Nihill, Paul (Part 1 of 5). An Oral History of British Athletics
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Athletics: Road events
Interviewee's home, Kent
Nihill, Vincent Paul, 1939- (speaker, male)
Cutler, Rachel (speaker, female)
Part 1: Early memories - family, home, place. Placed in orphanage in Chelmsford at 2 years old. Mother pregnant with sister after relationship with Canadian airman. Discovered existence of sister, Leanne, in 1996.Returned after Leanne was born and given away. First memories are of south Croydon, about 1943, living with just his mother. Wood yard at the back of house. Father went off to war and this meant end of marriage. Father Irish. Met father only twice as child. On both occasions his Mother wanted his father to look after him. The second time he could not look after him and he was placed in another orphanage (aged 10). Mother's new husband didn't want him in the house. At this Home for 6 months, run by nuns who physically and mentally abused him. Memories of his stepfather. Regrets not asking/knowing about his past. Because of this he has written his early childhood for his own children. Grandparents also part of the complex early childhood. Mother adopted at birth she was "given away" in 1917.Adoptive parents were a police sergeant and housewife in Chingford, Essex. Never wanted to know her biological family. Since traced his family to Northamptonshire. History had repeated itself. Named after his grandfather. Memories only of grandmother. Happiest as a child when living with his Mother alone. Mother had another child, Wendy Ann, in 1941. Had another affair with (Uncle Leo) Canadian airforceman from which brother Andy born in 1946. Alan born in 1948 from second husband. Alan died in 1997 in poverty and an addict. Never traced Andy's father. "I had a funny upbringing, a funny childhood". More detail about his relationship with stepfather. School difficult without a father of his own. Detail of the convent experience - very sad and frightening, still affected today. Mother had to fight in the courts to get him out. Came out on his 10th birthday - happiest birthday. Tried to stay out of the house. All day and in to the night - up to London. Liked and still likes being alone. More detail of relationship with brothers. Details of his brother's death in Brighton. [00:16:56] War years, poverty and Convent Home War years - memories - food and social life. Life in Addiscombe. Mother earned money through making things - tells story of selling snowmen at Christmas. Mother sold his much loved and used scooter because they needed the money. Loves Corydon - good memories and connections with the town and works on local history of the area. More detail about experiences of Convent home in Littlehampton. Has retained the memories and feels damaged by the experience. Has returned to the home recently. Religion in the family. Friendships in the Convent. Reunions. Dormitory life - bed wetting and fits - "the devil attending". [00:23:45] School life, boxing, running. Primary to Convent home. Woodside School, Addiscombe, Croydon - June 1948 60m sprint on school sports day. Running was favourite thing. Enjoyed school had good friends. Then to Convent home and after that to Oval School where he won school Championship at 10 yrs. Secondary school was D⁵., famous for having DH Lawrence as a teacher and Gary Glitter as a pupil. Started to box and run at school. Joined Sir Philip Gain(?) Boys Club and continued these sports. Was very slightly built - can remember weights at different ages because he was a boxer. More detail of his career as a boxer - preferred it to athletics. Still involved with boxing today. Compares boxing and running. For a while combined the two sports competitively. Boys' club coach encouraged him to move to cross country from the sprints. Left School at 15. First job was as - office boy in wholesale grocery. 18months. [00:33:39] Walking career begins. At 18 began race walking by answering an athletics club advertisement in the paper which said" Can you walk 5 miles in an hour?" Came second to a famous London to Brighton runner who was 30 years older than Nihill. Walking started to become moree important because he became very good at it. Injury had a huge affect on sports career move. After much knee trouble, discovered chip on the bone - but didn't replace his patella - so took months to recover. Couldn't box or run after the operation - so walking became paramount. Within a year of first race he became a potential International athlete. Joined the Surrey Walkers Club. [00:38:12] Walking career cont'd and bad times, homeless, Army, depression. 1957 thrown out of house and in desperation joined Army. Army story - ran away - attempted suicide - released from the Army after forty days. Discuss the attempted suicide and mental health. More detail about being made homeless at seventeen. Had no support mechanism from friends or family. Life after the Army experience. 1958 - lodgings in South Norwood and a local job at Corona. Later got married and settled in a flat in South Norwood. Three children, Tony, Clare, Vincent. Close to his children. Feels he neglected his children because of commitment to race walking and feels he let his own son down when he wanted to race walk. Race walking results continued to improve. Was a loner - covered hundreds of miles a week. Describes his training in detail - especially how easy it was to train. Detail of the technique of race walking - took 2/3 yrs to find a rhythm. As an employee at GEC found employers sympathetic to training and competing. Discuss the difference between athletes then and now "not so hungry" now because they get money and sponsorship. Long discussion of impact of character on his commitment to sport - particularly, literally being hungry. [00:59:32] International Race Walker & Tokyo 1964. Describes the journey from, local, national international. Expectations grew slowly and the possibility of training for the Olympic Games only came after much competition. Track and road walking compared. 20k and 50k competitor. Depth of elite race walkers 1960s Britain. Discussion about Ken Mathews and Don Thompson. Long discussion about Tokyo Olympic Games 1964 - including race, village life. Great story of stealing Joe Frazier's bike in the Village. Opening and closing ceremonies. Rewarded through this sport by being able to see the world. Drugs in the sport - "I know I've being beaten by people taking drugs". Long discussion about the change from amateur to professional and the change in sport and crowds over time.
Interview with racewalker Paul Nihill