Talented sportsman Brian dies, aged 92

BRIAN Belle, a former headmaster at Orwell Park School, has died at the age of 92. He was a talented sportsman, winning blues at Oxford University for cricket and football in the thirties.

By Tony Garnett

BRIAN Belle, a former headmaster at Orwell Park School, has died at the age of 92.

He was a talented sportsman, winning blues at Oxford University for cricket and football in the thirties. In his later years became a noted golf administrator in Suffolk.

In 1935 at the age of 21 he took part in two of the most famous victories in the history of Essex County Cricket Club.

In only his second match on July 31 and August 1 Essex demolished Yorkshire by an innings and 204 runs at Huddersfield. It was Yorkshire's only defeat that season and they went on to become champions for the 18th time in 39 years winning 19 of their 30 fixtures.

It was an astonishing Essex win. Yorkshire were bowled out in their first innings for 31 in 12 overs and four balls. Quick bowlers H D Read (six for 11) and Maurice Nichols (four for 17) did the damage.

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Essex lost four of their five leading batsmen for single figures. Belle joined Nichols with five wickets down for 65. Nichols scored 146 and Belle played a valuable supporting role with 63 in a stand worth 174 which still stands as a sixth wicket record for matches between Essex and Yorkshire.

Yorkshire fielded a team of super stars with such famous names as Herbert Sutcliffe, Maurice Leyland, skipper A B Sellers, Len Hutton, Hedley Verity and Bill Bowes. Belle was eventually caught by Leyland off Verity.

In the second innings Yorkshire were bowled out for 99 with Nichols and Read again sharing the wickets.

For the next month Belle, promoted to number three in the batting order, became established in the Essex side. Within a fortnight he was involved in another spectacular Essex triumph when they beat the South African tourists by seven wickets at Southend.

Belle scored only 11 of the Essex total of 302 before losing his wicket to spinner Xenophon Balaskas. The South Africans had already beaten England in the Test series with their 157-run victory at Lord's.

Belle won a football blue for Oxford as a full-back and ended on the winning side against Cambridge by a 3-1 margin at Highbury in 1935-36 season. It is reported that he played a storming match. He also played for the Corinthians.

On leaving Oxford he joined the teaching staff at Aldeburgh Lodge prep school which relocated to Orwell Park at Nacton in 1937.

During the Second World War Belle was an officer in the Royal Artillery serving mainly in Burma.

On demob he returned to Orwell Park and in 1950 married Sylvia. Soon afterwards he became part of a triumvirate of headmasters with Noel Wilkinson and Ted Cawston. He became sole headmaster in 1969 and retired 10 years later.

Old Orwellian David Cockburn recalls: “He used to spend an enormous amount of time mowing his cricket square in which he took great pride. He was a kind but strict headmaster.”

His daughter Vicki Hunt, currently a staff member at Orwell Park and a member of the Suffolk Ladies' county golf squad, said: “His square was treated as holy ground and I remember his horror when a parent with stiletto heels walked across it. Even after he retired he used to give advice to the groundsman.”

Belle proved to be a tremendous asset to Suffolk in the Minor Counties. He made his debut in 1939 and helped them to their first Championship success in 1946.

He took over the captaincy in 1949 handing over to Martin Corke in 1953. In all he played 92 matches, had 148 innings. He was not out 21 times and averaged 35.11. He scored 4459 runs, a figure bettered only by Phil Caley, Simon Clements, Bob Cunnell, Roger Howlett, Ian Prior and Tony Warrington. His top score was 175 not out against Essex seconds at Felixstowe in 1948. He scored nine centuries for Suffolk.

Belle took over from Corke as Suffolk chairman shortly after the appointment of Bob Cunnell as captain. He held office at the time of the Minor Counties Championship triumphs of 1977 and 1979 when Suffolk twice held off challengers Durham at Ransomes. In those days Suffolk were able to field such stars as Robin Hobbs, Timur Mohammed and Richard Done to add strength to a side largely comprised of Suffolk-based players.

Cunnell said: “Brian was a gentleman cricketer who maintained his great interest in Suffolk cricket long after he retired from playing. He was very supportive during my time as captain.”

Norman Atkins, chairman of Suffolk County Cricket Association, said: “Suffolk has lost a great servant over many, many years both on and off the field.”

Belle joined Ipswich Golf Club in January 1956, became club captain in 1966 and president in 1979 and 1980. He was elected as an honorary member of the club for services to club and county.

In 1975 he succeeded Jack Barnard as president of the Suffolk Golf Union, a post which he held until 1977 when Dick Watson of Aldeburgh took over. He and his wife Sylvia won the Suffolk Mixed Foursomes in 1966.

In 1981 he was invited to Buckingham Palace to receive an award from the Duke of Edinburgh for his work for the National Playing Fields Association.

The funeral will be at St Martin's Church at Nacton tomorrow at 11am. A memorial service will be arranged.

Family flowers only, but donations may be made to Help The Aged , c/o Farthing, Singleton and Hastings, 650 Woodbridge Road, Ipswich IP4 4PW.