Maurice Harrison-Gray

By Jack Marx
BM January 1969

Maurice Harrison Gray, whom the bridge world now mourns, was known and addressed almost universally as ‘Gray’. His devoted Russian-born wife, Stella, sometimes called him ‘Graysky’. Only occasional presumptuous new acquaintances, and they soon learned better, would dream of calling him by his Christian name. Why this was so is not easy to explain, but it was certainly not due to any lack of reciprocal warmth of feeling.

It must have been early in 1934 that I first learned of his existence, but for months he was only a name breathed in my ear by my friend and partner, the late Skid Simon. To Skid I must have been a source of great exasperation. I disclaimed any ambition to climb to the top of the tree. So I was secretly quite pleased when Skid announced that he had discovered a ‘prodigy’ in some obscure Kensington club and hoped they might pair up together.

However, it seemed that the prodigy already had a partner in the person of Jane Welch, a charming young actress who happily still adorns the rubber bridge scene in London. Some time later Skid announced in his airy way that he had entered the four of us as a team in the Tollemache Cup, then an open event. We survived several rounds but Jane, for professional reasons, then dropped out and the famous Gray­ Simon partnership was born.

With no help from me they soon made a great name for themselves, touring the country on the slenderest finances, playing provincial teams and gathering in shoals of trophies at congresses. Poles apart in physical stature, they were a real delight to caricaturists. I still have a cartoon stored away somewhere of the pair of them riding a tandem along a road sign-posted to some congress resort. Gray is pedalling away furiously in front, smoke belching from a huge pipe like a traction engine; Skid behind is drooping with feet dangling, head buried deeply in Lenz on Bridge. In a sense, when a little later Iain Macleod and I teamed up with them, we were cashing in effortlessly on their success.

Gray’s courtesy and considerateness, whether as partner, opponent or captain, would be difficult to equal. I was to realise the very real kindliness of his nature when I partnered him in the 1950 European Championship at Brighton. My health was far from robust, my match-play was very rusty and in our early practice games I was almost in despair. It was primarily through his encouragement and understanding that we were able to make a show of it and win. The same qualities were displayed in the help it always delighted him to extend to younger players.

Like many talented people he was apt to be touchy at even implied criticism of his talent; and disagreements on impersonal issues were apt with him to become personal disputes. These failings perhaps accounted for his long and sterile feud with the governing body that deprived the country of his services throughout most of the ‘fifties. Everyone was delighted when the cold war thawed, and at Oslo in 1958 he helped to bring Britain within a split tie of the European Championship.

The last years of his life in the world of bridge were a long and glorious Indian summer, and his recent successes in the Gold Cup show that he was still a force to be reckoned with. Right up to the end he firmly declared his intention of playing in the international trials due to start this month. Whether he really believed it would be possible even Stella cannot be sure. At the back of my mind was the hope that at least he might be our non-playing captain at Oslo next year. Providence, alas, has decreed otherwise.

Major International Appearances

European Championships: 1939 1948(npc) 1949(npc) 1950* 1958 1963* and 1966
Bermuda Bowl: 1950 and 1965
World Olympiad: 1964

* = 1st place

Camrose Trophy Selections: 1937 1938 1939 1946 1947 1949 1950 1951 1956 1959 1962 1964 1966 and 1968

Gold Cup Winner: 1937 1947 1949 1962 1966 1967 and 1968

Crockfords Winner: 1946 1949 1963 and 1964

Spring Foursomes Winner: 1962 1964 and 1968

The Hubert Phillips Bowl Winner: 1957 and 1967

National Pairs winner: 1939 1947 and 1956

Tollemache Cup winner: 1938 1947 1954 1957 1958 1963 and 1967