Remembering Fred Perry: The Maverick British Champion

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In case you hadn't heard, a British man just won Wimbledon for the first time in 77 years. Andy Murray's slow transformation from dour, underacheiving Scot to heroic Brit is now complete, as the nation brims with geniune sporting pride for the first time since the heady days of the Olympics.

But what of the man he's replaced at the pinnacle of British tennis (and no, we don't mean Tim Henman), the man whose ghost has been conjured by Sue Barker every year for as long as you can remember to remind us how rubbish we are – and great we once were – at tennis?

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Fred Perry's victory at SW19 in 1934 (he also won it in '35 and '36, so Murray has still has work to do) is vividly captured in the video above, a BBC report in black and white that is reminder of just how long it's been since we savoured this particular sporting triumph. Note the plum-voiced commentators, the wooden rackets and, most bizarrely, the players in long pants. 

Perry is best known now, of course, for the clothing label set up in his name in 1940 – prompting some people on Twitter at the weekend to wonder whether, in 2090, preppy types will be wearing polo shirts emblazoned with 'Andy Murray'.

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But the man from Stockport was far more controversial in life than the icon we've cultivated, partly out of nostalgia and partly out of desperation, since he hung up his racket in 1956. Despite winning 10 Majors (including 8 Grand Slams), being world number one and – perhaps best of all – helping Great Britain beat France in the Davis Cup in 1933, Perry wasn't embraced by the tennis establishment in anything like the way Andy Murray has and will be from now on.

Born to a cotton spinner in 1909, Perry was a working class boy dominating an elitist sport, a fact that delighted the crowds but annoyed those in charge at the All England Club. His decision to turn move to American and turn professional after his Wimbledon triumphs was badly recieved, and it's questionable whether the statue of Perry that currently stands at SW19 – which only went up in 1984 – would have ever materialised had Britain not experienced the dreadful drought of male champions since him.

Aside from class snobbery, Perry's controversial 'style' of play also sometimes damaged his reputation among the guardians of one of the world's politest sports. Never afraid to try and put off his oppponents, he was known to tamper with their clothing, paint his racket a deliberately distracting colour and, at the end of matches, take a dramatic running leap over the net to show off his stamina. A far cry from the modest, gracious, media persona drilled into players (and all sportsman) today.

Off court, Perry was also very different to Murray. While the Scot is watched faithfully in the stands by his wholesome, long-term girlfriend (and mother), Perry was a playboy of the 1930s, dating some of the most beautiful women of his day including Marlene Dietrich and Jean Harlow. His biographer Jon Henderson recently told the BBC: "He was an extremely good looking, red-blooded lad. The girls liked him and he liked the girls, it went from there.

"One US columnist said 'women fell for him like ninepins and when he went to Hollywood, male film stars went and sulked in Nevada'."

On Sunday, Murray ended not only a 77 year wait but one of the most hackneyed and tiresome British sporting narratives of the past 100 years. Fred Perry's name will no longer be evoked as the 'last British man to win Wimbledon', clearing the way for us to make a more honest and interesting apprasial of one of the great talents – and colourful characters – in our sporting history.