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News > Bradfieldian Stories > Holding Court

Holding Court

Chris Gorringe (E 59-64) reflects on his time at Bradfield and career at Wimbledon.

A former quarter-finalist in the Junior Championships of Great Britain at Wimbledon, Chris Gorringe became Assistant Secretary of the All England Club in 1973, later rising to Chief Executive. During his 26 years at the helm, Chris transformed Wimbledon into one of the biggest commercial sporting events in the world and raised the prestige of the event to its present standing. In this article, we discuss his career, his lessons learned, and the role Bradfield had in shaping his story.

Chris attended Bradfield College between 1959 to 1964, spending a happy five years at Stone House. Even 50 years later, he professes his ‘thorough enjoyment’ at the College, noting that he chose to go to Bradfield even while his brothers both went to Cranbrook. Under the stewardship of Lesley Price and Michael Ricketts, both, by his own admission, ‘caring men’, he enjoyed a variety of sports, including Colt’s cricket, football and tennis. Rising to Head Boy in the Upper Sixth demonstrated his nascent leadership qualities, though Chris in fact had few certain ideas about his career. Choosing to study Estates Management at Cirencester Agricultural College alongside a number of other Bradfieldians led him eventually to his first job, as a land agent with the Guinness Family. Supervising farmers and managing construction on the various estates in Bishop Stortford might have seemed a far cry from the Centre Court but afforded him an opportunity to develop his understated leadership mannerisms. Five years into this job, Chris happened across an advert for Assistant Secretary for the All-England Lawn Tennis Club. A terse advert cited only two requirements: ‘male, preferably 35-45’. Then 27, Chris was understandably uncertain about his suitability for the role, but applied nevertheless. At an informal interview at the Club Member’s Lounge, he ably demonstrated that, despite his youth, he was prepared for the job. In fact, as he returned to his Austin Healey A30 to depart, he received a tap on the window from the interviewer, offering him the role there and then. A deciding factor, he suspects, was his understanding of grass.

Chris could never have suspected to remain at Wimbledon for the rest of his storied career. He wryly acknowledges his father-in-law’s initial concerns about the turbulence of the role, and its modest pay. Joining Wimbledon as in 1973, the year of the infamous ATP boycott, seemed to confirm these concerns, but he rose ably to the challenge. Indeed, meeting challenges became characteristic of ‘Clockwork Gorringe’: With the advent of open tennis in 1968, the availability for partnerships increased exponentially, particularly in new markets like Japan. Spearheading the expansion of the club into new waters through these partnerships enabled Wimbledon’s international prestige to grow beyond its traditionally modest, and very English, status. His appointment to Chief Executive in 1979 only increased this success. Indeed, the surplus to The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) rose greatly over his tenure, increasing from £58,400 when he arrived to £27 million on his departure. But this was not a corporate affair. For the entirety his career, Chris was guided by the mission statement of the club: to foster the best interests of tennis and enhance the unique quality of the club. To this day, he adopts the Club’s guiding principle (‘To maintain The Championships as the premier tennis tournament on the world- and on grass’) as his own. His self-described ‘smooth sailing’ of the club came from the perfect marriage of this ideology to his own steady practice and engagement with others. In particular, his close partnership with Jon Curry and Mark McCormack, whose International Management Group enabled contact with numerous sponsors, assisted greatly with the growth and outreach of the club. Collectively, these met, and exceed, their aims. Chris eventually retired in 2005, passing on to Ian Ritchie.

When talking, Chris is articulate, warm and humble. His measured tones quietly contrast the scope of his success, barely changing as he pivots from his experience of Wimbledon’s expansion to an alarming anecdote regarding the threat of IRA attack and the decision about whether or not to evacuate Wimbledon. A list of his greatest achievements is indeed remarkable, from playing on centre court in 1973 and seeing Virginia Wade win in 1977 to overseeing the construction of the Millennium Building. It is difficult to understate just how formative an impact Chris made on the Championships, and tennis in general; In concert, his stewardship and outreach made Wimbledon, Wimbledon. From all of this, his key lesson has been his appreciation in other ‘wonderful’ people. His close and long partnerships with his colleagues attest to his collaborative approach and belief in community. Among those listed are several Bradfieldians, notably Peter Jones, a French teacher and football master, who instilled in him a fastidious nature (a black notebook is never far away). As he repeatedly volunteers praise and anecdotes about his time throughout our conversation, it is clear that Bradfield has provided a springboard to his huge successes.

Chris’ full experience and career is detailed in his book Holding Court: Inside the Gates of the Wimbledon Championship (Arrow Publishing, 2010)

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