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The QPH Bank Robbers – Kevin O’Connor

A previous Newsletter article, 'The QPH Runner Who Trained with Roger Bannister', looked at the collaboration of my father (Pat O’Connor) with Bannister at Paddington Rec. in the 6 months before the World’s first 4-minute mile. 


This article considers Dad’s wider contribution to QPH in the 1950’s, as Club Captain and as Club President. Dad joined the Club in 1949, and the photo below shows him early in his QPH career in the 1950 North London Cross Country Championships, just behind club mate Tom Payne: 

Dad was a very clever man (who in a different era would probably have progressed to tertiary education, rather than being forced to leave school at 14). His abilities, including motivational and organisational skills, meant that he captained QPH’s most successful cross-country team, which gained many victories over much larger clubs.  


Some of my earliest memories are of my father running relay legs on the Leyton to Southend, or London to Brighton. On the QPH motor coach, the supporters bellowed shouts of encouragement as we came up behind, and then passed, our club runner. Us kids used to wave thin cardboard tubes out of the coach windows – at their end, the tubes carried bunches of red and white papers streamers, the colours of QPH’s hooped running vests. 

The above photo shows the QPH team and their families on the seafront after the 1954 Leyton to Southend relay. My father is squatting to the far left of the photo. My mother (Betty O’Connor) is in the middle in a checked coat with her hands on the shoulders of my sister (Sally Edwards). Distinguished Hoopsters in the photo include Cliff Bould, Geoff Thompson, Gordon Hanson, Ian Brooks, Mike Hunter and Tom Harwood. 

The QPH Leyton to Southend Relay team, resplendent in their red and white hooped vests. Included in this photo are Gordon Hanson (135) and my father in the front row, second from the right. 


My mother’s father sometimes came on the relays, and on the way back, the coach would stop at a pub. Different Hoopsters would always offer to buy him his favourite drink, whiskey. His answer was inevitably, “Yes, please”, so Grandad was often quite merry by the time we got back to London. 


Other childhood memories concern the evening QPH training sessions that took place in Hyde Park, but which started and finished in our home, a flat above the Westminster Bank in Edgware Road, Paddington. 


Clubs, athletic coaches and athletes generally require the support and encouragement of their partners, if success is to be achieved. This is captured in a letter of 15 January 1957 from Frank Petit (the Honorary Secretary of QPH), which begins: 


“Dear Mrs O’Connor, 


This winter has been the finest in the history of the Club for over 20 years… It could not have been achieved without your cooperation and help.  We know how welcome you make our boys and allow them to use your home for training purposes and have built the main body of the team into one happy family.” 


Dad was a bit of a maverick, and if my memory is correct, he used to heat water up on the bank’s boiler, allowing the runners to have a warm wash after training. Unbeknown to the Westminster Bank, it was making a contribution to QPH, for what runner wants to go home sweaty and smelly?! 


Geoff Thompson was a particular favourite Hoopster of mine. I would have been around 5 years old, and when the runners had finished a training session, and came up into our flat, I would shout out from my bedroom, “Geoff, Geoff, Geoff.” And he would come in and read me a bedtime story. On a tangent, let me mention that in March 1962, Dad, Geoff and I travelled up to Villa Park in Birmingham, to watch the FA Cup Semi-Final between Fulham and the hot favourites, Burnley. Fulham, captained by the famous Johnny Haynes, totally outplayed Burnley. But, nevertheless, the result was 1-1, and Burnley won the replay 2-1. Geoff has sadly passed away, but I remained in touch with his wife, Esme, who maintained the tradition by regularly watching home games at Fulham’s Craven Cottage. 

Gordon Hanson handing over to Geoff Thompson in the 1953 Leyton to Southend Relay 


The sight of young men leaving the bank late in the evening with kitbags in their hands, on several occasions brought the police to the premises, thinking that they had unearthed bank robbers. But, of course, what the police found in the bags was not gold bullion or pound notes, but just the sweaty running gear of enthusiastic young men! 


The police made another appearance at one of these training sessions. After warming up, the QPH runners would remove their tracksuits and hide them in a hollow tree on the Bayswater Road side of Hyde Park. As they were stripping off around the tree, some policemen suddenly emerged from the evening dark, believing they had discovered some sort of homosexual sex den. Instead, they only discovered the start of a tough running training session, often involving the sand-sapping Rotten Row. 


Dad was a middle and long distance runner, and he certainly had one piece of anti-sprinter prejudice, classically steeped in his bygone era. At that time there were, of course, no synthetic tracks. Many sprinters, lacking starting blocks, would dig holes with trowels into cinder or grass tracks, to gain leverage at the start. Sometimes these holes were not filled in after the sprints. So, it is easy to understand why, Dad, with his dodgy war-wounded right foot, was not too pleased to meet one of these holes during a race. 


But this prejudice is said in jest, since my father was a loving, caring man, who assisted and encouraged participants in a variety of sports, throughout his life, and made a major contribution to QPH’s 1950’s success. 


All photos courtesy of Paul Hanson 


Kevin and Sue O’Connor have lived in Uganda since 1994, where they are volunteer athletics coaches. Currently, they coach Shida Leni. She is the National Record holder for 400 metres and 200 metres, and has competed in the Tokyo Olympic Games, the Doha World Championships and the last three Commonwealth Games. 


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