In 1965 the name of David Burr entered the Guinness Book of Records after he broke the All England National match record. We caught up with Dave recently to recall those halcyon days when the young man from Rugby, representing the Rugby Federation team, was king of the angling world.
As with most teams back then, Rugby Federation held a series of qualifying matches on local venues. The 12 anglers with the highest points total were then selected to represent the team with the next three acting as reserves. Dave first qualified for the 1957 National as an 18-year-old. Disastrously, the Federation had failed to submit their entry form in good times so Dave’s national debut was put on hold until the 1961 All England on the Trent.
This was the same year in which Dave opened a tackle shop with father in law, Reg Banks. For many years, until the tackle business was fully established, Dave continued to work as a draughtsman at Hawker Siddeley Engineering.
Dave qualified to fish the 1964 All England on the Severn and actually drew next peg to Roy Sims. Roy triumphed from the famous milk factory swim in the previous year’s match on the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal. Dave comfortably beat Roy that day back in 1964, which was in itself an accomplishment, but little was he to know at the time that he would be champion himself the following year.
The 1965 All England programme records a total of 110 teams of 12 anglers taking part, that’s 1,320 competitors in all, with the headquarters at the Westonzoyland Airfield. So big was the entry that four venues – Huntspill River, Cripps River, King Sedgemoor Drain and the South Drain – were all needed to accommodate all the competitors. It’s what those of us of a certain vintage refer to as a ‘proper match’, for even small matches back then would have 100 plus anglers taking part, many with 400 or more pegs. There had been heavy rain leading up to the event, which was not ideal, and very high winds and choppy water were forecast during the match.
As always back then, there was a bookmaker and tackle stall at the HQ; it was a proper angling village.
Jim Wooding & Sons (turf accountants) made Billy Lane’s Coventry team the 5-2 favourites, which was hardly surprising since they were considered the team to beat in that era. On the other hand Dave’s team, Rugby Federation, were rated as 200-1 outsiders. And who should Rugby draw next to? None other than the great Coventry side. Making his debut for Coventry that year was Colin Clough who was to find himself taking part in an epic peg to peg battle with Dave for the individual crown.
Dave drew peg D63 section on the Sedgemoor and he was excited as the pundits reckoned the winner would come from somewhere in this section. He suffered an early setback when, after being dropped off by the section bus, his trolley broke which meant he was much later than he would have liked getting to his peg. Being late to the peg on national day cannot exactly be good for the nerves. Having said that, you could only have one rod or pole set up back in those days, so it didn’t take any longer to sort the rod than it did to mix the 10 or so pounds of groundbait that Dave was going to use. This was principally as a holder for the gallon or so squatts that Dave hoped would hold the bream in his swim for the duration of the match.
Back in 1685, troops loyal to James 2nd had defeated the rebellion of the Duke of Monmouth. They had fought literally opposite where Dave & Colin were pegged. After 30 minutes of fishing Dave had landed only a single roach but didn’t panic. He decided to change reels, reverting back to the tried and trusted Mitchell, having previously tackled up with a closed faced Abu 505. Using a ducker float and casting a good 16 or 18 yards out, the bream soon started to bite. They were not huge fish, the smallest around one lb, the majority in the two to three pound range. Dave was anxious not to spook the feeding shoal, so he ensured that each fish, once hooked, were played out away from the main shoal. Meanwhile, at the peg to the left, the national debutant, Colin Clough on peg D64, was having a bit of a nightmare in the first part of the match. As he later admitted to the press ‘I was very overawed and just couldn’t seem to get things right’.
Dave kept the fish coming steadily and a gallery of spectators started to build up behind him. Keepnets were tiny in those days and Dave, ever aware of fish welfare, not only carried a second keepnet but was in the fortunate position of needing to use it. Dave recalls ‘it wasn’t until four hours into the match that I began to really think it could be my day. But I had to ignore the growing gallery who kept advising me to strike at the first signs of a bite, for I had worked out that leaving the float to fully disappear, meant that I hooked a fish from virtually every bite’. At the next peg Colin, who had scaled down line strengths to get bites, was starting to really bag up. I could see every fish that Colin landed and by the end I wasn’t certain which one of us had the bigger weight – I felt it could possibly go either way’.
Colin’s fish were weighed in first and he recorded an impressive 55 lbs 3 oz. Dave was shaking with excitement as his fish were weighed and the crowd of two or three hundred milled around. Had he caught enough? He need not have worried for when the total was added together it amounted to an amazing 76 lbs 9 oz, a new All England record weight. This eclipsed the record set ten years previously by Jack Carr, fishing for the Sheffield Amalgamated team who landed 68 lbs 2oz.
All England nationals were decided on weight back then and you really started to wonder about your team mates and whether they had caught enough to provide the backing weights needed to lift the team crown. Dave need not have worried as his weight alone had beaten all but the Coventry team. Coventry’s back up weights were superior to Rugby’s and so they closed the gap, but when it was all done and dusted, Rugby’s total team weight amounted to 93 lbs 7 oz, compared to Coventry’s 86 lbs 3oz, with Derby A A finishing in third spot with 70 lbs 9 oz, just two ounces clear of Gloucester United A A. NFA records show the total weight of fish caught was 20 cwts 18 lbs, 6 oz. The full team results are here so you can find out how your local team performed on that day.
