PERRY, Fred (1909-1995)
Plaque erected in 2012 by English Heritage at 223 Pitshanger Lane, Brentham Garden Estate, London, W5 1RG, London Borough of Ealing
FRED PERRY 1909-1995 Tennis Champion lived here 1919-1935
Fred Perry is the most successful male tennis player that Britain has produced, and one of the country’s few outstanding champions in any sporting discipline. Until Andy Murray’s triumph at the US Open in 2012, he was the last British man to win a Grand Slam event, and until Murray’s victory in 2013, the last British man to win Wimbledon.
Although he was a northerner by birth, Perry’s formative years were spent at 223 Pitshanger Lane in Ealing, and it was while living here that he won his three Wimbledon titles. The house is part of the Brentham Garden Suburb, and dates from about 1906.
As a child, Perry practised table tennis on the kitchen table, and honed his tennis shots in the garden, against the wall or the garage door. Perry played the game for real at the Brentham Institute (now the Brentham Club) in Meadvale Road, just a few streets away. Later, when commuting to his office job with the Co-op, Perry remembered he ‘used to continue practising my tennis strokes with the aid of my umbrella on the 20 minutes’ walk to Ealing Broadway Station, clipping the tops of hedges and flowers when nobody was looking.’
Perry’s first global title came at the age of 19 when he became Table Tennis World Champion, but it wasn’t until he started fitness training with Arsenal Football Club (then managed by Herbert Chapman) in 1932 that he began to excel at lawn tennis. He went on to win the Wimbledon men’s singles titles in 1934, 1935 and 1936 – a hat-trick that was not achieved again for over 40 years.
To his Wimbledon titles Perry added the men’s singles championships of the United States (1933, 1934 and 1936), Australia (1934) and France (1935). His French title, won on an unfamiliar clay court surface was, and remains, a unique achievement for a Briton.
By contrast to the sedate and well-heeled tennis establishment, Perry was in his own words ‘a rebel from the wrong side of the tennis tramlines’. His self-taught shots owed little to the textbook, and were often derived directly from table tennis. His sarcastic toff-baiting cries of ‘very clevah’ when an opponent played a good shot and his habit of vaulting over the net after he won a game made Perry compelling to watch.
But his style was not conducive to universal popularity, or the approval of the British tennis establishment. Notoriously, following his first Wimbledon win, the club tie was left draped over a chair for him to pick up rather than presented to him formally, as was the tradition. He demanded – and received – an apology for this slight.
LONDON TO HOLLYWOOD
In 1936, Perry turned professional and moved to the United States. He took American citizenship soon after and was, for a time, part of the Hollywood set, though he was later reputed to say that he was ‘only American on paper’. During the Second World War Perry served in the US Air Force, but his competitiveness on the court declined following an elbow injury sustained in 1941.
In 1950, with the businessman Theodore Wegner, Perry founded Fred Perry Sportswear. He kept busy in his later years by working as a tennis commentator and journalist, and it was after attending the Australian Open that Perry died, on 2 February 1995. A memorial service was held in his honour at St Paul’s Cathedral in London.