Photograph: Werner Schmidt

Monday, June 1, 2009

Ran Laurie & Jack Wilson

Inspired by the comment made about “the spear attack” on Jack Wilson, this is how the story is told by Hylton Cleaver in his book A History of Rowing (1957; p. 110):

Jack Wilson “had gone trek in the course of his duties, as District Commissioner. He came out of his tent after lunch one day and immediately felt a heavy blow in his back. Turning, he saw an old woman holding a spear. The blow had in fact been a spear thrust so savagely that it had nearly transfixed him. Having withdrawn it, the old woman struck again but missed, and as she made a third attempt Jack grabbed the shaft and disarmed her. The old woman had been put up to this attack on the District Commissioner by a witch doctor to rid herself of some misfortune.
A Sudanese medical officer, who was in his party, rushed up, after a brief professional examination, and made a memorable prognosis: ’By God, your Excellency, after this you will be no more good.’
Wilson was carried back to his base on a stretcher, a journey of twenty-four hours. He was rushed to hospital, and somebody who knew Laurie was his closest friend sent him a message. Laurie arrived at the hospital with flowers and fruit expecting Wilson to be at death’s door. On asked with hushed voice how Wilson was, he heard that he was ‘out playing tennis.’ ”

Christopher Dodd tells another story about the “Desert Rats” in his obituary of Ran Laurie (The Independent, 10 October 1998). When Ran Laurie was out on one of his rounds in the Sudan desert, he came upon a car that had broken down. In the car were Maurice von Opel, a member of the German car-making family, and his wife. The third person in the car was von Opel’s driver, Eric Phelps, a member of the famous family of Thames watermen. Eric Phelps, British professional champion, was now and then coaching George von Opel in the single scull. Phelps had also coached Jack Beresford Jr., and Dick Southwood to an Olympic gold medal in the double sculls at the Berlin Games in 1936. “Laurie managed,” writes Dodd, “running repairs and gave the party the address of a refuge in Khartoum, where, of course, Wilson was to be found.”

As I have mentioned in the previous entry about Hugh and Ran Laurie, Jack Wilson and Ran Laurie were great friends. Laurie once wrote a letter to Hylton Cleaver about his friendship with Wilson. Laurie wrote: “It was my privilege to be his second fiddle. He was a genius and had no twin.”

If only a clever fellow could make a movie about the pair “Laurie & Wilson” and their friendship – what a grand film it could be! (And we already know who could play the role as Laurie, don’t we?)


  1. Thank you for sharing the spear story! I had only briefly come across it before (I originated the Wikipedia articles on both Jack Wilson and Ran Laurie), it's such a wonderful true-life tale.

    I also added the black & white films of the 1930s Cambridge Boat Race teams to YouTube, I'm so glad you enjoyed them! Thank you for spreading the word :)