Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
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JACK PARKER (Looks Back in July 2013)

Jack Parker and Peter Hildreth, closely followed in the footsteps of the 'Great' high hurdler, World War Fighter Pilot, Squadron Leader, Donald Finlay, as the two top UK International high hurdlers of the 1950's. One must not forget that twice, Olympic medallist, Finlay, who had a career best of 14.3 and then, after the War, ran a time of 14.4, at the White City on the 1st of August 1949, which still is the British 'Over 40' Veterans/Masters record in 2013, at the time of writing this article which is quite remarkable...

Jack Parker (Fredrick John Parker) Born September 6th 1927, talked to me at the Opening of South London Harriers new track, at Woodcote High School, Coulsdon on the 16th of July, 2013.
His first thought on being a hurdler:-
"I was at Shene Grammar School (London SW14) and we had a Sports Day. Remarkably, the last year I was at Shene in 1938, the Sports Master Terry, organised a high hurdles race. That was quite something for a Grammar school. I can only think that the combination of Terry, the Master and Shackle in the wood working shop decided to do that. Anyway, they did so, I went up to Liverpool University at least knowing what a hurdle looked like. I was first in the Liverpool University hurdles in the last year but, still learning. I competed in the Christy Cup which was the match between  Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds but I was still, mainly a sprinter of course. I was sprinting on the Northern University circuit but I did have hurdling and then, two things happened . Dear 'Old' W.T.Thomas stuck me in, on the 'off chance', for the Surrey County Hurdles Championships and, I came back to SLH, whom I joined in 1945; recruited like so many SLH people through the Air Training Corps and The relay team, which was Alan Grieve, Bert  Liffen, John Peckham, and Trevor Davis! That won the AAA's sprint relay title. It was famous year that SLH won both the 4 by a quarter and the sprint relay. I can clearly remember how I could not get into the team!.'
 I won the Surrey hurdles from nowhere, nobody knew who I was. Dear 'Old' Arthur Gold said 'We do need some more hurdlers. That bloke looks good and strong he said to John Le Masurier - will you take him on.' He did that and that was how I got started.'
Jack Parker won three AAA's titles High hurdles Championships in 1951; 53 and '55. over 120 yards. Did any of those stand out for him?
'The third when I beat Ian Offley on the run in, I  did not think I was going to win that one."
You came up against my close friend, Peter Hildreth. You had 'Great ' battles'
"I realise that. Yes, I did.' I really began to get the hang of hurdling in 1954- 55 and was unbeaten in Europe and in 1955, ranked 8th in the World. I was alright around Europe but I could never cope with the top Americans.'
Peter had trouble with them also!
Absolutely. Peter was a good friend. When I saw Peter's son at the funeral. He did say to me 'My Father always said he always blamed me for coming along when I did! because that co-incided with the 1954 European Championships. I won the silver medal and Peter went out in the semi-final. He said he was always blamed for that (However Peter Hildreth got a bronze in the Final in 1950).
European Championships Final :- 29/8/54 Bern 1 Yevgeniy Bulanchik (SU) 14.4; 2 John (Jack) Parker (GB) 14.6; 3 Berthold Steines (WG) 14.7; 4 Sanko Lorger (Yug) 14.7; 6 Ion Opris (Rum) 15.1.
In the Commonwealth in Vancouver in 1954 'British Empire Games' Jack Parker was 4th in the Final in 15.00 behind winner Keith Gardner of Jamaica. Jack won his heat in 14.7.
  'I ran a bad race in the Commonwealth.'    
  'There is a marvellous story in my life about Bulanchik. I was in the same heat as Bulanchik in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki and went out in the Semi final (Peter Hiildreth also went out in another semi won by Harrison Dillard).' For me it was Davis of the USA (who ran the same time as Dillard of 13.7 in the final) and Bulanchik.
I remember him, as the Russians invited us out to a party.'Very social party'. Bulanchik was there. There was all this smoke salmon and caviar!.Then he beat me in the Europeans. I was jolly well up to the sixth hurdle. I think I was faster than him but he was a better hurdler. He beat me in the Europeans. Then there was the famous London-Moscow match where Chataway beat Kuts under the floodlights. I was London Captain that evening and, I did not quite manage to beat Bulanchik then. He beat me by a whisker.'
 'I felt I was going to get Bulanchik. Essentially I was a racer. I loved racing. Times were less important!. We went off to Moscow v GB in 1955 and I was really geared up and won the race by a mile but Bulanchik did not turn up. He had retired or something like that. I was really geared up for that and won the race but never beat Bulanchik.'
Jack had a good coach?
'John Le Masurier was a very good coach'.
Did Jack do club athletics very much?
"Funnily enough I ran for SLH as junior but then I got into hurdling so quickly. Jack Crump was good, he gave me lots of AAA's races. I was an amateur and I did not do week days.I had been in Civil Engineering all my life in quite a senior position. By the time there was the AAA's races.  You started off the season with a few club races--The Sward, Kinnaird, The Brockman, The Goodman Trophy. One down at Southampton. About five or six of them in all. The week's  were fully occupied with AAA's matches, County, Southern and then of course you go to the Internationals. So, really I did not see much of the club.'
Because of your job you had to train when you could. Peter always had trouble with short holidays, as he had a family but his short paid holidays were crammed with athletics trips?
  ' In 1955 when the firm asked me to go to Nyasaland to work, in the Autumn of 1955.They said I could take Shirley out there. I won five races around Europe and got engaged and married and, off to Nyasaland.
All in two months. We had races in Bordeaux, Moscow, Prague,and Budapest, maybe one at the White City."
Was his honeymoon an athletics honeymoon?
  "No not al all. "Shirley said " It was a very busy time, you appreciate that' (He was going out to Africa for his firm).  Jack continues 'We went to Rome on the way out. Funnily enough we then stopped on the way out in Nairobi with  Archie Evans, who was a AAA's coach, sent out on a coaching scheme so, we coached Kenyan athletes for a couple of day on the way out to Malawi.I did not touch a hurdle for six months.So I was not as sharp in 1956 I lost it. I was still competed in the Internationals.'
If he had to chose a race done over those many years .What would he chose?
 "It is very easy I ran three decent races. The European Silver medal; The British record, which was then the English' National' record, (London's White City 3/7/55) of 14.3. In those days it was a real record, they gave you a plaque. In historical teams, I feel a bit grumpy about it. On that day I only equalled the record but, it did not feel like that, at the time, and Don  Finlay had  done 14.3 in  Paris before the War (Sept 4th 1938). The other was London v Moscow in 1955, without any doubt. They were distinctly better than the others.'
I bet it gave him a lot pleasure competing in those days?
 'It was the Golden era.'
'After competing in Melbourne in the 1956 Olympics 'We went straight from Melbourne to Hong Kong where I worked for three years. I was not really concentrating by the time we got to Melbourne, my second Olympics. We went straight from Melbourne to Hong Kong. I had lost my focus in athletics.
' (He  went to work in Hong Kong in some construction work ' According to 'Athletics World' December 1956).
Jack Parker is married to Shirley, who was a Secretary before having three daughters.

Alastair Aitken

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