Tennis and table tennis player Fred Perry (1909–95) was a three-time Wimbledon champion in the 1930s and one of Britain’s greatest 20th-century sportsmen. As Wimbledon 2018 continues, we take a look back at Perry’s life and illustrious career
Family: Perry’s father, Samuel Perry, was a cotton spinner who became a national secretary of the Co-operative Party after the First World War. In 1929 he became a MP for Kettering.
Perry was married four times – his first wife was American actress Helen Vinson, who he wed in in 1935 and divorced in 1940. Perry was briefly married to Sandra Breaux in 1941, and Lorraine Walsh in 1945. Perry married for a fourth time in 1952: his marriage to Barbara Riese lasted until his death in 1995. Together they had a daughter and adopted a son.
Remembered for: Winning 10 tennis majors and six doubles titles. Between 1934 and 1936 Perry consecutively won the Wimbledon Championships and retained the title as the world’s number one men’s tennis player during these years. At 26 years old, Perry was the first man to win all four Grand Slams after his win at the French Championships in 1935. Perry is also recognised for his tennis-style clothing range he launched in 1952.
His life: Perry began playing tennis at the age of nine after his father moved the family to Ealing in London after being given a position in the Co-operative Party. Near to their new family home, Perry was able to begin his interest in tennis on the courts near to the housing estate on which they lived.
Despite Perry’s progress as a young tennis player during his teenage years, he faced some prejudice towards his working class background. He was refused entrance to Wimbledon’s All England Club, which was seen as exclusively for public school boys, despite Perry’s obvious potential and his success at the world table tennis championships, where he won the title at just 19 years old.
When Perry was finally accepted into amateur competitions, his behaviour on the court singled him out. During the 1930s there was a great emphasis on players acting with decorum and politeness to tennis officials and fellow players. Yet Perry became renowned for making personal remarks about his opponents, challenging officials and jumping over the tennis net at the end of games.
After winning his first Wimbledon Championships in 1934, one of the tennis officials decided to present the runner-up, Jack Crawford, with the winner’s bottle of champagne instead of handing it to Perry. This official later described Crawford as the “better man”.
But although many of the England and International Lawn Tennis Clubs disapproved of Perry’s reputation, he went on to become one of the most renowned tennis players in the history of the sport. Over his career, he won eight Grand Slam titles and was the first man to win all four of the major titles in the world.
Tensions between Perry and the Lawn Tennis Club came to blows during 1936 when Perry decided to leave Britain and turn professional by touring the USA. As a result, Perry was refused entry to the major tennis events, which included Wimbledon. However, he continued to play in professional competitions, most notably against Ellsworth Vines throughout the rest of the 1930s. In 1938 and 1941, Perry went on to win the US Pro titles.
After the end of the Second World War, Perry became involved in coaching and began plans for his own clothing company. In 1952 he launched his polo shirt line with the iconic laurel logo with businessman Theodore Wegner, and it instantly became popular. The clothing line became especially prominent in the 1970s among skinheads in Britain.
In 1948, Perry began commentating for BBC radio at the Wimbledon Championships, and he continued to work as a sports broadcaster until the end of his life. After a long and successful career, Perry retired from the sport in 1956.
During his time in the USA, Perry’s relations slowly began to improve with the All England Club and the Lawn Tennis Association. Recognising that no British man was likely to equal his successful record at Wimbledon at the time, in 1984, on the 50th anniversary of Perry’s first singles championship title, a bronze statue of him was unveiled at the All England Lawn Tennis Club.
Despite having undergone major heart surgery in 1992, Perry continued to travel on numerous world tours.
Fred Perry died at the age of 85 in a hospital in Melbourne, Australia.
In a survey taken by 2,000 members of the British public in 1984, Perry was recognised as the only tennis player to make the list of the ‘Best of the Best’ British sportsmen from the 20th century.
To this day Perry continues to hold the title of winning three consecutive titles at Wimbledon without losing a set. He also holds the record of winning 55 consecutive sets in the US Open and 62 consecutive sets during Wimbledon. It was only in 2013 that Andy Murray was able to clinch the top spot and become the first British man to win the single’s title at Wimbledon since Perry’s victory 77 years before.
This year’s Wimbledon Championship takes place from 25 June–15 July.