Ben is a bowling role model to us all

Evening Star bowls columnist JOHN REDNALL looks back at the long and distinguised career of one of Suffolk's greatest - Ben Ellis.

THE rich tapestry of the world of bowls is embellished and illuminated by the characters who have become legends of the past and present, and by the awe-inspiring games they have played.

Memories of certain players, their talents, mannerisms and personalities are woven into the picture in colours as vivid as the memories themselves.

As we look back over the decades, and thumb through the bulging photograph albums that freeze moments of bowls history and seemingly bring the moments back to life, we can see exactly why certain players have become so popular and so well respected within the entire bowling community.

Ability, consistency of performance, temperament, determination and success in bountiful measures contribute to a player earning the label of bowling legend.

Ben Ellis' initial bowling career started just before the war when, as a 14-year-old boy he stood at the end of the rink, watching his father and other well known players of the time.

The observant, fresh faced lad hoped one day to emulate the delivery, style and accuracy of the influential players of their time, many of whom were to become top class county players in the decades to follow.

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As that youngster, Ben soon decided that watching was not enough. Picking up a spare set of lignums he suggested the idea of a game to one of his friends at the Turner's sports ground where they often watched cricket and bowls. He recalls the occasion:

"We had watched players like Jack Barber and Ted Scott playing. We didn't have to work hard at learning to deliver our woods. It just happened so naturally."

The early games with ex-Norfolk policeman, Kenny Grist served to fuel the appetite for massive enjoyment of bowls coupled with one of the most competitive instincts of any Suffolk player I have ever had the privilege to know.

That competitive instinct has taken Ellis to a host of outdoor and indoor county titles, to trials for his country and to national honours with his main club, the Marlborough in Ipswich.

The highlight was the winning of three county titles in the same year, 1972 – an achievement which is unique in the history of outdoor bowls in Suffolk. Ellis recalls: "It was amazing really because I had played very little bowls the previous season and I had just recovered from having arthritis in the foot. The next year I was to win three competitions."

In winning the Suffolk singles championship for the first time, Ben recalls the final. "I think that was probably the biggest thrill of my career and the best game of singles I have ever played. My opponent was Don Parkyn, a very good player – but I won 21 shots to five on the day."

Partnered by Roger Hambling and Stan Bloomfield, the triples and fours titles followed. Completing the personel in the four was Derek Noakes who played at number two position.

The season was brilliantly crowned when Ben defeated the Essex champion at Welwyn Garden City to take the Eastern Counties singles title 21-10.

In such brilliant form Ben could easily have slotted into the international team as a specialist lead. His chance was to come on June 9 the following season as he was invited to attend the England trial match at the Watney's Bowling Club, Mortlake On receiving the news of his first trial the Evening Star newspaper reported: "Ben Ellis' selection is a well deserved sequel to the remarkable successes he achieved last season."

Also in the trial was Derek Johnson, then of Margaret Catchpole who had already earned a place at lead in the international team two years earlier. Ben remembers: "I had my chance there and then but on the day I did not have a great game. I was average and nothing more. I had no complaints about not getting into the team."

If further qualifications were needed to receive the red rose on the blazer, Ben was to further demonstrate his leading talents in fours play competing in the 1973 Middleton Cup semi-final against a powerful Middlesex side, again at Mortlake. Partnered by Keith Thirkettle, Bernard Crosby and Doug Strutt, the Marlborough four overturned top class international skip, Norman King by three shots though this win was insufficient to ensure victory as Middlesex won the match by 115 shots to 112.

Ellis remembers fondly the three Middleton Cup semi-finals in which he represented Suffolk, although he regards his 1968 four as perhaps the best quartet he has ever played in. This rink read: Ben Ellis, Harold Rumsey, G Burman and Stan Bloomfield and featured in the semi-final and final.

With great friend Stanley Bloomfield, Ben had lifted the Suffolk pairs title in 1969 and was to win the championship again with Pat Webber some 15 years later. A second Suffolk singles triumph came in 1981 when Ben defeated Brian Besant of Kirkley Park in the county final. With a trip to Worthing looming, Ben realised that he could make a serious challenge for national honours and did so progressing through the first three rounds of the national championships to reach the quarter-final.

His victories over M Candler of Durham, Denis Smith of Cornwall and Richard Roylands of Middlesex set up an enthralling battle with England star Alan Windsor. Unfortunately he was to lose 21-17 in a field which also included some of England's best known players such as Gary Smith, Bill Hobart, Chris Ward and Andy Thomson.

In 1986 the Ellis contribution to outstanding front-end play helped the Marlborough to the first of its two National Two-Fours championships. Playing at number two with Mick Lloyd at lead, John Barrell and Don Wadley at three and skip respectively Ben again showed the drawing excellence that has been his trademark over eight decades. A thoroughly well deserved national success.

Ben Ellis is one of the few players in the county to have won all of the county titles more than once. In addition to this he has made the Marlborough Club singles trophy his on six occasions, the first in 1965 and the most recent – last year.

Whilst enjoying indoor bowls, firstly in friendly games at Stowmarket ICI, and then at Ipswich and District, Ben enjoys the summer weather, the variety of venues and challenges of conditions in the outdoor game. After all it was the game he watched as that 14-year-old.

There is little doubt that Ben will play outdoor bowls for as many years to come as he can. However, this season could well signal the decision to tend his competitive career. Problems with his health, particularly arthritis are causing him great discomfort, particularly outdoors and he feels that the time to play just for fun may be here.

In terms of technical skills, it is my opinion that the Benny Ellis delivery at is peak was the finest, smoothest action I have had the pleasure of watching. I have never seen such consistency within the mechanics of a drawing delivery from any other player. A neat, compact, world-class text book deliver form a bowling legend.