The club sprang into life in 1926, meeting in café venues, more or less regularly, until the final pawn was pushed in 1939 on the eve of World War 2. Its membership fluctuated from an initial 15 or so, down to a low point when just a handful of dedicated souls kept the flame alive, and back up to around 30 towards the end. The club's most high-profile appearance was in 1931 in a cable match against the Manhattan Chess Club - alas they lost. In its glory days the club fielded teams in the Paris league, competing for the Coupe de Paris (of which more below). The BCCP was represented on the organising committee of the competition, as well as on the French National Chess Federation.
The BCCP's membership was a mélange of businessmen and diplomats posted in Paris, and resident Anglo-Francs. Les anglais visiting Paris for un bon moment were welcome. Some members can be spotted on the chess scene back in Blighty before or after the years of the BCCP, but others seem to be undocumented in all the usual places. In the previous series we compiled a partial list of members, sourced from occasional reports of the club's activities (see the Appendix below); and now, thanks to further research by Dominique Thimongier of Héritage des Echecs Français - to whom we once again express our gratitude - we can add more names, the first of which turned up in the French sporting daily L'Auto.
|Accessible via Gallica@BNF|
As we go along we can also tap into some of the chess incident at the Coupe, on and off the board.
In spite of the title, "L'Auto" embraced just about every sporting diversion imaginable - and some others besides, including chess. On most Fridays in the Spring of 1929 it had a chess column written by Anatole Ratnovsky.
He played for the Cercle Potemkine, hence the disappointment he expressed (L'Auto 29 March) at their performance in the Coupe de Paris that year. They finished 5th/6 in spite of having Tartakover and Znosko-Borovsky in their ranks. Indeed, the inclusion of such professionals of foreign extraction had provoked some controversy. Ratnovsky reported (L'Auto 27 Feb) that, in their match against Potemkine, Le Fou du Roi had left their board-one vacant as a protest, and when Tarta then switched to board-two Le Fou walked out as a man, even though the other games had started. Ratnovsky claimed that Potemkine (his own club, as mentioned) had done nothing outside the rules and, what is more, Le Fou had been rather poor sports - by comparison with Rive Gauche who, in their match with Palais-Royal, "courageously" took on such "maîtres aussi réputés" as Bernstein (Russian) and Baratz (Romanian). The latter, we should add, was several times Champion of Paris, and a sculptor, fashioning, among other things, the likeness of Alekhine for his grave in Paris (see the note about him on Héritage; by coincidence he also cropped up here).
For a bit of chess, here is an Alekhine coup de grâce against Baratz from a game in 1933: as a puzzle for your enjoyment.
|Alekhine (White) to move and win |
- from a game v Baratz, Paris 1933
From here, with thanks.
I think that it is likely that our newcomer was T. M. Wechsler, who turned up in the local English press in the late 1920s playing for Bromley CC, in Kent CCA tournaments, and in the Kent County side - for example drawing with Vera Menchik (playing for Sussex) in September 1928 (for just one press reference see the Sevenoaks Chronicle 9 Nov 1928). He finished last in the Bromley Congress "Preliminary A" 11-18 April 1925. Mr Wechsler's Kent domicile makes a hop across the Channel a distinctly practical proposition, and he might easily have been a chess weekender in Paris, taking up the BCCP's invitation - published in the BCM - to drop-in for a game. If it was him, then perhaps he was accorded the honour of playing on board-one because he was a visitor - with form to boot (even if variable).
"If it was him": there is another Wechsler in the frame - a Romanian who won tournaments in Bucharest in 1927 and 1928 (it seems to say here), and 1930. But, even if this Wechsler was in Paris at the time, surely he would have followed his compatriot Baratz to Palais-Royal - he'd have been a stand-out sore thumb in the British CCP, if they had admitted him in the first place.
In his column of the 29 March 1929 Ratnovsky gave the final table for that year's Coupe de Paris:
The BCCP were within a hair's breadth of winning and, as Ratnovsky observed, they were "for everyone, the revelation of the tournament". As for individual players in the competition: he noted that the maîtres Bernstein and Tartakover participated, along with the majority of players from the Paris individual championship; and he counted among "other players of repute" the following from the BCCP: Fitzpatrick, Henderside (sic), Coleman, Champion and Brown, all of whom appear already in our list.
