Harold Abrahams, Papers of

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Personal papers compiled by the athlete, administrator, commentator and journalist Harold Abrahams. The collection includes a substantial volume of articles written by Abrahams concerning track and field athletics in both England and abroad. There are also a substantial volume of reel-to-reel recordings and slides depicting athletes and specific athletics meetings. There are a small number of papers relating to the administration of athletics organisations including the Amateur Athletic Association (AAA) and the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF).

In addition, the collection includes results, statistics and fixture lists as well as a small number of athletics programmes. There are scrapbooks and albums, including one album which charts Abrahams' own athletics career during the early 1920s. There are references to his performances at Olympic Games as well as much material relating to varsity and inter-varsity athletics whilst he was a student at Cambridge University.

Taken as a whole the collection is a valuable research tool for athletics historians and provides a comprehensive record of the life and interests of an athlete and athletics commentator throughout the much of the 20th century.

Administrative / Biographical History

Harold Maurice Abrahams was born prematurely in Bedford on 15 December 1899, the youngest in a family of two daughters and four sons. His father, Isaac Klonimus (1850-1921), who had proclaimed himself a Lithuanian Jew, escaped to Britain and by 1880 had changed his name to Abrahams, in recognition of his father, Abraham Klonimus (b 1810). Isaac was naturalised in 1902.

Harold's elder brothers each achieved successes in their public lives. The eldest brother, Adolphe, achieved a first at Emmanuel College, Cambridge and then became a consultant physician at Westminster Hospital. Adolphe was knighted in 1939. Another brother, Sir Sidney Solomon 'Solly' Abrahams, competed for Britain at both the Olympic celebrations at Athens in 1906 and Stockholm in 1912. Solly served as chief justice of Tanganyika and Ceylon. The third brother, Lionel, became senior partner in his firm of solicitors and was coroner for Huntingdonshire.

As a boy, Harold was sent to Bedford School, briefly to St Paul's, and afterwards to Repton, where he won the public schools' 100 yards and long-jump championships in 1918. At Repton he was a contemporary of C. B. Fry. His imagination had been fired in the summer of 1908, when he watched his brother compete in the London Olympic games held at the White City Stadium and he became a great admirer of 'Willie' Applegarth. Harold won his first gold medal at Stamford Bridge in 1910, winning the Lotinga Cup which was contested by sons and brothers of members of the London Athletic Club. He joined the Cadet Battalion towards the end of the First World War but did not fight. He served briefly as a second lieutenant in 1919 and then went up to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, to read law, achieving third class honours in both parts of the law tripos. He started journalism in 1920 and wrote for the journal 'All Sports' as well as the 'Evening News'. In 1924 he began broadcasting about the Olympics and this continued throughout his life.

Whilst at Cambridge, he became athletically very proficient and achieved three wins in the freshmen's sports at Fenners. He was immediately selected for the 1920 Antwerp Olympic Games and chosen to represent Great Britain in the 100m, 200m and 4 x 100m relay and the long jump. During 1920 he obtained his Cambridge Blue and won a unique eight victories at the 100 yards, 440 yards, and long jump in the annual Oxford versus Cambridge sports. Between 1920 and 1923 he represented his University against Oxford and was first eight times in nine events winning the 100 yards in 1920, 1921, 1922 and 1923; the long jump in 1920, 1922 and 1923; and the 440 yards in 1923.

Before the 1924 Paris Olympic Games, Harold studied sprinting in great detail and trained assiduously with his coach Sam Mussabini, a French Arab who also trained Fred Gaby and Harry Edward. For nine months they worked on the theory of perfecting the start, on arm action, control of the stride pattern, and a then-unique 'drop' finish of the torso on to the tape. At the 1924 AAA Championships Harold won the 100 yards in 9.9 seconds but was still a fifth of a second outside the British record set the previous year by the Scottish rugby and athletic hero and 440-yard champion Eric Liddell. At the Paris Olympics Liddell, a strong sabbatarian, felt impelled to confine himself to the 200 and 400 metres, in which he took the bronze medal in the shorter event and the gold medal for 400 metres in a time which gave him the metric world record. In the 100 metres final, Harold's winning time of 10.52 was rounded up to 10.6 and events surrounding this win feature prominently in the 1981 film 'Chariots of Fire'.