Dave recollects arriving back at the HQ. ‘Billy Lane, who had drawn an awful peg on the Cripps River, was one of the first to come over and congratulate me. He was a real gentleman and of course had supplied some of the bait the team has used to pip Coventry to the title’. What Billy hadn’t supplied and what many competitors, including Dave, used on the big day, was the home bred gozzer. These wonderfully soft maggots were adored by bream back then and still are to this day.
All England national trophies and medals are very special indeed. All England medals today fetch several hundred pounds at auction, for as Mark Twain said about land, ‘they don’t make them anymore’. Dave was presented with four medals that day: a silver gilt medal for winning his section, a gold medal for winning the individual title and a third medal (again gold) for being part of the twelve man winning team. He also won a Pescalon Gold Medal.
The silverware that Dave was presented with were the Bryant Cup, the Daily Mirror Cup, the Pescalon Trophy and the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers’ Trophy. On top of that, there was the NFA pools money to be paid out and Dave received several hundred pounds. Even better, Dave picked up over £200 from the bookie and a cool £250 for the team.
Back then, and its collectively anglings’ own fault that we have let its importance slip, the All England was a major event in the sporting calendar. It was up there with FA Cup, Grand National, the Derby and the likes. Some All England winners from that era were even invited to the BBC Sports Review of the Year show, but Dave missed out on that accolade. Dave was a local celebrity in the Rugby area and quickly shot to national fame in the angling world, advertising Milbro rods amongst other things.
Dave was guest of honour at the Rugby Royal British Legion annual dinner that year. Millard Brothers, owners of Milbro Tackle, sponsored a dinner in Dave’s honour at which the captain of the 1964 Kidderminster & District A A national team proposed a challenge match with Rugby Federation. It was fished in early 1966 on the Trent and resulted in victory for the Rugby lads.
Letters, including one from the local school headmaster, flooded in as did a stack of postcards and telegrams – a form of communication which, along with the use of carrier pigeons, most younger readers will not have heard of.
Bristol based angler, Wilf Gould, who had been a spectator behind Dave on the big day, even wrote to Dave asking to buy one of his floats and also reported the poor form of the winning peg since the day that Dave had emptied it.
Dave’s national record weight stood for 24 years until 1989, when it was broken twice in quick succession. The first time was by Matthew Shore, fishing for Tonbridge in the Division 5 National on the Middle Level Main Drain. Just a month later, Isfield’s Brian Wicken, fishing the Division One National on the River Severn, landed a colossal weight of 87 lbs 15 oz 12 dr. The current record belongs to Steve Clark with 160-12-0 taken on the River Trent in 2004.
Dave Burr will be forever remembered for his outstanding feat on 11 September 1965, but he was far more than a one match wonder. His Rugby team finished fifth in the 1968 All England National and Hubert Noah went on to represent England. In total, Dave competed in around 20 nationals and was third in his section in the 1971 Severn National, the last of the All England matches. In 1975, Rugby were runners up to the mighty Birmingham Anglers on the River Nene but were relegated the following year on the Trent. Rugby returned to the top flight when winning promotion from Division 2 on the Great Ouse in 1977. Dave was third in one of the huge Great Ouse championships held on the Relief Channel and won by the legendary Ivan Marks. The Great Ouse was Dave’s favourite river venue and he also won the 400 plus peg St Neots Doc Rowlett Cup on that river. Runner up that day was a young Leicester lad who is nowadays the Trust volunteer angling historian.
Like most match anglers of that era, Dave was competitive on dozens of different venues. Brought up on the challenging North Oxford canal which flows through the outskirts of Rugby, he had a lot of canal fishing success too. He won a 400 peg Towcester open with a 14 lbs chub haul on the caster. He also won a similar sized match at Nell Bridge on the more prolific South Oxford, with the cream of the Coventry match team also participating. The success of the tackle business meant that Dave found it harder to find the time to put in the practice needed to compete at the very highest level. Dave tended to stick to club matches and pleasure fishing as the years went by. Today, with the title of octogenarian soon to be celebrated, he fishes more local venues, the Avon being his favourite and also trout fishing at Draycote.
Prior to 1972, each of the first five teams in the All England were allowed to nominate one angler to represent England in the world championships. Usually, but certainly by no means always, the places went to the anglers who recorded their highest weight for their respective teams. To find our whether Dave was nominated by the Rugby Federation and how the England team fared, look out for an upcoming article which looks back at the events of the 1966 world championships, which was held on home soil, the River Thurne in Norfolk.
The team undertake a diverse range of work including looking after the Trust's £40 million worth of fish stocks, managing agreements with over 250 different angling clubs and helping more people, especially youngsters, take up angling on the canal. Follow this blog to keep updated with the thoughts and work of the team.See more blogs from this author