1970s: Towards a new decade
When I came to Exeter in the Autumn of 1966, I was immediately recruited by David Richards to play in a County Match at Taunton. This was my initiation into Devon chess, and I recall the quizzical look of Ron Bruce, the long-time Captain of the Devon team, and the gentle welcoming smile of his wife Rowena. Although I played intermittently for Devon for the succeeding fifteen or twenty years, Exeter Chess Club dominated my chess-playing activities for two decades. I have retained my membership, believing myself to be the longest continuous member, although my appearances have, of late, been limited to the annual Douglas Phillips Quickplay Tournament.
The Club met in the smoke-filled Upper Reading Room of the Devon and Exeter Institution. The membership consisted of individuals with their own memorable character traits, and Brian's pen-portraits of Copleston and Winterburn are instantly recognisable to me as they were still members when I joined.
As well as these players, Dr. R.G. Chaturvedi was also a regular attender, and a difficult opponent. Although his grade may not have got beyond the 140s, he was a regular in Exeter's first team, and always reliable. Mr. Holder was also 'ever-present' but was keener at draughts than chess! He may not have won any but a very small number of games throughout the entire time that he was a member.
Perhaps the most singular member of the members I recall was Miss Jane Passmore. Her sister Katie, reputedly a stronger player, had also been a member of the Club but that was before my time. Miss Passmore would walk from her home in St. Leonard's, was never without her floral hat which she wore indoors and out, and she was partial to Queen sacrifices. In her later years, she did not trouble experienced players, but she could be relied upon to catch out an unwary opponent.
An early memory of those days is the simultaneous display given by Lajos Portisch, then at the height of his considerable powers, and ranked seventh in the world at the time, I recall. He was an amiable and easy guest with a passion for football which seemed to match that for chess. I remember playing my favourite Reti against him, and gratefully accepting his offer of a draw at move 26 when neither a piece nor Pawn had yet left the board. This gesture was typical of his generous nature displayed throughout his visit.
The most awe-inspiring display given at the Club however, was the return visit of former student R.V.M. Hall who took on all-comers and disposed of them all with sparkling combinations that marked his style. [Richard, once reminded of the event, suggested that this was 1973.] Kevin O'Connell also played at the club, as a student; as did Simon Brown, who, when he arrived already had the highest grade in the county — 209, I believe.
For me, Exeter Chess Club is inextricably linked with the Upper Reading Room of the Devon and Exeter Institution. When it left these premises, via Cowick Street to St. David's Hill and palpably better times, it left part of its soul behind. Nostalgia remains for that era when games were played with Victorian chess-pieces and clocks, some of which may have been eighty years old, on mahogany tables that were probably there when Staunton was up to his tricks dodging Paul Morphy in London.
Unfortunately, my records of games from this earlier period are not to hand and I have to move to the nineteen-seventies for an annotated game.
— Richard Hitchcock