From the Archives – Remember, Remember the Fifth of November…

The very first Serpentine Running Club newsletter

What was the running world like back in 1982 when Serpentine RC was first formed? Kim has gone exploring the first issues of our newsletters.

In anticipation of the 2018 London Marathon, many of us flung our Serpie hats into the digital ring of the Virgin website. 386,050 entries were received for the 2018 marathon ballot (UK and overseas combined) for approximately 17,000 ballot places. My entry took 5 minutes tops.  I suspect I applied via my iPhone, from my kitchen whilst sipping a Bank Holiday breakfast coffee – but to be honest I don’t recall. Like most things these days, an entry form was pinged into the ether and I went about my day.

Applying for a London Marathon place was not always so simple – in fact the early application process itself might be viewed as a test of endurance, both mental and physical. I asked Hilary Walker – one of our longest standing club members, who ran her first London Marathon in 1983 – what was entailed in 1982.

“The system then for entries was for aspiring marathoners to get the earliest time stamp on their entry forms at a post office on the date for posting.  The key idea was that those who were more serious about entering would queue up at post offices around the country to get their entry in early.”

1982 was an auspicious year for sport in England.  At the Commonwealth games in Brisbane, England topped the athletics leader board with 32 medals – including 11 gold – and was placed 2nd overall with 108 gongs, whilst in Hollywood ‘Chariots of Fire’ raced across the finish line to take Best Film award at the Oscars. By November, in more mundane news, Channel 4 had just come on the air bringing Countdown and Carol Vorderman into homes across the country, a certain Extra-Terrestrial was 3 million light years from home and about to hit our cinema screens, and from early morning on Friday the 5th a queue was forming along the south side of Sloane Square in London…

The following article was written by ex-Serpie Nick Gray and is taken from the SRC’s first ‘News and Reviews Bulletin’, published in November 1982.

A Guy Fawkes Street Party

Why should half a dozen normally sane (?) runners wish to spend Bonfire Night sprawled out on the pavement outside a fashionable shoe shop on the Kings Road?

We were waiting, along with several hundred others, to post our entries for the 1983 London Marathon to be run on the 17th April.  Our intention was to get our entries into the post box as soon as possible after 7 a.m the following day. The person at the front of the queue had arrived at about two o’clock on Friday morning but we had still managed to secure a good position when John, Danny and Laurie had turned up around 9.30 a.m.

The monotony of the wait had been broken up during the day by several heated discussions on policy with post office representatives and threats of bad publicity if things did not go according to plan. The queue started by a blocked letter box in the post office wall over which was posted a notice – “Gillette London Marathon entries”. By the time I arrived just after six o’clock it stretched back nearly as far as Lower Sloane Street.

John, Danny and Vic were watching window dressing.  This continued until a familiar car appeared, first trying to park on the pavement and then tipping out its driver. We were then forced to watch a rather vocal demonstration of Tim’s thermal underwear. The beer and whisky flowed as the night people passed along the road.

“What are you queuing for?”

“How long have you been here?”

“When is the marathon?”

Kathy arrived with sandwiches but these were temporarily abandoned in favour of a liquid intake.

Tim was diverted from washing the pavement with his beer by the arrival of Val and Alison. However his ardour was short-lived as they disappeared into the night, leaving their envelopes. They were safer that way.

The Sloane Square gents closed at ten o’clock, leaving the rest of the night to our initiative and imagination.

Fists were flying. Bruiser Burton was bopped on the nose by some Bellicose Bill from further down the line.  Without further ado, John got up and, walking into the road, called out for a mysterious chap called Hughie.  No one answered. Vic reached for the dry ginger.

“Anyone for free tea or coffee?” One bloke who was waiting rolled up in a van complete with hot water and brew kit. Very welcome indeed.

Meanwhile, Bellicose Bill was lashing out in other directions, but the appearance of blood brought a rapid end to the excitement as spectators broke it up.  The police came too late but further problems were avoided by caging us in with barriers along the pavement.

Sleep crept up as midnight passed.

