Joe French Tribute

We would like to dedicate this web site to the late Joe French who contributed more than anyone else to junior chess in Basingstoke and in Hampshire. It is fair to say that he dedicated the latter part of his life to providing juniors with opportunities to play and enjoy chess.

Joe French
Joe French

Here is a tribute from Hampshire Chess and Basingstoke Chess Club stalwart, James Pratt:

Joe learnt his chess, which was always basic, as an evacuee in Lancashire, and latterly in Kent, where he was to feel so at home. A cockney, he grew up wishing he’d fought in the war, played-down some shell-shock, was a boy soldier in the 1950s and a film extra. . He was in ‘Passport to Pimlico’ as a child and ‘Carry On Sergeant’ as the hands of comedian Kenneth Williams, assembling a machine gun. But good humour and a sense of proportion never left him. He took dancing lessons, partnered Joyce Blair, Lionel’s sister. But I digress and with good reason. I am still so upset. He played chess for Sainsbury’s in London, I believe, where he met John Yeo. He moved to Basingstoke about 40 years ago, drawn by the government package that also brought Dick Boxall and Ken Harman. A triumvirate indeed!!

He found work at the AA, a good head for figures never leaving him thereafter. The Basingstoke and, of course Hampshire, junior world was re-established and eventually flourished: Oliver Worsfold winning the U15s at Blackpool 1988 and Kieran Smallbone and, of course, Peter Roberson, becoming teenage masters. He touched families and parents from the Lushers, Hollands, Hunts, Geidelbergs, Jacobs, Herons, Cobbs. He taught the game in several schools, at last earning the respect, and involvement, that he so craved.

He won the Presidents Prize for Chess in 2004. He was a friend to so many, my mate for almost 40 years.
To his brothers George and Dave and his large family of nieces and nephews, all of whom he doted on, I send condolences.

Joseph Henry French (Elephant & Castle 11.i.1936-Basingstoke 14 v 2015).

The following words were taken from the Basingstoke Gazette, 31 May 2015 / Graham Merry, Senior Sports Reporter :

“THERE was great sadness among the chess fraternity following the death of 79-year-old Joe French, Basingstoke Chess Club secretary and Hampshire Chess Junior organiser.

French was born in South London and it is understood he learned the basic moves of chess at four-years-old.

He entered a Chess Congress at the Elephant and Castle at a young age and was to go on and play for teams in the strong London Chess Leagues.

After moving to Basingstoke, French took up an accountant post at The Automobile Association and played for Fanum Chess Club.

From there he moved to Basingstoke Chess Club in 1980, where he quickly became involved in the club administration, taking up the position of Club secretary.

Over the years the club was gradually improved to very high standard and in 1992 a visit from the British Chess Federation resulted in Basingstoke Chess Club being named England club of the year.

However, it was while working with junior players that French excelled. Taking on the role of junior organiser, he showed amazing patience to teach many youngsters the basic moves of the game.

His work in this field did not go un-noticed particularly by many of the more forward looking and progressive schools in a wide area around Basingstoke.

Within a few years, he was coaching and developing many top quality chess players and Basingstoke’s reputation in the chess world was high.

An example was the amazing achievements of Kempshott Junior School who were rubbing shoulders with the best public and private schools.

In 2004, The British Chess Federation made a special award from the president directly to French. He was also a finalist for the Basingstoke Gazette awards a few years ago. His accolades were numerous.

The dedication of French to chess was remarkable and countless young players will testify to the progress they made under his coaching.

French remained dedicated to playing the game until the end, even when he was desperately ill. It was fitting that his team won the Southampton League division in the final season before he passed away.

Plans are already afoot to provide a trophy to be played for annually in French’s memory.”