Basildon Chess Club History

Keith Oliff 1955-57
Paul Savin 1973-85

Keith Oliff - Memories of Basildon Chess Club from 1955 to 1957
1. First Encounters
My first encounter with the Club, or at least its members, was at B.H.Wood's Chess Festival at Southend in August 1955. Two of the club's stronger players, the flamboyant E.H.R. (Hugh) Gilbert and the chess fanatic, R.J (Bob) Baker, had seen the list of competitors, which 'Chess' published in advance of the tournament. Who was the mysterious K.M.Oliff of Laindon who had thrown his hat in the ring? Did people actually play chess in Laindon? No-one had ever heard of him. Not surprising really (grammarians please note - elliptic sentence!). I was thirteen and was playing in the Junior and 2nd Class section. It was my first tournament, I had never seen a chess clock nor a score sheet before. Thus, I received severe beatings in five games, but managed to win one game of which I am still quite proud.
Bob Baker was the first to introduce himself. He was in his early thirties perhaps, and looked like a character from a Mickey Spillane novel (or film of same). The rather crumpled pastel-coloured suit, loud tie and the feeling that he had been up all night dodging the police or mobsters gave him an American air that excited my over-fertile thirteen-year-old imagination. In fact Bob was, or had been, a merchant seaman and had indeed been to the States. He ate, drank and slept chess. I thought him a chess wizard and my ambition became to beat him in a match game. I never did.
The next gentleman to introduce himself was E.H.R. Gilbert, Club Chairman and self-styled 'World's Largest Individual Stamp Dealer for 10 consecutive years. Jack Speigel, whom I also met at the tournament, once challenged him; 'Can you prove it?' and received the reply; 'Can you prove I'm not?' Hugh Gilbert had lived in the USA during which time he apparently lived as a hobo riding the freight trains. He also had an artificial leg, but I never found out how he lost it. I had read of William Henry Davies ('What is this life of full of care?'), who had also been a hobo in the USA and had lost a leg while attempting to jump on a train. Hugh denied that they were the same person. He was a great wit and good company. When playing off-hand games at the club he nearly always had his opponents chuckling. He also had a couple of odd habits; sucking in breath sharply as if about to sneeze, which always had me ducking under the table to avoid the blast; and rolling ultra thin cigarettes. So thin were they that they were gone in two or three draws (of breath, not the perpetual or stalemate sort).