How I met Alf 

I first met Alf Tupper during the snowy Winter of 1963. I was a schoolboy with a fresh interest in skiing. I was with my father on Hampstead Heath along with other members of the United Kingdom Ski Club.
We had gathered together to enjoy the rare opportunity to ski in the capital. Previously,  I had been lucky enough to ski abroad in Austria. We had travelled there by rail, leaving me with a lifelong enthusiasm for that particular form of transport.
A chap we did not know powered by, on a pair of long wooden skis. He was going at a cracking pace and had a beaming smile on his face. It was obvious that his ski equipment could have been better, but it seemed to be no hindrance to him.
We stopped for a break and Alf said ‘Hello‘. It transpired Alf was a notable runner, but athletic events at tracks around the country had been severely disrupted by the weather. Alf’s mate, Nobby Clark, had a copy of ‘Practical Woodworker’ magazine and together they had built some sledges, some of which they gave to the local orphanage and the rest they sold to well-heeled citizens of Greystone. Alf then made some skis for himself.
We were soon joined by Sir Arnold Taylor-Gun, the kindly president of the club. Sir Arnold had worked as a diplomat in the foreign service for many years. He had considerable personal wealth and a large house nearby in Hampstead. Sir Arnold was looking to improve the standard of competitive skiing in the British team and it was immediately obvious that Alf had a natural ability which helped overcome the limitations of his home-made skis.
This was still the day of the enthusiastic amateur. Individuals played association football for clubs like Arsenal and then played cricket for England in the Summer. The British still disapproved of athletes trying too hard and believed that natural talent would out. However, Alf still had a living to make and could not neglect his welding work.
Happily Sir Arnold took him under his wing, providing better equipment, advice, training tips and even transport and accommodation for competitions in Europe. Alf soon became a regular visitor to the club’s swish headquarters in a very large house in Berkeley Square. Not everybody was keen on this. In his fifty shilling suit, Alf stood out amongst the old school ties and cravats of the other club members. One of the UKs leading skiers, Jeremy Tompkins-Barker, let it be known that it was unseemly for Britain to be represented at skiing by a ‘working class ruffian’ like Tupper. Tompkins-Barker had a following with pupils of a rival school of mine. Jennings major and minor and their chum Venables also made no attempt to hide their disdain for Alf.
Despite all this, Alf went on to represent the UK successfully at many cross-country events that Winter. The continentals did not know what had hit them . The Austrians and French were dubious about Alf. However,  the Italian duo of Tardelli and Gentile recognised the clear threat to their medal chances and managed to tamper with Alf’s skis before one race. Little good it did them though, Alf still won in the end.
Tupper was a rare talent that emerges once in a lifetime. He was capable of excelling at many sports. He would not have required a great deal of sponsorship. He seemed to thrive on his fish and chip diet. Before setting off at the weekends Alf would have a slap-up feed at a handy chippy. That seemed to set him up for the weekend’s competitions. He was not at all keen on foreign food. However, at the end of that Winter Alf decided to give away his skis and return to concentrate on his beloved running. I often wonder what became of him.
Dave Goldsmith