The SLSC v SSC Gala for the Doug Smith Cup

Plucky Team Serpentine achieved an honourable second place at the Tooting Bec gala

The early rain clouds cleared to provide a beautiful sunny Sunday morning for the annual gala at Tooting Bec Lido.  Over thirty "Serpentinies" turned out to achieve a glorious second.  Team Serpentine was once again super efficiently marshalled and whipped into place by our club captain, Deirdre Ward.

This was the last chance to swim at the Bec before its' nine months closure for refurbishment.  Will many venture north of the river to continue their early morning fix before it reopens?

Team Serpentine with the Doug Smith Cup, borrowed from SLSC in anticipation of victory in 2023

Team Serpentine with the Doug Smith Cup, borrowed from SLSC in anticipation of victory in 2023

A late call for the team photo meant many missed the camera. A total of 34 club members competed in the various disciplines.

A tradition dating back 59 years

In 1963 South London SC organised a gala at Tooting Bec open to all London's open water swimming clubs. Only the Serpentine Swimming Club turned up and ever since an annual gala has been held between the two clubs.

The early rain had drizzled out, giving us an invitingly sunny Sunday morning at the Bec

The early rain had drizzled out, giving us an invitingly sunny Sunday morning at the Bec

(photo: Mike Harris)

We compete for "the Doug Smith cup". But who was Doug Smith?

We compete for

Doug Smith, 1963

Doug Smith, was already a leading light at the South London Swimming Club when he joined the Serpentine SC in 1956.  Very quickly Doug learnt much about the club and was responsible, along with Alan Titmuss, for putting together our original 1964 book “Breaking the Ice” to celebrate the club's centenary.  Doug was a true  sporting gentleman: he only ever complained about his handicap mark when it was too good!

It was Doug who took the lead in organising the 1963 Tooting Bec gala.  Doug sadly died quite young in 1967 but his memory lives on in the Doug Smith cup competed for between his two beloved clubs.

Doug's joint membership was reflective of the long-standing strong and friendly ties between the two clubs: the Serpentine raced early on a Saturday morning whilst South London held their races Sunday mid-morning so many took the opportunity for a weekend competitive double hit.  Doug was very much involved in charity work, not just within swimming but also with a number of youth clubs in south London.  Doug gained many friends in France following the Normandy landings during World War II.  Aside from the cup for the SLSC v SSC gala, both clubs have a Doug Smith race in his memory on their fixture cards.  The Serpentine's race is sponsored by past President Eric Carter over 440 yards (400m) in the spring.

Doug's widow Rene was famous for her brandy laced bread pudding

Doug's widow Rene was famous for her brandy laced bread pudding

Rene (right) at the 2011 gala

Doug was with our club for just eleven short years and passed away suddenly from a heart attack in 1967. For many decades his widow Rene continued to bake her delicious bread and brandy pudding for the Tooting Bec gala.  Last summer Rene celebrated her 100th birthday.  The club sent flowers and a card.

Both the South London and the Serpentine swimming clubs relished the chilly Lido waters

Sun shines on the righteous, and Tooting Bec swimmers. (photo: Mike Harris)

Encouragement. (photo: Mike Harris)

Lots of white water. (photo: Mike Harris)

From the early 70s to the mid 2000s the gala was held midweek at the Clapham Manor baths, SLSC's competition squad's training venue.

From the early 70s to the mid 2000s the gala was held midweek at the Clapham Manor baths, SLSC's competition squad's training venue.

1971, South London's Bob Patterson presents the Doug Smith cup to Serpentine President Jack Peckham. Jack was yet another member of both South London and Serpentine swimming clubs.

1977, SSC Hon. Sec. Alan Titmuss receives the cup from SLSC president J Gadbury

1977, SSC Hon. Sec. Alan Titmuss receives the cup from SLSC president J Gadbury

A one point margin to the Serpentine. Strangely, over the years there have been many "one point margin" victories for both sides.

Clapham Manor Baths, 2004

Clapham Manor Baths, 2004

Kevin Murphy and Anna Hillier (now Mrs Baker) had just finished their race. Kevin is a multi-time Channel legend; Anna a 17 hour Channel legend.

John Reid, Leslie Du Cane and Andrew Fuller (and half a Bill Deeley?) wait in eager anticipation pool side, ready for their event

Serpentine Swimming Club, 1963. The year of the first gala against South London SC

Serpentine Swimming Club, 1963.   The year of the first gala against South London SC

Doug Smith, front row, third from the right.

(Report compiled by Brian Thomas)