“Nick, do you want a drink?”

Danny vaulted the barrier in full mess dress and duffle coat to hand out large measures of Famous Grouse before crashing out head first.

But even the Army don’t sleep with their boots on.

The two o’clock news on Radio Two assured us that we were not unique. Now more incredulous passers-by related the lengthening of the queue down Lower Sloane Street. By 5.30 am it had reached nearly as far as the ‘Rose and Crown’.

World Runners were recruiting at five o’clock, shortly followed by charities and other interested parties handing out leaflets to their captive audience.

As seven o’clock approached the line formed in earnest and the Post Office workers arrived.  A very long fifteen minutes passed as we distributed the entry forms and awaited zero hour.

“Open the box!”

“Take the money!”

At 7.06 am my entries disappeared through the slot, numbers fifty to fifty-four.

Now the real wait had begun.

Nick Gray 8.11.82

Hilary was in the queue that night…

“The Post Office was where Barclays bank is now – on the south side and west of Lower Sloane Street – I was about 30 down in the queue, but as I lived where I do now – just north of Harrods – I became popular for dashing home at intervals to bring back a thermos or two with coffee or tea.  It certainly was a very friendly night and it seemed almost a disappointment when we disbanded after posting our entries. We made up for it with the race the next April where I remember also the great support from Serpies around the route – this hasn’t changed over the years!”


Club membership stood at 121 people in November 1982 (we know this because they are listed in the back of the newsletter, along with their postcode, home and work phone numbers – issues of data protection clearly some years away!) Of these, Serpentine RC Newsletter no. 3 – issued in May 1983, names 50 Serpies who took part in the 3rd London Marathon on 17th April.  They include; John Walker, Danny Minto, Laurie Thompson, Vic Burrowes, Tim Burton, Kathy Crilley, Alison Turnbull, Nick Gray – our running reporter – and Hilary Walker, completing the first of her 29 (and counting!) London Marathons in 3 hours 25 mins.

Race day conditions were wet and windy, and the third London Marathon was won by Mike Gratton and Greta Waitz. Mike became friendly with some of our early club members after they used his sports holiday company to book the annual Mountain Marathon Serpie trip to Davos. The name of Mike’s company, 2:09 Events, is inspired by his 1983 London Marathon time of 2:09:43.

As we each look forward to running or supporting at the thirty-eighth London Marathon, I will leave you with the following thoughts from our first Club Secretary.  I think this excerpt attests that – from a Serpie perspective at least – not much has changed; we turn out in support of our own and every achievement is celebrated in time-honoured tradition, down the pub.

Hon Sec’s Two Penn’orth – James Godber, taken from Serpentine RC Newsletter no. 3 – issued in May 1983

Finally a last word on the Marathon.  It was a great thrill to have run it in ‘82. It was almost as big a thrill to have spectated and supported in ‘83. I must have known over sixty people who were taking part and the nonstop concentration required for 30 minutes or so at Surrey Docks to try and pick everyone out was unbelievable.  I felt exhausted even though I hadn’t run a step!  I’m pleased to say I spotted (or was spotted by) over 50 of you.  Those I missed tended to be in non-Serpie gear which was even harder to pick out. So if I did miss you – Sorry.

My congratulations go to everyone who completed it but in particular to all of you who took longer than 4 ¼ hours, not least Ellie. Well done also to Hilda for having the courage to pull out at 20 miles having recognised the symptoms of last year’s injury which could have kept her off running for months after the marathon had she carried on, as indeed happened last year.

Also thanks to all who came to the Churchill in the afternoon.  When Wendy asked for the extension we estimated 40-50 might show up.  As it happened, at one point there were over 80 of us there, and the buzz was quite phenomenal.  That’s why I do the admin work and enjoy it.  Thank you all.

By the way, I still think last year’s medal is better than this year’s!

Kim Boursnell is a modest runner who has recently discovered the joys of cross country. She has been a Serpie for 3 years and when not running is most probably lost in a book or in a museum somewhere.