RIP Brian Boyce (16/03/2021)

We were saddened to hear recently of the death of Brian Boyce on January 22nd 2021 at the age of 88.

Brian was one of the longest supporters of the Harriers as an athlete and member. He went along in early October 1948 a callow youth of 16. Save for a brief spell in the early 1960’s, when he joined Stourbridge & Wordsley Harriers, he was to be forever associated with Tipton Harriers right through to the 2010’s.

Brian was born on 4th February 1932 the only son of Wilson & Kitty Boyce. His birth in Dudley was to give him a Worcestershire county qualification later in his athletic career though he also ran in many Staffordshire county championships as well. This diversity was brought about we believe by the changes in municipal boundaries.

He was at Dudley Grammar School for his main education and it was there some of his pals encouraged him to try the Harriers out.

He ran for the school cross country team and used running to “skive”, as he called it, out of less convenient activities.

He is pictured here (back row first from left) with the DGS School Cross Country Team. A point of note from this is another famous son of DGS in the form of John Chalstry (front row third from left). John was also a member of the Harriers but was to later become more famous in that he was to be appointed Lord Mayor of London. Brian was very proud that one of his mates had “done good”.

Tipton Brian Boyce 1949 DGS

It was as a result of three members of the DGS Youths squad that Brian was to become formally elected a member of the club mid November 1948 (at a Committee Meeting held on 17/11/1948).

Initially he was not keen but said he would go along. As he said once “I came insisting and believing that I would have an occasional run to keep fit and did not want to run in any races. It took about a fortnight to change my mind.”

The Youths of the club were at this time coached and coaxed by Sim Whitehouse Snr who had qualified as a AAA Coach and his son Sim “Junior” was also one of the Youths team.

Brian’s first race for the club was in December 1948 when he ran the Midland Youths XC Championships at Arley (Nuneaton). This was over three miles of “pasture land & plough”. The term Youths was then one that defined a runner of the ages 15-18 years. Neither the club (19th) nor Brian (114th) faired too well.

In January 1949 he ran for the club in the Staffordshire XC Championships helping the club to 5th place.

His name then appears regularly in the lists of name entered and results , whilst never one of the leading athletes, Brian could be relied on to run his heart out.

He won the keenly contested Boxing Day Handicap in 1950.

Whilst he was still not yet 18 he was training and racing alongside many more experienced athletes. He loved this.

By October of 1949 he was taking part in the regular trials & handicaps that the club organised to aid selection. In those days the club were limited to the number of people a) who could be entered and b) who could actually run on the day. Team selection was based on a trial, or a number of trials over a few weeks, to see who should be selected. Even then a committee would sit and propose/approve the clubs team entries.

Better was to come for these young men later in the year at the Midland Youths XC Championships at King George V Park Wordsley where the team secured third place. The squad thrived and Brian was part of that.

Tipton Brian Boyce 1950 Youths Squad 01

The above image, taken around 1950, shows Brian on the front row first from the left. Others are: Back Row (Left To Right) – S C Whitehouse; J Haines. Front Row (Left To Right) – B Boyce; D Hardisty; G Allen; W Parfitt and M Bunch.

Brian’s joining coincided with a growth in the numbers of youngsters taking up the sport with the club. In the post war environment there was renewed hope and energy all around.

Brian was to fall under the watchful eye of Sim Whitehouse who took the motley crew of youngsters and moulded them into an athletic force.

He rubbed shoulders with other Harriers of repute such as Gerald Allen; Bert Harbach; Micky Bunch; Bill Parfitt; Dave Hardisty Sim Whitehouse Junior; Joe Gripton.

Joe Gripton became an admired “rival” within the club who was to also become a lifelong friend.

He recalled that joining the Harriers and the lifelong interest and friendships that it fashioned made him state categorically that “it changed my life”.

As well as athletics he was playing football in a Birmingham Works League. It was the discipline of regular training that helped Brian develop his running. After leaving school he returned within a year or so and ran in an “Old Boys” Half Mile Handicap which he promptly won.

