Frederick John Perry 1909 - 1995 One hundred years after Fred Perry was born – and 14 years after he died – his name still resonates with such a range of different meanings that hardly a person in Britain does not conjure an image at its mention. For the senior generation Perry means a lean, feline athlete who ruled the world’s tennis courts in the 1930s; for the slightly less senior his name evokes a supreme ex-player seated behind a radio microphone dispensing wise, wry and trenchant commentaries; and for many thousands of others it means simply a laurel-wreath logo on a distinctive clothing line.
Perry professed not to mind this last evocation of his name. Towards the end of his life he commented: “Being a realistic man. I have never worried about admitting that my name is better known worldwide, not for winning Wimbledon three times, but because of Fred Perry shirts and sportswear”.
This was quite an admission from a proud man who was a world champion at 19 when he claimed the men’s table tennis title in Hungary, the sport’s stronghold where no foreigner had previously won a tournament, and went on to become arguably the world’s first truly global sports star as the first player to win tennis’s four major titles: Wimbledon and the championships of Australia, France and the United States.
Perry completed his collection of the quartet of major championships by winning the French title in 1935 – and by the time he made himself ineligible for these tournaments by turning professional late in 1936 he had won eight of the so-called grand slam crowns, including those three Wimbledons between 1934 and 1936, the third of which remains the last time a British male has been successful at the All England Club.
Such was his domination of the men’s game that between winning the first and last of his major singles titles, at the US championships in 1933 and at the same event three years later, Perry reached 10 out of 12 finals – and his two failures were because of injury.
All these successes, though, are merely a measure of Perry the sportsman. The measure of Perry the person is so much greater. From the humblest of beginnings, and bearing no more than a gutted racket and a super confidence in his special gifts, he brought down one of the most seemingly indestructible barriers in British sport, his demolition job on the class divide in tennis reverberating far beyond the white lines within which he played.
Even though he lived much of his life in the Unite States, having taken out US citizenship, he was a significant member of a disparate force who helped to transform Britain from a society dominated by a privileged minority into one where men and women gained access on merit.
When Perry was a boy, it was almost unheard of for someone of his lowly origins to play tennis. The son of cotton mill workers from Stockport near Manchester, Perry lived the first few years of his life in working-class areas of the North-West before his father’s political ambition landed him a job in London that meant the family moved south to live in Brentham, a part of Ealing. It was here that Perry first came into contact with tennis although table tennis was what first absorbed him.
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