An ex-Chairman Remembers Oxford BSAC

One aspect of the diving club when I joined was the awe in which Mick Phipps was held as Chairman. I have found that it is a very real part of English (maybe British) life that the man in the street often is a member of some club or other. It seems to be in his make up to give far more loyalty, faith, following, deep attention, to that pastime or club that any other aspect of his life (almost).

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I have seen this on a number of occasions with the various other clubs or interests I have had. This overwhelming passion and total belief in ‘the club’ over and above the attention he gives to work or even  sometimes family is very interesting. It is so strong, I have seen it lead to blows, recriminations and people storming out of meetings over truly trivial matters. On one occasions at one of my gun club evening meetings, (west oxford rifle and pistol club), full of ‘old boys’, the issue of members buying .22 ammunition from an outside source instead of from the club armourer, (which gave the club a tiny profit) caused the breakup of the meeting. Tea was nearly spilt, and biscuits broken.

Back to OXSAC, the same was true in aces back in the ’70’s. Our club built their own clubhouse, and the first hard boat with inboard engine, in their own time, (with a lot of help from the assets of British Leyland) in the grounds of Cowley School’s own air raid shelter. The clubhouse had a wooden floor, and a bar too. The bar made a profit for the club that was vital, everyone drank huge amounts in those days, me too. Cannot now, I know. The OXSAC photography club, or Oxford BSAC Branch as it was known, was run by Ron Swinden, who sadly passed away two years ago. He and his wife Kath Swinden were very long time members of the club, and they were very kind and helpful and interested people.

Ron Swinden was the Chief Engineer for Oxford Hospitals for many years and lived just up the road from the Cowley club house. The first time I went to dive in Israel was with him and Kath and we had all the meetings at his house nearby, in 1979 I think. Since then Ron left local employ and worked for the Sultan of Brunei commissioning his hospital in Brunei. The biggest hospital in the Southern Hemisphere. His underwater photos from that time are amongst the best I have ever seen. Another fact you should know is that Steve Foote was a diver with us back then, he is now one of the BBC’s main stills and video photographers for nature around the world. Look him up on google. At one time, Ron wanted Steve and I to form a company together of photography but it never happened. In the seventies and eighties we had many scientists and Oxford Uni types as members and the lectures we had, especially on photography were outstanding. And largely incomprehensible. For example the technology of lenses. And how to compensate underwater for virtual images. We were all given many sheets of figures that explained how it worked. I think I lit a barbeque with mine. But I still know what power lens to add to the macro lens on my FI Canon in my Ikelite housing to bring it all sharp. I just cannot remember why. I blame age and alcohol too.

Oh yes, the club and the loyalty it engendered, that is what I was burbling about. Every one took turns in sweeping and mopping the floor after a meeting, and then it got hard to find people to do it. One of the biggest upsets the club ever had, was the decision taken to engage a cleaner, hourly paid to come in the Saturday am. What a turmoil the club was in, why pay someone, where were all the loyal club members, my God the axis of the Earth moved. And I was only a newbie, barely aware of the way bubbles went upwards. We did hire a cleaner which solved the problem of washing the lino flooring. Later on the floor was ripped up and a concrete one laid, all with the labour of the club members.This was then carpeted. I even supplied a carpet and a couple of armchairs. It was all very ‘comfy’. It should be remembered that this was every day stuff.

The shelter crew (the original bomb shelter which housed the assets and working parts of the club; pumping room, equipment maintenance and storage, various inflatables and ribs and outboards and many etceras. These crew turned up every weekend as well as week days to mend and repair, pump, store and log everything the members used, in all weathers and all times. This went (and goes I suspect) largely unrecognized and unrewarded. At the annual dinners and events as Chairman I always tried to sing up their praises, and regularly made a spin through their areas to see what was happening and see if they needed help. They worked hard outside of the view of most club members and really were the backbone too. How many know the intricacies of the bottle pumping and compressors? It’s dangerous in there too. They are very fine people that work there.


  1. Not sure why I stumbled across this but had been thinking about my dad who I lost 3 years ago. Mick Phipps was my God father and his wife Anne my God Mother. My father Bob Bradford was one of the original members of the diving club, I was a small child when the club house was built in Cowley. Friday nights were always our swimming nights in the Cowley pool and all of our holidays were in Cornwall or Weymouth sitting on beaches whilst dad and Mick dived. Over the years, my dad stopped diving but became a swimming teacher.

    I do remember they built a submarine, goodness only knows if it actually worked or not!

    I didn’t see anyone I know in the gallery but as I was a small child it would be hard now to remember their faces.

  2. Lovely to hear your story Helen!
    Thank you for that.
    They were very special times for us. I did dive with Mick on a few occasions and will remember them.
    Like you, they were formative years for us!
    I wish you all the very best.
    Love, Peter