Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken's
Interviews and

Robbie Brightwell (Interview 1962 - Updated April 2015)

Writers Intro.
The first interviews I ever did for a magazine was in 1962 for Modern Athletics. The respective people I talked to were Derek Ibbotson; Robbie Brightwell and Bruce Tulloh.
A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then. I was 22, the same age as Robbie Brightwell at the time so, we are both 75 now!
(In that space of time, I have been an insurance claims broker in the City of London, till I retired at 69; ran the first 19 London’s (Best was at 42 years of age was 2:47.58), written three books and being a contributor to ‘Athletics Weekly’ for 51 years). So, I thought I would go back in time and bring, up to date ‘The Life of Robbie Brightwell’ who, to an extent, had not had the publicity he deserved...

Robbie Brightwell

Robbie Brightwell will be remembered by some as being a tall, powerful runner, with a raking stride, that could be seen running at top National level over 100, 220, 440/400 and even the odd 880/800.
The 400 was his most familiar distance for him and something he excelled at on the World Stage but, he told me in 1962

      “I would not run a 440/400m if I was good enough at the 220/200 or the 100 yards’ The 440 is murder - If you run a fast one or a slow one it hurts. I prefer to run a fast one and get the satisfaction of winning.”
Did he then use the shorter distances to build up his speed
       ‘I use the 100yards for the basis of building up for quarter miling in the end of June.’

Robert (“Robbie”) Ian Brightwell MBE was born in Rawlpindi British India, on the 22nd of October 1939. He moved with his family to Shropshire in 1946. He was later at a technical college.
He did become a housemaster but will be remembered by those athletics aficionados as being a LOUGHBOROUGH COLLEGES man and a lecturer there. He made many friends, one being John Cooper who was second in the 400m hurdles in the Tokyo Olympics but, sadly died in a plane crash.
An important time in his life was when an attractive young lady came to Loughborough on a course. Her name was Anne Packer, already a good athlete.
        It was on the 20th of October 1962 when I met Robbie at Whithdean Stadium, Brighton. That was after he had won the European 400m, from lane 1 in Belgrade.

(11th of September, 1962. 1 Robbie Brightwell (GB) 45.9; 2 Manfred Kinder (West Germany) 46.1; 3 Hans-Joachim Reske (West Germany) 46.3; 4 Adrian Metcalfe (GB) 46.4; 5 Barry Jackson (GB) 46.6; 6 Andrzej Badenski (Poland-2nd in 1966) 47,4).
In the 4x400 Great Britain was second in 3:05.9 behind West Germany who ran 3:05.8
   “We were tired as we had so many races in previous days, baton changing was poor. These three things combined to lose us the race in actual fact.”
It was later in 1963 Adrian Metcalfe, who won the  100/220/440 in the Varsity match one year had, the slight edge on Robbie Brightwell, both running 46.2 in Budapest (On the 3rd of October)
However Robbie commented in my interview in 1962 about the injuries Adrian had been plagued with in 1962.
       “He has had bad luck with a lot of Injuries, this is one of the risks one takes in this game, you are up and you are down, He is still a great force to contend with.”
It was interesting to note the UK records equalled or new ones achieved by those two top GB one lap runners. 46.2 by Brightwell on September 3rd 1960; & 46.1 on September 5th that year; 45.8 by Adrian Metcalfe July 7th 1961; 45.7 by Metcalfe on September 2nd 1961; 45.7 by Brightwell on October 18th 1964 & 45.7 on October 19th 1964.
The Commonwealth Games was fast approaching, after my interview with Robbie in 1962. Who then did he feel were possible rivals for him in that event?
        “I think Milkha Singh (India who ran 45.6 for 4th place in the Olympics in Rome in 1960); George Kerr (Jamaica) has done 45.9 this year, Barry Jackson and Adrian Metcalfe.
I feel confident I can do well. I will go out there to win but I would not like to be over confident about it.”
It was very unfortunate that Robbie Brightwell got dysentery out in Perth Australia while at the Games. That really weakened him as far as the 400 and the relay were concerned but, the silver lining he got engaged to Anne Packer (who was 4th in the semi final of the 220 yards but no 44O for women was run!).

Robbie talks about the time leading up to those Games in Perth “I had a cold two weeks after Belgrade, and I did not settle down to my new job (Sports master at Tiffins School) but now I am very happy.”
However dysentery struck him but, he manfully ploughed on and he attained a medal. The first four in the Commonwealth were 1. George Kerr (Jamaica) 46.7; 2 Robbie Brightwell (GB) 46.8; 3 Amos Omolo (Uganda) 46.8 and 4 Ken Roche (Australia) 47.7. (Roche won the 440yds hurdles final).

                    1964 was the Olympic year

Here comes an almighty surprise. Robbie Brightwell turned his hand to running an 880 Yards in the Inter-Counties at the White City and he was up against the GB No.1, at the time, John Boulter, who that year ran a UK record of 3:40.4 for 1500 and, equalled the European 800 record of Brian Hewson with 1:47.8 in 1963. He was AAA’s Champion at the distance in 1:47.3 in 1967. The end result of the Inter Counties 880 yards in 1964 was 1st Robbie Brightwell in 1:48.1 and 2nd John Boulter in 1:48.2. One wonders what Robbie could have done over the distance if, he trained specifically for it, rather than the 220/440.
         Anyway let us go to Tokyo, where I stopped off at, on a ‘Round the World trip’ taking in the Olympic Games.
I will point out here that it was at the end of the year that he married Anne Packer.
Robbie Brightwell was Captain of the British Athletics Team in Tokyo. MIKE TAGG an international for the following Olympics, and a fine cross-country, road and track runner said most forcibly to me
“Robbie was an excellent Captain’ and should have been given a Senior post in UK athletics in recent years, as he would have done a great job”

The two favourites for Tokyo were Mike Larrabee & Ulis Williams. In the US Olympic trials, Larrabee equalled the existing World record of 44.9 with Ulis Williams 2nd in 45.00.

