The race resulted in the first silverware for Sally Stott. Second and third place went to Mike Barron and Alan Mitchell. Mario's daughter Anna presented the prizes, accompanied by brother Marcel and Mario's grandchildren.
Mario graced the Serpentine Swimming Club from the early 1960s for over forty years. A naturally gifted musician, Mario piped the Christmas Day swimmers onto the board for many decades. A true gent and great friend to all that had the honour to swim in his company. Mario - 1932 - 2007.
Mario was ever present on Christmas mornings to pipe us onto the board
We have raced for the Mario McClarnon memorial cup since 2007
Marcel made a Herculean effort to join us. He set off from Manningtree, Essex at 05.55, travelling via two rail replacement bus services, a train and then tube, he arrived at 08.15 to see the race just about in progress.
Anna presented lovely swimming themed, hand painted plates as prizes.
President Alan Mitchell spoke of the many stories and legends that surround Mario.
Mario McClarnon was one of those incredible characters that over the years have blessed us by their presence at the Serpentine. Though doing many amazing and often extrovert things he never bragged or sung his own praises. Over the years more and more seems to come out about his amazing life. It really is hard to do him justice, but the stories just keep coming.
Born in Northern Ireland (Armagh?) in 1932 Mario was a natural musician, teaching himself a number of instruments. As a teenager he wished to learn the bagpipes, so where better to go than the local marching band. Mario duly started to learn the pipes and diligently practised. It is not certain whether or not he got to go on a fully-fledged march, but this was late 1940s Ulster and it was "that sort" of marching band, i.e. the local Orange Lodge. When they learnt of his religion, and that (as Alan MItchell puts it) he would lead with the “wrong foot” on the march, he had to leave. How very, very sad.
In order to avoid being called up for National Service Mario joined the Irish army. That may sound a bit counter-intuitive, but there is some sound logic there. Whilst serving he acted as a batman to an officer who regularly spent his weekends away from the barracks enjoying the delights of Dublin. Mario would take advantage of the absence by sleeping in the officer's comfy bed rather this his own bunk in the barrack's dormitory. One weekend the officer returned early to find Mario sound asleep where he should not have been. The detail is not clear, but it did not end well.
Mario's Channel swimmer daughter Anna is in the "Twenty Four Hour Club"
Anna (also known as Maria) swam in the Serpentine as a little girl, being taught to swim by dad Mario during the school holidays. She went on to race with us in the late 1990s and early 2000s. She also trained for a successful Channel crossing, joining the elite "24 HOUR CLUB"....
On Monday 2 September 2002, at 8.43 pm Anna set off from Dover for her Channel attempt. She landed in France 24 hours and 8 minutes later, at 8.51 pm, Tuesday 3 September. When asked if the swim took so long for reasons such as weather and tides, Anna replied “no, I’m just slow. It costs a lot to swim the English Channel and I wanted my money’s worth. What’s more, I was enjoying the view.”
"Random" prizes were also presented to three of those further down the field. Anna noted that Mario would probably have mischievously presented the cup to the last swimmer home!
Mike Olizar wrote the following just before the 2019 race -
"Mario was a good man.
"Mario worked as a signalman at Clapham Junction. On my way back from work in the 1960s/70s I would often exchange greetings with him in the days when one could open a train carriage window. He'd be pushing weights in or by the Windsor /Hounslow/Reading line signal box. In my mind's eye I see him in shorts and vest doing pull-ups hanging outside the signal box window. His daughter Anna, though I always knew her as Maria, told me he had on one occasion dropped his weights on the signal box levers blocking all rail traffic. Poor commuters!!
"Depending on shifts Mario would, whatever the weather, early in the morning jog up barefoot from Clapham Junction. He'd climb over the Lido area fence for a very early dip. This would have been well before 06.00 and before Jock Fee had opened up. Wet footmarks left behind showed that Mario had been there."
If weights were not to hand Mario would just make-do with a set of train wheels
Mario would also play a tune at Serpentine socials
A legendary runner, who completed the very first London marathon bare-foot.
Mario worked in the Clapham Junction signal box, at a time when signals were switched by manual leavers - heavy, physical work requiring repeated strength all day. After a shift in the signal box he would run barefoot and bare-chested from Clapham Junction to Hyde Park and back, summer and winter. In 1981 he ran the first London Marathon, complete with kilt and bagpipes, barefoot and bare-chested, stopping occasionally along the way to pipe the crowd and collect money for charity. An accompanying friend carried two buckets for the many coins tossed in for the good causes, getting heavier and heavier as the 26 miles, and Mario's playing, progressed. His accomplice said, "by the finish it seemed my arms had grown by two or three inches".
Daughter Maria noted that Mario ran from Vauxhall to the start at Blackheath, completed the marathon, then ran back to Vauxhall. Mario was an ultra-marathon runner before such things were invented!
For many decades Mario would pipe us onto the board for the Christmas Day race, often ready changed in his swimming trunks. In 1963 Mario was ready to pipe the swimmers onto the board on the morning of the 100th race. Unfortunately, the race was cancelled at the last minute due to ice so Mario played a reel whilst members took their quick plunge.
1981 - as with 1963 ice meant the Christmas race was postponed. Mario's piping ensured no one felt alone whilst having a quick dip in the hole in the ice.
1985, Mario again piping us onto the board
21 January 1985 - more ice. A photographer from The Times was on hand to capture Mario having a dip.
Mario won the 1983 Peter Pan cup
Cyril Emry, Anna and a "crazy duck" posing with 1983 Peter Pan winner Mario
In the early 1980s "the crazy duck” would join the races. After breakfasting on cheese and bacon, supplied by Jock Fee and Peter Saunders, it would waddle into the pavilion and endeavour to untie member's shoelaces in an effort to make them get on with the race. It then would waddle out with the swimmers to the board for the race to begin. The duck did not mind being picked up by Cyril Emery, but took a severe dislike to him if he attempted to put the duck in the water on its own.
When not working in his signal box, Mario could be found busking in either Oxford Street or Regents Street. All money collected went to charity.
Tragically, Mario was knocked down by a teenager on a motor scooter when crossing the road. He survived but spent the last 18 months of his life in Stoke Manderville hospital paralyzed from the neck down. He died in 2007.
Mario was a man of great generosity of spirit often collecting for charity in his kilt playing the bagpipes. A famous story is his arrest outside Selfridges. He had been piping away and ordered by a WPC (in the days that one had WPCs ) to move on. She had come back, found him still playing and arrested him. Hauled before the magistrate's court the beak dismissed the case saying how much he enjoyed listening to Mario when he frequently passed him and that how, in an article in "The Times", he had read that all his busking money collected was not retained by Mario but donated to charity. The case hit the national press.
Mario would often taken for Jimmy Savile, an unintended look-alike and was occasionally stopped in the street and asked for an autograph. These were always signed "Mario McClarnon", to the puzzlement (and sometimes indignation) of the autograph hunter!
At the time this was seen as an amusing compliment. Mario died long before Savile's real life was exposed.