Peter Stocken

Peter is a current vice-President of the EBU (snce 2000), having twice served as Chairman - from 1994 to 1999 and 2006 to 2008. He received the Gold Award for his service to English Bridge in 1999

"I was born in Gloucestershire at my grandfather’s vicarage; he was a country parson fluent in ancient Latin, Greek and - curiously - Welsh. My father was a formidable flyer: he joined the Royal Flying Corps in 1916 and held a pilot’s licence until well into his seventies. During the thirties he was Chief Test Pilot for several of the major aeroplane manufacturers. He also starred in French silent films in the twenties. My mother cut jigsaws from 1915 until her death in 1983 and was described in BBC2’s Antique Roadshow as ‘one of the greatest, if not the greatest, jigsaw cutters of the 20th Century’.

I was educated at Winchester College, then read Chemistry (uugh) at Exeter College, Oxford, but was kicked out after a year. Ultimately I received a degree in English Literature and Language at Trinity College, Dublin, where I met my wife, Dinah. We ran the university bridge club there, and achieved some successes on the Irish bridge scene. Dinah was even written about in Bridge Magazine by Jack Kelly for extricating herself brilliantly from a ridiculous contract that I had put her in.

After graduating, I worked for five years for the media and travel group, The Thomson Organisation, in Edinburgh, London, and finally for the Bangkok Post. Unfortunately I had a difference of opinion with the Chief Executive - I was his Personal Assistant - and either he or I had to go. As I waited for another job to turn up, I put to use a talent that I had learnt from my mother - cutting jigsaws. Well, that was that: the jigsaws sold like hotcakes and then, a year later, I devised a particular form of three-dimensional puzzle, which I have made my speciality ever since. My puzzles grace the drawing rooms of the good and the great, including the Queen, Margaret Thatcher, Stephen Sondheim, Stevie Wonder and innumerable others. Over the last thirty-four years, I have cut by hand fifteen thousand of these puzzles and I still enjoy making them.

My family consists of Dinah, a judge and a Recorder, Jack (40), Simon (38), Claudia (36) and Zebedee (34). All six of us play bridge and this all started when I gave the children - the youngest was seven - two hands to play every day one summer holiday. In the lead up to the following Christmas, Dinah and I were far too busy getting the puzzle orders done, so the four of them played bridge solidly throughout their holidays. From time to time, they would rush into my workshop asking what they should bid on this or that hand or, occasionally, in floods of tears, wailing “Jack/Simon/Claudia/Zebedee doubled me in Four Spades and I am sure he/she had looked at my hand!.”

It was our children who persuaded Dinah and I to take up Duplicate Bridge again, after an absence from the game of seventeen years, so all six of us joined Doncaster Bridge Club, whose members went out of their way to give us as much help and encouragement as they could. For the next few years we entered every EBU tournament possible: we - literally - had to sell the family silver to afford it.

All my children now earn their living one way or another from Bridge, either teaching it or organising it. Three of them have also earned their living from cutting jigsaws and Claudia and Simon still do so very successfully, though on a part-time basis.

I was appointed to the Parole Board of England and Wales in the early eighties, served on Yorkshire Television’s Programme Advisory Council for several years and stood successfully as a local District Councillor in 2000, which was a decision I regretted for three years and three hundred and sixty-four days out of the four years for which I was elected. I have also been a school-teacher, a forester, a hall-porter, and I even ran a canoe-camping organisation for a season.

One of my consuming passions over the last three decades has been the building of my house. Dinah and bought it as a total ruin in 1974 and, with the help of two ex-miners who knew even less about building than we did, rebuilt it ourselves. It took two years to make it just about habitable and I have been improving it ever since. This year’s project was the installation of solar heating."

We asked Peter some questions about himself and these were his answers:

Do you play bridge?
Yes, I am still a keen bridge player, usually playing with one of the family in EBU events. Otherwise I play at the Andrew Robson Bridge Club when I want a really friendly game. My three sons and I have been involved with Andrew’s club since its inception twelve years ago and to me that club, in its ethos and its attitude to the game, is the epitome of how the game should be played and how a club should be run. .

If you could come back as an animal, what would it be? Since reading Paul Gallico’s ‘Jennie’ when I was eleven, I have always liked the idea of coming back as a cat.

What book are you currently reading? About ten at once, but the three at the top of the pile at the moment are Robert Fisk’s The Great War for Civilisation (his account of the last twenty years strife in the Middle East); a recently published biography of Thomas Cochrane (the extraordinary 19th century sailor; and Commando, a collection of appallingly politically incorrect and embarrassingly xenophobic comics from the 1950’s.

Whom do you admire and why? I admire Pitt the Younger, who gave his whole life to the service of his country - only for the reward of doing it. I also admire him for turning down the offer of the Premiership at the age of 21, solely because he wanted to accept the position on his own terms.

Which 4 famous people (dead or alive) would you invite to a dinner party? Dr Johnson, Oscar Wilde, Bernard Shaw and Dorothy Parker for the brilliance of their conversation. Or, if I wanted to change the course of history: Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and Saddam Hussein, with Lucrezia Borgia in charge of the cooking.

What is your ideal night out? Well, as the man said “A full bottle in front of me is better than a full frontal lobotomy”. Preferably a Burgundy.

And your epitaph? “All lives should be judged by the quality of their failure” and to those who do not quite get the profounder implications of that remark, even Margaret Thatcher secretly wanted to be a ballet-dancer!