhouse will be well known but few locals realise that where they fill their car up with petrol was originally the SGC clubhouse.
Norman Borrett was born in 1917 and died in 2004. His obituary in The Times, described him as Britain’s most talented all-round sportsman. His extraordinary achievements are well documented in the book, “The Master Sportsman” by Richard Sayer. Throughout the late 1940s, Borrett was resident in Rousdon, where he was a master at Allhallows School, which closed in 1998.
Born in Essex, where his father was a farmer, Norman went to Framlingham School in Suffolk where he was captain of hockey, cricket, squash, fives, athletics and swimming, secretary of the Debating Society and Head Boy.
As a small aside, there is a famous castle in the town of Framlingham, set atop a small hill and also the hometown of best-selling musician Ed Sheeran, hence the song ‘Castle on the Hill’.
Norman's older brother Charles was also a fine sportsman, excelling in rugby and later became a parish priest and archdeacon.
Back to the amazing Norman Borrett, and his first mention in the school magazine actually lauded his acting talents, rather than sport. He played Julius Caesar in a play and the squash-playing wrist had already developed with a thrust of Caesar’s sword.
Going up to Cambridge, he won blues for squash and hockey, captaining the University in both sports. From 22 to 27, an athlete’s best years, he was on active war service, which makes his record even more remarkable.
In 1945, he joined the staff at Allhallows. He played hockey for England for 15 years until the age of 37, he captained the British hockey team in the 1948 Olympics winning a silver medal and scoring ten goals. Whilst at Cambridge, he played first class cricket for Essex.
After the war, in 1946, he played for Essex during the school holidays. Living in Rousdon made playing for that county difficult, so he turned out for Devon, again in his school holidays. Norman played 50 times, scoring 2,408 runs with four centuries. He still holds the 4th-wicket record for Devon of 262, against Oxfordshire in 1949, of which his contribution was 134 not out.
It was, however, in squash that this remarkable sportsman dominated. Remembering that the war took away his best years, he won the British title five years running without losing a set. Astoundingly, he only played the game during the championship, using the early rounds to get his eye in.
He very rarely played golf but was good enough to have a handicap of 4, was invited to co drive at Le Mans and generated enough ranking points in tennis to qualify for the championship at Wimbledon but did not have the time to fit it in.
Norman was President of the British Hockey Association and the Squash Racquets Association. He was also a competent player of the organ and piano.
He was a proud family man, marrying Mullie in 1940 and they had two sons, Tony and Tim. His eulogy said that Norman had clear, simple, old-fashioned, Christian beliefs, finishing with the line: “God broke the mould when he made this man. We won’t see his like again.”
Surely there should be a blue plaque on the wall of the former Seaton squash court and at the Rousdon Estate. It is doubtful his achievements will ever be equalled.
And he did all this without a single tattoo in sight!