John Doidge passed away recently at the age of 78, his funeral service being held at Torquay on 26th June.
He was born in Tavistock, the 3rd son of Edith and Charles Doidge, who themselves had been born in the town. The older brother died in infancy and John was brought up with his brother Bill. A fourth boy, David, appeared nine years later, about nine months after a family holiday to Falmouth.
John went to Tavistock Grammar School, where he won school colours at football, hockey, athletics, cricket (at which he was vice captain) and becoming school cross-country champion.
On leaving school he joined the South West Electricity Board as a junior clerk, and on subsequently being called up to do National Service he opted for the R.A.F. where he greatly enjoyed the opportunities this offered. At the end of the 2 years he was offered a commission by the R.A.F. but his parents could not afford the expenses involved, so he had to return to his job at SWEB.
At this time he became an expert at English country dancing and was recognised as a teacher of the art by the County Council.
At the age of 21, he was appointed Assistant Manager of a Tavistock firm of coal merchants. The manager was a keen chess player and introduced John to the game and the town club that met at Perraton’s Café in The Square. The members included an extraordinary trio of elderly siblings originally from the West Midlands, George Hadgkiss and his two spinster sisters, all of whom were strong players and lived together. Tavistock teams at this time often consisted of the three Hadgkisses, John and any one other. By 1960, John had succeeded D. H. Treloar, as club secretary.
In 1966 he left the coal business and returned to the Tavistock branch of SWEB, staying with them until his retirement in 1990. He had married for the first time in 1962 and a son, Stephen, was born the following year.
Alongside his chess, he continued to play cricket and was at times secretary, treasurer and chairman of the Whitchurch Wayfarers club, situated in the grounds of Whitchurch House, near Tavistock, and was secretary of the Tavistock Cricket Club from 1972 – 76. During this period he was largely responsible for getting the Gloucestershire team to play at the club. In one particular match, he was picked to play against a representative XI and, when the legendary Ken Barrington came in to bat, (131 innings for England at an average nearly 60), John dropped him first ball. He consoled himself with the knowledge that the crowd had come to see Barrington bat, not hole out in the deep.
John was made Manager of the Tavistock branch of SWEB and, such was the esteem in which he was held by the community, was invited to apply to become a magistrate. He was not selected but at the same time he was invited to join the Board of Visitors at Dartmoor Prison. This was an independent body reporting directly to the Home Secretary, and with a magisterial function within the prison. The prison had an almost legendary status in the national consciousness in general and the criminal fraternity in particular, although at this time it had been downgraded to a Category B institution, one level down from the very hardest regime. During his 13 years in this role, he became very involved not only in the magisterial side of the job, but also the parole side and other committees set up by the Home Office. In 1990 he was invited by Kenneth Baker, the then Home Secretary, to become Chairman of the Board, a position he held until he retired in 1993.
During his first week as Chairman, he was phoned by the prison governor to say prisoners were staging a sit-in in the exercise yard. John came in and prepared a report for the Home Office on how it was being dealt with. There is no suggestion that the protests were anything to do with John’s appointment, but 8 weeks later a full scale riot broke out, and John and his colleagues spent many weeks monitoring the situation and making recommendations to the Government. Eventually, he was called to give evidence to the Lord Justice Wolfe Inquiry that was looking into the prison unrest of the time, including those in Manchester Strangeways.
In 1984 his marriage broke up after 25 years, a period of great sadness, brought to a sudden end the following year when he met Elizabeth whom he married in 1986. Incidentally, Elizabeth was a twin, one of 5 sets of twins all on the roll at the small Kingsteignton Primary School, a fact that excited a certain amount of interest in the national press at the time. Another set was the identical Les and John Nicks, well-known to the writer.
After this marriage he was offered the managership at Paignton SWEB. In 1990 they made him a retirement offer he couldn’t refuse, as it enabled him to take on the onerous Dartmoor job. Later in the1990s he started to get heart problems, with a heart attack in 1997 and another in 1999. Even with a pacemaker fitted in 2000 he had to take it easy.
However, he couldn’t stay inactive for long and in 2005 the Newton Abbot Chess Club was revived after many years and his former interest was rekindled. In no time at all he was elected the Club’s Competition Secretary and Secretary of the Torbay League. He wrote a monthly chess column for the Torbay Herald, and when the British Championships came to Torquay in 2009, he cooperated with the events Publicity Officer in filing a daily article for the paper. In 2011 he became Competition Secretary of the Devon County Chess Association.
At this time he found he had developed cancer of the oesophagus, untreatable because of his other conditions, an illness bravely borne.
All his chess activities were characterised by his conscientiousness in wanting to do a thoroughly good job of the task in hand, and I suspect his many other roles were done to exactly the same level.