Between leaving School and National Service Brian worked at Robinson Brothers Laboratories of West Bromwich.

In 1952 having turned 20 years of age Brian undertook his National Service. He joined the 28th Batallion Royal Army Ordnance Corp.

Tipton Brian Boyce National Service 01

It this time that he regarded as one of his most important from a development point of view. As an athlete in the Army he was excused many duties and allowed to train. In return he had to race for his Battalion. He ran on the track and cross country whilst in the Army and even won a race involving 180 runners.

Tipton Brian Boyce 1952 National Service

When he returned to the Harriers in 1953 he was stronger and fitter. Athletic training and thinking had undergone a tremendous change with the likes of Emil Zatopek showing what hard work and high mileage could produce. Zatopek was an inspiration to many of this era. For the next ten years or so Brian covered a wide spectrum of events from lowly internal club handicaps; inter club trophy meetings, county and area championships all over a range of surfaces.

Brian, like many of his era, raced in the various annual sports staged in the Black Country and wider Midlands area by sports organisations and large employers.

They trained three times a week – Tuesday & Thursday evenings and Saturday afternoons (if not racing). His season was typical of many Harriers. Competition was structured with league, county, area and national championships being the normal order.

At this point in his athletic career he was training on the roads and cross country during the winter months but summer saw his attentions turn to track racing and sprinting. Summer months would see him and his fellow track stars down at places like the Vono Ground undertaking sprint drills and measured repetitions. During this part of his racing programme we find him entering 100, 220 & 440 yard events around the area.

He was also playing his part in the clubs relay teams in trophy meetings around the area playing a key role. These relays would be called a “medley relay” and involved two short sprints of 220 yards, a 440 yards and perhaps a mile. Brian would share the sprint duties with another lifelong friend Roy Langford. Both Brian, Roy and the club enjoyed modest successes over many years.

The next two photographs show Brian in action at a typical Black Country sports. He is wearing his Tipton Harriers club vest and the number 85.

Tipton Brian Boyce Open Meeting Track Race 06

Tipton Brian Boyce Open Meeting Track Race 03

Returning from National Service Brian headed back to work with Robinson’s Brothers. He then found work as a Trainee manager for Hilton’s (Shoe Shops). He got his own store in Blackheath which “came with” a flat in Halesowen.

September 3rd 1955 saw Brian marry Jean at St Luke’s in Dudley.

The Headquarters at this stage were on Sedgley Rd East and Brian recalled them being in a good state of repair but it was the life it brought Brian that captivated him there. As well as an athletic club doubled up as a youth and social club providing a valuable outlet for all ages.

Brian is pictured here in the old Clubhouse on Sedgley Road East at an unknown social event seated second from the left.

Tipton Brian Boyce Clubhouse 01

Talking with Brian around the time of the Club’s Centenary in 2010 he spoke with pride of the discipline he picked up and the fun the lads had in training and racing. When questioned as to his Tipton Harrier hero he quickly named Jack Corfield who had shown Brian an act of sportsmanship that he never forgot.

In 1959 Brian ran in the Worcestershire Track & Field Championships, held that year in Redditch, his chosen event being the 440 yards. Coming from behind he picked up a bronze medal behind Foulkes of Worcester and Portman of Dudley and making Athletics Weekly. He treasured that particular copy of AW.

During the late 1950’s and early 60’s he ran regularly but at times he sensed frustration at being overlooked for certain teams. For a time he left Tipton Harriers and joined one of the Stourbridge clubs for a short period between 1961 and 1964. This was probably in frustration at certain team selections around that time.

Back in the fold from 1964 he threw himself back into the sport but now focusing more on longer distances and, perhaps, favouring the roads and country more than the track.

The mid 1960’s saw a number of major changes to Brian’s circumstances. He & Jean had a son, Ian, born 05/10/1966. Two years later they moved to Penzer Street, Kingswinford. This was to remain Brian’s home for the rest of his life.

In the early 1970’s he recalled his joining the club when he wrote “It Was Great in ‘48” for a celebratory document the club produced in its 60th year. This can be read here.

