Wednesday, July 25, 2012
The extraordinary story of Ginger - the man who gave us the theatre of dreams - Wembley Stadium.
He was the Seb Coe of his day – the former Evening News paperboy who became the wizard of Wembley and one of the driving forces behind the 1948 London Olympics.
But while Seb made his name on the track Ginger made his name creating the world-famous Wembley Stadium.
If it wasn’t for Sir Arthur ‘Ginger’ Elvin MBE, son of a Norwich policeman who was born in Magpie Road in 1899, there may not have been a Wembley to transform into an Olympic stadium.
Arthur was as sharp as a razor and became one of the cleverest showmen in the land but he remained a proud Norwich man and never lost his accent.
His mother had described him as a “rare pushin’ lad”. He was a tough man to work for and a leading player in making sure the 1948 Games at his beloved arena were a success.
Brought up in Magpie Road he became a national and international figure who commanded respect wherever he went. A tough-talking, no-nonsense businessman.
Arthur transformed Wembley into a theatre of dreams which attracted millions of people to a host of sports every year. It was also known as the Ascot of Greyhound Racing. Along with staging the big football and rugby matches it was also a speedway arena.
Sports journalist Denzil Batchelor wrote of him:
“There is no flamboyance about him, nothing gaudy or theatrical. His great qualities are his smoothness and his coolness.
“He is tall with reddish hair at the back of a high-domed head, a large nose and a smile which is agreeable, but never expansive. He is the soft-footed big businessman incarnate, rarely seen in public except on nights when the greyhounds are racing.
“The man and the organisation he has created are ideally suited to the herculean task of staging the large part of the greatest sporting festival ever staged in Britain.”
He converted Wembley into an international venue for the Olympics and many of the problems of 1948 have a familiar ring to them in 2012.
The estimated cost of the Games was originally £150,000 with repairs to the stadium needing £89,000 (£2.2m in today’s money).
The government was unable to lend this but Arthur persuaded Wembley Stadium to put up the money and made himself responsible for the building work.
He also organised the transport for the competitors, the design and sale of the tickets for all venues, and the entertainment of the VIP’s.
Sir Arthur, who put up £100,000 to stage the Games, and his team made sure they were a success and there is little doubt he was the presiding genius behind the organisation.
He remained upbeat about his achievements saying afterwards: “The dismal jimmies who prophesied a failure have been put to rout.
“The Games were devoid of any so-called international incidents. The attendance figures have been the highest-ever at any Olympics.
“At Wembley alone, well over a million people attended, in 33,000 cars and countless bicycles and buses,” said Arthur.
Don’t miss my page next week to read the extraordinary story of how Arthur Elvin emerged from Magpie Road in Norwich to become the king of Wembley.
For the story of the 1948 Games get a copy of The Austerity Olympics by Janie Hampton published by Aurum at £8.99.