(Peter Thomas with two 3 lb barbel that gave good sport)
Of all Dick’s closest friends, Peter Thomas was certainly his first best friend and, having known each other from their childhood into the early 1930s, the longest serving as well. A stalwart, true and steadfast friend and angling companion for over 50 years.
Peter’s elder brother Stan was 4 or 5 years older than Dick, and assumed the role of ‘protector’ over Dick and in turn, Dick over Pete. They fished together until they were parted by the onset of the Second World War, until in 1946 when Dick was back home, and walking through the Arcade in Hitchin, it just so happened that coming the other way was his old friend Pete. So resumed the friendship, and angling in earnest.
Together, thanks to Pete owning motorbikes and cars, their range was now extended to some 60 to 70 miles from home, and they fished all over with much success. This was cemented in 1949 by them masterminding victory in the Daily Mirror Club Contest. Bernard Venables had devised the competition, which was not for match fishing but for big fish. Any club could enter by submitting a form with up to 12 fish of various species - points would be awarded.
This set Pete and Dick thinking. They had both caught some sizeable fish and knew well the standard that generally their fellow club members were well satisfied with - a fish as big as a pound and a half was quite an event - so they felt that if this was the case with other clubs, they were in with a chance.
They recruited a few of the more aspiring anglers from the club and set about the task. First they studied the ‘Notable Fish List’ in the Angler’s News for the previous years, and from this were able to determine how big a fish they would need to catch for each species to qualify for points in the contest. They organised their fishing, and went from species to species, catching what they thought would be enough of size for each, before moving onto the next.
From their experience of catching plenty of carp over 10 pounds, and some early breakthroughs they had made with the big perch in Arlesey Lake, they were able to submit their entry with some impressive weights. Little did they know by how much they’d win - their points total came in at 464, with second place having just 97 - they won the Daily Mirror Club Contest by an enormous margin and surprised everyone in the process.
Pete was a member of the Carp Catcher’s Club, the movement started by Denys Watkins-Pitchford (‘BB’), Dick Walker and Maurice Ingham, that transformed the whole of angling by setting out to catch carp by design and show that the common assumption that they were uncatchable, to be false. To do so, they devised suitable tackle and techniques for the purpose, combined with logical thinking and a scientific approach.
Whilst there were many successes, it was Pete’s involvement with the capture of a 44 lb carp on 13th September 1952, that set the angling world alight. It was pure chance that Dick hooked the fish and not Pete, for they fished the same tackle and bait within a few feet on the water. The story of the capture has been told many times, so to cut it short, after a considerable battle, the wily carp had embedded itself deep in some brambles that trailed into the water - without hesitation or concern for himself, Pete climbed to an overhang and positioned the net over the hole where the fish had gone in, and used his free hand to turn the fish by the nose and steer it into the net and was able to land it successfully. This huge fish smashed the British record and brought credibility to the angling philosophy and methods they had been advocating.
Pete and Dick named her ‘Ravioli’ after the food they’d been eating on the trip, but she became widely known as ‘Clarissa’ after London Zoo renamed her.
Angling became more and more part of their lives, with Pete going on to work in the tackle trade, over the years working for several different manufacturers and stores, including Hardys, and for over 5 years at Fred Buller’s shooting and fishing tackle shop Fredrick Beesley. Pete joined the firm shortly after Fred had retired and was excellent with both guns and rods, due to his knowledge and immense skills. Fred, who knew Pete for over 30 years, said Pete was one of the best shots he ever saw and that they’d never had a crossed word. It just wasn’t possible with Pete.
(Pete at Hardys in Alnwick with Fred Buller,Frank Moir (Hardys), Dick, Bill and Jim Hardy)
(Pete with Maurice Ingham)
(Pete with Clarissa)
As well as angling together, Pete and Dick’s friendship extended to family events; holidays and many dinners. In the latter years of Dick’s life, there were weekly lunches on Saturdays, fitting in with Pete’s hockey matches for Hitchin’s Bluehearts.
Dick regarded Pete as probably the best all round angler he ever knew, and it’s evident Pete felt the same way about Dick from the piece included on the inside flap of the dustjacket (see here) of the 50th Anniversary of No Need To Lie - the book Pete insisted Dick write and badgered him for 10 years until he finally did it, with the addition of the wonderful illustrations by the ‘Angling Artist’ Reg Cooke.
(Thomas, Russell and Walker holiday)
But aside from their angling exploits together and what they thought about all that, the thing that was most dear to them was their friendship. My mother said “They were like brothers in all but name”, and I’d wager they had some ‘blood brother’ pact from when they were kids! Pete has missed his dear friend for some 30 years, and we can perhaps hope they can now finally catch up, and spin a line or two.
Peter will be sorely missed, but we are lucky to have some fond memories.