A cultural change was happening in athletics in the early 1970’s with the development of “veteran” or what we now know as “masters” competitions. Indeed Tipton Harriers played a role in the establishment of the local area group call the Midland Veterans Athletic Club or MVAC with many of our club becoming key people in the movement. Brian was by this stage aged over 40 which was the threshold at which specific competition for age groups such as these was being created.

Around this time his employment was as a sales representative with a firm called Bondina (part of the Vileda Group) working for their Vileda company who provided specialist air filters to various industries. He later moved to Air Filters Systems Ltd, and finally Auchard Developments Ltd as a Sales Director, until retirement.

He is pictured here with his MVAC vest on.

 Tipton Brian Boyce Bondina 01

It was these newly established levels of competition that were to provide Brian with a new focus and enthusiasm.

In 1978 he decided to train towards the World Veterans Championships to be held in Hanover in Germany in July 1979. He upped his mileage and trained twice a day clocking on average 70 miles a week. In 1979, now aged 47, he ran the marathon event in Germany and in 2h 53m 33s for 161st spot overall but crucially 37th in his age category (M45-49). Brian found this performance brought him and his GB team mates a silver medal in the team contest.

Tipton Brian Boyce World Vets Silver Medal 02

On 30th October 1983 Brian was elected President of the MVAC/MMAC for the year 1983/84.

Brian was a regular and avid racer. But things were to come unstuck in the early 1980’s. He was still racing the longer distances and building up to the 1984 Sandwell Marathon. He was aware he had a problem and was diagnosed as having a tightening valve on the main artery going to his heart. No more Racing!

In fact things became worse and were life threatening. Brian was operated on at Harefield Hospital by Dr Magdi Yacoub who undertook to replace a valve and install a pacemaker. Brian was forever in his debt. After the operation a measured rehabilitation was undertaken beginning with walking, jogging and finally a return to running. In fact he had a friendly challenge with his surgeon and “beat” him a year or so on in a charity race raising funds for the charity. The Express & Star named him “Bionic Brian”!

Training and participation continued and he was seen in many of the local events in the Black Country. He competed in a Biathlon taking on his son Ian in the running and swimming event.

Our last club based “athletic performance” we have for Brian was in 1988 fittingly in a MVAC/MMAC Handicap at Newbold On Avon. But this was not the end of his running career!

Brian was a goodly soul and helped many charities and causes over the years. With his friend George Brazier he walked between Harefield and Russells Hall Hospitals to raise money for what is now known as Action Heart. They raised £11,000.

He proceeded to run the 1990 London Marathon at the age of 58 in a time of 4½ hours. He continued to relish running events up until the end of 1996. After that he did jog for fitness for a further few years.

He maintained contact with members and friends within the club and around the time of the Centenary in 2010 played a major role. He allowed access to his archives and his memories added colour to many a meeting and reunion function. The sight of Roy Langford, Ron Bentley; Joe Gripton and Brian all sharing memories in Keith Atkins’ front room in Woodsetton will be one treasured by those who witnessed it.

Outside athletics, work and family he had a variety of interests and outlets. Many may have experienced Brian as a raconteur telling a good yarn with characterful accent, innocence and humour. He did some stand up for a time telling Black Country jokes and stories as his character “Bri” and did a “turn” around some clubs when the opportunity arose. We were lucky to get him to record some of his own work and that of other stories or poems relating to the club’s history.

He was a charitable man and never forgot to “put something back”. He was a Samaritan for time and helped many charities including the Mary Stevens Hospice in Oldswinford, Stourbridge. Indeed it is to this organisation that any donations are to be sent.

Brian rued the change in athletics over the years from the innocent amateur days of the 1940’s through to the professional drug influenced times we see today.

A kindly and gentle man who enjoyed his running and the opportunities and friendships it afforded. He had many phrases that will sit long in the memory but one comes to mind here. Brian oft said at the end of his giving advice or recalling his athletics career that “the only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary”.

RIP Brian we will miss that glint in your eye.

Our thoughts go to his family and friends