In May 1925 Harold severely, and permanently, injured his leg when attempting to improve on his English long jump record of 7.38 metres which had been set at Woolwich and would survive for more than thirty years. He then turned his attention to athletics administration, the sporting press and the BBC and, in 1928, he was appointed team captain of the Olympic athletes sent to Amsterdam.

His active athletics career ended, Harold, who has been called to the Inner Temple bar in 1924, continued practising law until 1940. During this time he engaged in athletics administration and journalism with the Sunday Times, 1925-1967 and was a radio broadcaster with the BBC for fifty years, 1924-1974. One of his greatest achievements was, through force of personality, to raise athletics from a minor to a major national sport during the mid-20th century. He re-wrote the AAA rules of competition which themselves would help to transform the rules of the International Amateur Athletic Federation.

Harold served as Honorary Treasurer, 1948-1968, and Chairman, 1948-1975, of the British Amateur Athletic Board (BAAB). In November 1976 he was elected President of the AAA. He was an unrivalled compiler of athletics statistics and was founder president of both the world and British associations in this field: the Association of Track and Field Statisticians (ATFS), instituted in 1950, and the National Union of Track Statisticians (NUTS), instituted in 1956. During the Second World War he worked for the Ministry of Economic Warfare, 1939-1944, and then with the new Ministry of Town and Country Planning until 1963. He was secretary of the National Parks Commission, 1950-1963). He was awarded the CBE in 1957.

In 1936 Harold married Sybil Marjorie, daughter of Claude Pilington Evers, assistant master at Rugby School. She was a D'Oyly Carte singer and producer of light opera and died suddenly in 1963. The couple had two adopted children, Sue and Andrew. Harold Abrahams died on 14 January 1978 at Chase Farm Hospital, Enfield, London. An English Heritage blue plaque was unveiled in 2007 at Hodford Lodge, Golders Green, Harold's London home at the time he won the Olympic gold medal in Paris.

Sources: papers of Harold Abrahams; Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry accessed 23 October 2014 from: http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/30743?docPos=1; Encyclopaedia Britannica entry accessed 23 October 2014 from: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1589/Harold-Abrahams; Sports Reference accessed 23 October 2014 from: http://www.sports-reference.com/olympics/athletes/ab/harold-abrahams-1.html; Runners World accessed 23 October 2014 from: http://www.runnersworld.co.uk/general/olympic-moment-harold-abrahams-100m-gold/8092.html; Jewish Sports accessed 23 October from: http://www.jewishsports.net/BioPages/HaroldMauriceAbrahams.htm

Arrangement

These papers have been arranged into the following 9 series:

  • programmes, results, statistics, fixture lists and conversion tables;
  • publications;
  • articles, indexes, drafts and associated papers;
  • correspondence;
  • papers relating to organisations and events;
  • magazines, newspaper cuttings and scrapbooks;
  • photographs and slides;
  • sound recordings;
  • personalia

Conditions Governing Access

Access to all registered researchers

Acquisition Information

Collection was bequeathed to the University of Birmingham in 1978

Other Finding Aids

Please see the full catalogue for further details.

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

Reel-to-reel recordings cannot be issued to researchers in their current format

Archivist's Note

Papers arranged and described by Mark Eccleston, October 2014, in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description (ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; and in-house cataloguing guidelines

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to make any published use of any material from the collection must be sought in advance in writing from the Director of Special Collections (email: special-collections@bham.ac.uk). Identification of copyright holders of unpublished material is often difficult. Cadbury Research Library: Special Collections will assist where possible with identifying copyright owners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material.

Custodial History

This collection was previously in the custody of the National Centre for Athletics Literature (NCAL)

Related Material

Other archive collections, formerly held as part of the National Centre for Athletics Literature (NCAL), are catalogued as collections distinct from this collection. They comprise both institutional archives and collections of personal papers of athletes, athletics administrators, journalists and others associated with the athletics world.

