Meet the Olympians of 1948

John Peake John Peake, Hockey (silver medal)

As the Olympic torch weaves across the country, the London 2012 Olympics draw ever closer. Yet, turn the clock the other way, keep going, and eventually you are back in 1948, the last time the Olympic circus came to town. But things were very different then, as the country was recovering from a world war and the Games were not as they are today.

Life for the athletes was very different too, as many were working full-time, or raising a family as they trained. They were unpaid, with limited funds, and sponsorship was not as we know it today. Yet the core principle was the same - to train hard, with total dedication to your chosen sport, and try to be the best.

Photographer Katherine Green has spent six years tracking down some of those who took part in the 1948 Games, and recorded their stories. When she first approached them in 2007, the athletes were often quite bemused, she tells me. "They hadn't had any interest for many years, but I noticed, the last couple of years, many of them had become used to the media attention."

Cyclist Tommy Godwin won two Bronze medals in 1948

Green always works in the athlete's home, feeling it gives them a sense of place within the frame, and also ensures they are comfortable about the process.

Along the way, she has met many fascinating characters. Some of them went on to pursue a career in sport, while others moved to different things, either through choice or lack of funds. Yet there have been surprises too.

"Basketball player Lionel Price cracked open a bottle of champagne for me at 11am," says Green. "He grew up in Soho and loved attending a couple of theatre shows a week. He was really good fun and quite flamboyant."

Denise St Aubyn Hubbard Denise St Aubyn Hubbard (nee Newman), (b.1924), High diver

Denise St Aubyn Hubbard on her time competing as a high diver at the 1948 Olympic Games

Denise St Aubyn Hubbard also made an impression. A high diver in the '48 Games, she went on to be the only female skipper in the Royal Navy Auxiliary Service for eight years, and sailed single-handed across the Atlantic at the age of 64.

"What's been amazing is the modesty that everyone I have interviewed possess," says Green. "It's been really moving. Not only that, but also how many of them face the same frustrations and difficulties that any older people do."

Gymnast Audrey Beever on her experience at the 1948 Games in London

It's an engaging piece of work, with delightful portraits alongside recorded interviews with the athletes who talk of their experiences.

A copy of the publication 1948 Olympians is available from the crowd-funding website Unbound.

Edwin Bowey (b. 1924), Freestyle wrestler Edwin Bowey, Freestyle wrestler, 2012
Edwin Bowey, Freestyle wrestler, 1948 Edwin Bowey, Freestyle wrestler, 1948 (back row, far left)

All contemporary photographs and audio copyright Katherine Green.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    People taking part in the Olympics over the years are an inspiration. Without funds to train, or suffering prejudice, they overcame these problems. Jesse James in 1933 for example. Now we have women from Saudi Arabia, competing despite unfound opposition. All those that took part, have helped this to happen and great physical achievements have been made. One only has to look at the paralympics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Great stories.

    The Modern Olympics is full of nonesense sports (new 'sports' added each Olympics with huge additional costs to stage and accommodate), too much greed, corporate sponserships,.

    Two things in common with the 1948 and 2012 Olympics.....both held in London and both at a time when the country is broke!

    Most Brits will not (and cannot) attend the games. Too expensive to go!

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Since I was born in 1948, I took particular interest in this article. I was especially drawn to the pictures. These athletic heroes deserved/deserve recognition for what they accomplished - unpaid, with limited funds, & sponsorship. It gives renewed meaning to trying to do one's best, no matter what the circumstances.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    1. Almost everyone has wonderful stories to tell, but these people have more of interest than most. Great characters/portraits!
    2. Katherine Green is to be greatly applauded for seeing the appeal of this story years in advance.
    I recently won the 'Capture Waltham Forest' photo comp, and 1 of the prizes is a portfolio review with Katherine. I can't wait to meet someone whose work I admire so much.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Yes I know I know, it's all my fault
    Now let's get back to the games, there's no cynicism there

    So how long do you reckon it will be before the winner of the 100 metres has a scrummyyummyburger logo on his top?

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    This is an enormously relevant piece of journalism - well done. Shall we just crack on with the Olympics now and stop moaning/complaining/politicising etc etc and show the world what we might just be able to stage?

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    @ chrislabiff
    "the olympics seem inappropriate whilst uk citizens are denied proper healthcare/wages etc"

    On the contrary, the staging of the Olympics has generated thousands of jobs and stimulated the economy. No one in the UK that is entitled to proper healthcare is denied access to it. Those who are denied wages are on benefits funded by taxpayers. If they want more get a job and earn it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.


    This is an article about Olympians from 1948! You cynically use it to showcase your rather bigoted and sensationalist views on politics and large multinationals and expect to be taken seriously. I suggest you find a more appropriate forum for your views than this. I was in London yesterday and believe me, the rooftops are not "bristling with missiles"!

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Just observing the increasing fusion and co-operation between big economic entities and the all-powerful state apparatus

    These Olympics give us a unique opportunity

    Roofs bristling with missiles
    A police and military lock down zone
    Fast track courts for undesirables

    Sounds like it's going to be a real hoot

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    The poor old things look totally knackered.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.


    You seem to be a liitle angry and vindictive. I suggest you try to look for the good in things, it's easier on the heart.

    "state backed propoganda", "merciless justice", "minor transgressors"??? These are your interpretations, not fact. You don't seem to have a problem politicising things to suit, so why criticise the same in others?

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    In spite of the shameless corporate association, the spirit of the Games still moves and inspires me in equal measure...

    "Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles." (IOC)

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    The Corporate Fascist Olympics 2012
    They've even got their own priority court system... holy smoke

    London Olympics criminals face 'swift justice'

    So we've got loads of state backed propaganda and swift merciless justice for minor transgressors

    These 2012 Olympics appear to have more in common with the 1936 Olympics than the 1948 ones

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    I think I could have got interested in an Olympics which enjoys sport for its own sake, rather than one so symbolising the modern attachment between corporation and state that there will be a classification of "Olympics offences" and such swift court hearings that the defendant has no time to prepare his case.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Are the Olympics over yet? They seem to have been going on for years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    This was back in the days when the Olympics celebrated endeavor and courage above 'brand power'. The Olympics officially lost their meaning at the passing of the 'Eddie The Eagle' ruling, designed to stop determined amateurs from competing. They changed from a celebration of the human spirit to a very large, expensive advert.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    my gran was in the 1948 olympics, she came 6th in the high jump, :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Surely this is what the Olympics is about
    No need for the tacky corporate sponsorship

    It's all about the money nowadays, like Football and Rugby
    The 1948 London Olympics happened on a different planet, in a totally different society

    Even films from that period are censored in the Corporate Free Peoples Eutopia of Britain

    To many white people, too much smoking, too much politically incorrect

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    From an era when the Olympic spirit truly reigned, and wasn't drowned in multinational corporate sponsorship (McCoke anyone?) and narcissism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    post16 - some Olympic-bashers will be out enjoying the outdoors as we always do. Life is too short to spend looking at a Tv screen even if I could afford one, 1948 was ok , the Olympics wasn't on TV and I suspect most people did enjoy their own sport and came home to find the olympic results as it should be


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