Bad luck to Laura Robson, who crashed out of Wimbledon in the first round today. If it’s any comfort to her, at least she is in good company: King George VI did the same in 1926, when he was knocked out in the first round in the doubles.
The story of how the then knock-kneed and left-handed (seen in 1926 as a huge impediment to playing tennis) Duke of York competed at Wimbledon is a fascinating one. We all know about his speech therapist’s mentoring role, but it turns out that King George VI had another mentor too: Sir Louis Greig, who had a big role in shaping the future king’s life, including escorting him to the top of the competitive tennis world.
Glasgow born Sir Louis Greig, a naval surgeon, met the future king at the Royal Naval College on the Isle of Wight. George V had sent ‘Bertie’ there in a bid to toughen him up. Greig was fifteen years older, a talented & confident sportsman, and immediately clicked with the Duke of York. They became inseparable. They served together during the first World War & Louis even operated on Bertie to save him from his crippling and life-threatening ulcers.
Louis moved to live in Cambridge while Bertie studied there, joined the RAF with him and, as Bertie’s private secretary, persuaded the future king to ask for a THIRD time for Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon’s hand in marriage – the young woman had already refused him twice. No wonder the poor man suffered from ulcers!
In 1926 Louis Greig won entry to Wimbledon through his position as the RAF’s tennis champion. He chose Bertie as his partner – possibly a poisoned chalice. As good a tennis player as Louis Greig was, presumably Bertie was out of his depth.The British pair were thrashed in straight sets by Herbert Roger Barrett & Arthur Gore. The Mail on Sunday’s editor & Sir Louis Greig’s grandson, Geordie Greig describes the defeat as a triumph, however (in true British fashion), “Just getting Bertie on the grass before a crowd was a triumph…There were fantastic pictures of him in his Wimbledon whites in the papers, and it helped to build his image as a normal, healthy young man rather than the shy, stammering also-ran to his glamorous elder brother, the Prince of Wales’. The rationale makes sense. It’s fascinating to contemplate how much work went into shaping King George VI into being the saviour of the nation that he later came to be.
If you’re interested to read more in depth, Geordie Greig has written a book about the relationship between the two men. The book’s due to come out in August.