Warwick Pitch

1937 - 2013

B March 21 1937 d August 30 2013 aged 76

Warwick Pitch had an enormous impact on the bridge world and will be greatly mourned by his many friends throughout the bridge community. This article, published in 2006 in “MetroNews”, tells his extraordinary life story.

A strange thing happened a short while ago in the London bridge world. The proprietor of a highly successful bridge club, so much so that it is famous the world over, decided to give it away! Yes, Warwick Pitch, founder and face of the Young Chelsea Bridge Club for so many years, has given it to the members.

This extraordinary gesture was that of a pretty extraordinary man. Most people know of the Young Chelsea and its recent history, but probably few know much about Warwick himself, for he has always been a self-effacing and private person. But now he has retired from day-to-day club management (though you will still often see him in attendance at the club) I persuaded him to tell me more about his background.

Warwick came to England from Southern Rhodesia (as it then was) in his teens. His father, having left school at the age of 13 to start work, had decided to sell up his business and go back to school. So the whole family moved to London and took up education in England – Warwick and his two brothers went to King’s Canterbury, his father to the London School of Economics and his mother to pottery school! Warwick left school after doing A and S levels, had a spell at the Sorbonne and then went up to Hertford College, Oxford, to read History.

He played bridge whilst at Oxford, but he described it as very bad bridge – the sort you play with friends after midnight. His main interest then was politics – he was a member of the Conservative Club – but his dislike of public speaking limited his political activities. He spoke only once at the Oxford Union – on the subject of Kashmir – and said never again. He also visited local villages as part of “Brains Trust” teams answering questions on issues of the day. But his main memory of these was of an occasion when Kenneth (now Lord) Baker was a fellow member of the team. Baker was asked a difficult question and, being the consummate politician that he is, he suavely said “Now, over to you Warwick”. Warwick only remembers making a complete hash of the answer!

After graduating, Warwick decided to go back to Rhodesia and took a job as a journalist in Salisbury. He was very much the junior with the unexciting jobs there, but was soon transferred to Umtali (now Mutare) on the borders with Mozambique, a smaller city where he was a bigger fish in the journalistic pool. He really enjoyed his time there but, when he was transferred again to the bigger city of Bulawayo, he found that once again he was relegated to the boring tasks, so he decided to come back to England. A spell of research at Oxford also turned out to be boring, so he tried a variety of short term jobs including hop-picking in Kent and tutoring a group of visiting foreign children.

Returning to London, Warwick took a job with J Lyons & Co as a waiter at The Cup and Platter in Kensington High Street. One of his regular customers there was a bridge player who introduced Warwick to the nearby Fourth Bridge Club, where he started to play – only rubber bridge at this time. Warwick worked very long hours in his job for a couple of years and saved enough to be able to give up work and devote his time to bridge and politics for another couple of years. When the money ran out he took another waiting job, this time running the champagne bar at Yates’s Wine Lodge in the Strand. He became an expert at opening a champagne bottle – for maximum bang and no waste. (This could be a useful skill now that the YC bar stocks champagne!)

After another couple of years hard slog Warwick had saved up enough money to again give up his job and return to the rubber bridge table. But although he enjoyed the bridge, he was playing almost exclusively with older people and because of this he made a New Year’s resolution at the beginning of 1968 to give up bridge. As is often the way with resolutions this didn’t last long, as in January he saw an advertisement for an Under-30s Bridge Club which met in a hotel in Victoria. He went along and there played his first game of duplicate with the club owner. On his second visit he played with Ian Gardiner, who became a regular partner for a while, and it was here that Warwick also met Tony Blok.

A couple of months later, the Under-30s club was sold and the new owner doubled the table money. Warwick, Ian, Tony and a couple of others were sufficiently unhappy about this that they held a meeting at Tony’s flat, at which it was decided they would try and open their own bridge club. Premises were quickly found at the Hotel Eden, just off Gloucester Road, and Tony’s wife Loretta suggested the name “Young Chelsea”. An advertisement for the new club was placed in The Times and on May 8th 1968 the first club night was held.

At this time Warwick was still actively involved in politics, though his allegiances had changed. He became the election agent for an Independent candidate standing in the South Kensington bye-election in 1968 and they fought a valiant campaign. In fact The Guardian described it as the best campaign ever for an independent candidate. But Kensington being the Tory stronghold that it still is, they still lost their deposit!

The Young Chelsea Club grew so fast, though, that Warwick soon found he had little time to spare for any other activity. From one evening a week, the club grew to meeting every weekday, though eventually settled on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, with Tuesday evenings devoted to teaching.

By 1972, the club was big enough to justify its own premises and moved to a flat in The Mansions, on the Earls Court Road. It continued to flourish there, but eventually had to move since a neighbour complained that there was no planning permission for a bridge club in the mansion block. When looking for a new venue, Warwick heard about the notorious Zambesi Club in Barkston Gardens. This was a drinking club frequented by mercenaries and other hard types.

When a drunken Irishman put a petrol bomb through the club’s windows after being thrown out one day, the Zambesi management decided it was time to move on before they lost their licence, and Warwick went along with Tony Blok to view the premises. The place was a complete shambles, but Tony could see the potential of the building. The money to take on the remainder of the lease was raised through the issue of debenture shares in return for loans from a number of the YC members, and in February 1976, the club moved to its present site.

During the 1970’s, Warwick found time to contribute to the London Association – he joined the committee in 1972 and was Secretary from 1974 to 1980. At an early Executive Committee meeting he sat next to Alan Hiron, who described how he had recently played in a 12-hour bridge marathon in France. “Guess what, chaps” said Warwick on his return to the Mansions after the meeting. “We’re going to have a 24-hour marathon”. The first of many successful marathons was soon organised – it attracted 13 tables and Warwick scored the entire event himself by hand!

Warwick also somehow found time to play some bridge himself. By 1980 he had become a Life Master, but the job of running the Young Chelsea had become almost 24/7 and he then gave up serious competition. He describes the peak of his bridge playing career as knocking out Richard Fleet and Phillip Alder to reach the last eight of the Spring Foursomes. His team – Warwick playing with Colin Thame alongside a very young Steve Lodge and Mike Nardin – then went on to lose narrowly to a team comprising Robert Sheehan, Jane Priday, Munir Atta-Ullah and Zia Mahmood.

In all his time running the Young Chelsea, Warwick has never sought to turn it into a profit-making venture for himself. He has actively supported junior bridge, providing the club premises free or at a nominal cost for various junior events. He has supported the London Association in various ways, in particular by sponsoring the Lederer Memorial Trophy for many years. He has created a London centre of excellence for bridge and through this has brought much joy into the lives of many many bridge players. In 1992 his efforts were recognised by the EBU when he was given a Dimmie Fleming Award for services to bridge.

(Chris Duckworth)