Hollywood darling Perry can now rest in peace

Perry thrived in the US where he became an instant celebrity

Newly crowned US Open champion Andy Murray has a steady girlfriend, doesn't drink alcohol and relaxes by taking his two pet dogs, Maggie and Rusty, for long strolls in the Surrey countryside.

Fred Perry, the last British man - until Monday - to win a Grand Slam title by capturing the US championship in 1936, would have done things differently and probably a lot more noisily.

Perry, who died aged 85 in Melbourne in 1995, was married four times, counted 1930s Hollywood sirens Marlene Dietrich and Jean Harlow amongst his lovers, renounced his British citizenship and served in the US Air Force in World War II.

He also fell out spectacularly with the British tennis establishment, who bristled at his professional status and his humble origins.

Born the son of a cotton factory worker in 1909 at Stockport, in England's industrial north, Perry's father was a committed socialist.

After the family moved to London, Perry learned to play table tennis and tennis, but always endured a roller-coaster relationship with officials at his home Grand Slam event, Wimbledon.

According to a 2009 biography, The Last Champion, when Perry beat Jack Crawford to win his first Wimbledon title in 1934, he overheard a club official telling the Australian runner-up that he was the "better man".

Perry, always an outsider in the stuffy surroundings of amateur lawn tennis, thrived in the more egalitarian atmosphere of the United States, where the gregarious, athletic Englishman was an instant celebrity.

The Last Champion's author Jon Henderson explained Perry's popularity.

"He was an extremely good looking, red-blooded lad. The girls liked him and he liked the girls. It went from there," wrote Henderson.

"One US columnist said, 'Women fell for him like ninepins and when he went to Hollywood, male film stars went and sulked in Nevada.'"

By the time of Perry's death, he had finally become accepted into the British tennis culture.

"Fred Perry was a superlative ambassador for our sport throughout the world. He was a great character, big-hearted and a true champion in every sense," said former All England chairman John Curry.

"He won the affection and admiration of all those involved in tennis - the players, the fans, the media, and officials. Fred was one of those rare individuals. He was at ease with all - from the youngest fans to royalty."

Perry's third - and Britain's most recent - Wimbledon triumph in 1936 was achieved with breathtaking speed, his 6-1, 6-1, 6-0 victory over Germany's Baron Gottfried von Cramm taking only 40 minutes.


 

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