Catalogues of the institutional archives available on the online archive catalogue are as follows:

  • Amateur Athletic Association: papers, 1880-1992. Finding No: ATH/AAA
  • English Cross-Country Union: papers, 1911-1989. Finding No: ATH/ECCU
  • Midland Counties Amateur Athletics Association: papers, 1900-1991. Finding No: ATH/MCAAA
  • Midland Counties Cross Country Association: papers, 1898-1985. Finding No: ATH/MCCCA
  • Midland Counties Women's Amateur Athletic Association: papers, 1949-[1980s]. Finding No: ATH/MCWAAA
  • Northern Counties Women's Amateur Athletic Association: papers, 1933-1989. Finding No: ATH/NCWAAA
  • Northern Cross-Country Association: papers, 1906-1983. Finding No: ATH/NCCA
  • Northern Women's Track and Field League: papers, 1982-1983. Finding No: ATH/NWTFL
  • Southern Counties Amateur Athletic Association: papers, 1958-1983. Finding No: ATH/SCAAA
  • Southern Counties Cross-Country Association: papers, 1911-1990. Find No: ATH/SCCCA
  • The Sports Council: papers, [1940s]-2001. Finding No: ATH/SC
  • Women's Amateur Athletic Association: papers, 1932-1989. Finding No: ATH/WAAA

Catalogues of personal papers available on the online archive catalogue are as follows:

  • Abrahams, Harold Maurice (1899-1978), athlete, administrator, commentator and journalist: papers, 1902-1989. Finding No: ATH/HA
  • Adam, George Mair (1898-1989), athlete, coach and athletics administrator: papers, 1909-1989. Finding No: ATH/GA
  • Binks, Joseph (Joe) (1874-1966), athlete and athletics commentator: papers, [1920s-1950s]. Finding No: ATH/JB
  • Cardew, Martin H. (b 1927), athlete: papers, 1964-1988. Finding No: ATH/MHC
  • Cullum, Dennis Noel Johnson (1913-1985), athlete and coach: papers, [1930s]-1985. Finding No: ATH/DC
  • Ives, Bert (1890-1975), athlete and athletics administrator: papers, [1920s-1970s]. Finding No: ATH/BI
  • Jewell, John Christopher (1912-2001), athlete and athletics commentator: papers, 1897-2002. Finding No: ATH/JJ
  • Lloyd-Edgley, Ralph: scrapbook, [c 1924]-[c 1931]. Finding No: ATH/RLE
  • MacLean, Duncan (1884-1980), athlete and coach: papers, 1948-1977. Finding No: ATH/DM
  • Monk, Walter Harry (Wal) (1896-after 1965), athlete: papers, 1918-1961. Finding No: ATH/WHM
  • Morgan, Wilf (b 1935), athlete and athletics historian: papers, 1937-2012. Finding No: ATH/WM
  • Newton, Arthur Francis Hamilton (1883-1959), athlete: papers, [c 1904]-[1990s]. Finding No: ATH/AN
  • Payne, Howard (1931-1992), athlete: papers, 1899-[c 1975]. Finding No: ATH/HP
  • Percy, Joe W. (1912-2001), athlete and athletics administrator: papers, 1910-1997. Finding No: ATH/JWP
  • Perry, George (b 1903), athlete: papers, [1920s]-1956. Finding No: ATH/GP
  • Powell, Edgar Robert Leslie (Peter), (fl 1920s-70s), athlete: papers, 1813-1988. Finding No: ATH/ERLP
  • Richards, Wilf (b 1906), athlete and journalist: papers, 1924-[mid 20th century]. Finding No: ATH/WR
  • Roberts, Dave (fl 1930s-1990s), athlete and statistician: papers, [1930s]-1991. Finding No: ATH/DR
  • Simpson, Colin J. (1929-2011), athlete and athletics administrator: papers, 1945-1990. Finding No: ATH/CS
  • Tatham, Wilfrid George (Gus) (1898-1978), athlete: papers, 1908-1960. Finding No: ATH/WGT
  • Thomas, Dr Philip, athletics administrator and coach: papers, [c 1900]-[late 20th century]. Finding No: ATH/PT
  • Vargas, Charles Climaco (1905-1975), athlete: papers, 1921-31. Finding No: ATH/CCV
  • Ward, Leonard H., athletics coach: papers, [mid-20th century]. Finding No: ATH/LW
  • Watman, Melvyn Francis (Mel) (b 1938), athletics journalist and statistician: papers, 1980-1993. Finding No: ATH/MW
  • Wight, Robert M., athletics administrator: papers, [mid-20th century]. Finding No: ATH/RW
  • Winter, Arthur E. H. (d 1990), athlete and athletics commentator: papers, [early 20th century]-1983. Finding No: ATH/AW
  • Yarrow, Squire Stevens (1905-1984), athlete and athletics administrator: papers, 1938-1984. Finding No: ATH/SY

Subjects