The line up for the Olympic Final on 19th of October, 1964 in the Tokyo Olympic Stadium: - Lane 1. Tim Graham (GB); 2 Andrzej Badenski (Poland); 3 Peter Vassella (Australia); 4 Edwin Skinner (Trinidad & Tobago) 5 Mike Larrabee (USA); 6 Robbie Brightwell (GB); 7 Wendell Mottley; 8 Ulis Williams (USA).
       It appeared Larrabee was back in sixth place after 200m. Mottley, Badenski, Brightwell and Williams went off faster. Mottley led Larrabee by 4 metres with 100 to go. Larrabee having started his effort on the curve, when coming into the straight and was reputed to have said then ‘Lets go’. He caught Mottley just before the finish.

Talking to me in Tokyo afterwards MIKE LARRABEE:- “It went exactly the way I had planned it. I knew Wendell Mottley would rocket away at the start of the race. He was continuing to push it throughout the first 200 metres or so, and I knew he was going to die. That was in an attempt to crack the field wide open. I say ‘I knew’; perhaps rather, I should have said that I was certain in my own mind that these would be the tactics he was intending to use. Everything went my way, starting before the actual race itself. I was drawn in the very lane that I had wished for, lane five. Also I did not want anything outside that position as I would have had most of the field out of my sights. Also I did not want lanes one, two or three, because the turns on the track were far too sharp for my liking’
‘Although for the first two thirds of the race, most of the field was up on me, I felt  really great and so excited inside with the thought that my last 150 yards build up was yet to come. But I had a remarkable feeling of calm.’
           ‘The heats and semi-final were tiring to me but they went alright, nevertheless. The final was very much different. I did not feel tired at all until I had crossed the line. If Mottley had not been running I’m sure that I could have won that race in 45.5 seconds.”
      Times:- 1 Mike Larrabee 45.1 (45.15); 2 Wendell Mottley 45.2 (45.24); 3 Andrej Badenski 45.6. (45.64); 4 Robbie Brightwell 45.7 (45.75); 5 Ulis Williams 46.00 (46.01); 6 Tim Graham 46.0 (46.08) 7 Peter Vessalla 46.3 (46.32) 8 Edwin Skinner 46.8.

       It was after that Anne Packer was so disappointed for Robbie, not obtaining a medal and, was determined to at least get one in the 800m and so she did. Much to her surprise a gold medal in a new World Record of 2:01.1.
Then came the Mens 4x400 relay and a hope of at least a medal from Great Britain. That was not assured till the anchor man, Robbie Brightwell, took over with a withering 44.8 split.
The second equal fastest split overall with 44.8. That was also the time Olympic Champion, Mike Larrabee did. Henry Carr ran 44.5.

On the anchor leg in the Final, the World’s best 200m runner at the time and also, the Olympic 200 Champion Henry Carr, took over ahead. George Kerr of Jamaica and Wendell Mottley chased him down the back straight in what appeared an incredible race to watch from the stands. Robbie did not panic and gradually overhauled Mottley and Kerr to gain silver medals for Great Britain. The first three teams broke the existing World Record.

The teams 1 USA (Ollan Cassell, Mike Larrabee, Ulis Williams, Henry Carr) 3:00.7; GB 3:01.6 (Graham, Metcalfe, John Cooper and Brightwell) 3:01.6; 3 Trinidad & Tobago (Edwin Skinner, Kent Bernard, Edwin Roberts, Wendell Mottley) 3:01.7; 4 Jamaica 3:02.3; 5 Germany 3:04.3; 6 Poland 3:05.3; 7 USSR 3:05.9; 8 France 3:07.4.

Back in 1962 I asked Robbie a question and, the answer would still apply to-day. ‘What sort of advice would he give to a young runner who had just started out at the age of 12 to 14?
“The main thing is you must have some potential but it is not the athlete with greatest potential who reaches the top, but the athlete with the greateter perseverance. This is the thing that counts, not to give in.’
‘Some years you have scrubber years, some years you have good ones, keep on racing, have faith in yourself and then you will eventually  come through.”

Who inspired Bobbie Brightwell when he started out?
“Peter Radford (Bronze in 1960 Olympic 100m Final and Ex-World record holder for 220 yards). I have always admired him because he brought us through in the sprints. I also have great respect for Glenn Davis (Glenn Davis (USA) 1956 & 1960 Olympic 400 hurdles Champion) He is the greatest combination 440yards & hurdles runner the World has ever seen’ (Said of course in 1962)

            After they retired from international competition in 1964 the Brightwell’s had three sons. Gary and two former Manchester City players, Ian and David.
Robbie Brightwell went into teaching before moving to lecture at Loughborough College and later taking up successive directorships with sports companies Adidas UK and Le Coq Sportif UK. He also ran a fishing tackle business for thirty years. He lives at Congleton Cheshire, where both the Brightwell’s have been involved in helping with education, business and local government.

Alastair Aitken

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