As we have relied so heavily on M. Ratnovsky's observations (and because he was so complimentary about the BCCP) it is only fair to give one of his games - the one he featured in his column of the 22 March, which he won.
However, there are yet more names to add to the list of the BCCP-ers. Dominique has unearthed the cross-table of the Club's internal championship of 1927 - maybe its first tournament. It comes from the Bulletin of the French national federation in October that year.
Hands, Blackmore, and Campbell are the new additions. They appear in the lower half of the tournament table which suggests they weren't that strong, and I haven't gone searching for references to them in the BCM etc...but they may yet turn up unbidden. The other names above were covered in earlier episodes, including the winner, H.K. Handasyde (here correctly spelled). He was almost Scottish champion in 1915, resident in Paris from around 1923, and died there in 1935.
You will have noticed in the details of the BCCP's second round win over Fou du Roi, given in Ratnovsky's 20th February column, that a Mr. Crowley won his game on board-two. That was, of course, Aleister "The Beast" Crowley, and he appeared further on in Ratnovsky's match report as an example of the "tenacity" displayed by the British team. They were worse on all boards, yet eventually won the match 4 v 1 - Crowley himself lost his Queen on the 10th move, but played on - and on - and won around move 80 after 7 hours of play...a touch of that old black magic?
Ratnovsky's list of "players of repute", which he gave later, in March, did not mention Crowley - in spite of his tenacious rearguard action mentioned above. Perhaps "The Beast" was by then already under a cloud and persona non grata among le Tout-Paris - he was expelled from France in April as a suspect spy, an ignominy (or badge of honour) discussed in our earlier episode 4. All this serves to remind us that Crowley and George "The Fly" Langelaan were conjointly the enfants terribles of the BCCP, for a year or two anyway. Langelaan himself was its founding-father - it was he who, in 1926, issued the invitation to like-minded British chessers to join.
After the war Langelaan confessed his admiration for what he regarded as Crowley's "great mind". George had by then reverted to his journalistic career and published an account of his own war-time action for SOE in occupied France ("Le Masque de L'Agent Secret" appeared in 1950), going on to write sci-fi horror yarns (including La Mouche). In 1966 he talked about his SOE adventures on French Radio. The broadcast was repeated on the 5th August this year (2017), and at the time of writing you can catch it on Radio France Culture (use allez à cette date; it's at 0.43 am). He was introduced - in French - as "eccentric and an original".
|George Langelaan (1908 - 1972) |
probably in the late 30s
In the re-broadcast Langelaan speaks (with a suspicion of an English accent and an occasional touch of that fameux humour anglais) from the beyond the grave - which surely would have delighted the otherworldly Crowley (he himself had "died" in 1947), all the more so as George gives Crowley a nod in his talk. Sometime spy and now a story-teller by trade, Langelaan must have relished the opportunity to embroider the web of confabulations spun by his sometime crony. Thus he gets into its stride with a recycling of Crowley's claim that, while in the States in WW1, supposedly as a British double agent masquerading as a German agent, he had contributed to the successful mission to bring the US into the war. This was achieved, so Crowley said, by conspiring to lure the Germans into torpedoing the passenger liner Lusitania, with 130 Americans among the 1,200 civilian lives lost (including F.G.Naumann, the first President of the British Chess Federation).
Is it significant that Langelaan omits any mention the BCCP in his broadcast, as if to draw a veil over the Club and its goings-on? It was a haunt favoured by Crowley; so was it a cover for other nefarious activities? Who knows, and we look forward with eager anticipation to anything further that Dominique might unearth in the French archives....
Members of the BCCP 1926-38 mentioned in the BCM and/or French sources (updated in bold):
N.Baliol Scott, E.L.Barbier, E.O.Barnard, M.Behles, K.Blackmore, R.Brown, J-J.M.Campbell, G.W.Champion, E.Coleman, D.J.Collins, E.A.Crowley, C.C.Curtis, R.Dunlop, F.Farrington, J.J.Fitzpatrick, S.T.Fletcher, W.I.Gastman, E.Grad, H.K.Handasyde, W.Hands, R.W.Holmes, Japp, J.M.Lang, George L.A. Langelaan, Gérard Langelaan, L.H.Mortimore, H.Reyss, A.Roe, H.G.Spencer, T.M.Wechsler.
Members of the correspondence section:
B.Reilly, Col.Stuart-Prince (based in Nice and Hyères respectively); A.W.Mongredien.