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Jock McGregor

1920-2006

John Henderson McGregor died in Swindon General Hospital on 16th February 2006 aged 85, after a very short illness. More affectionately known as ‘Jock’- but without any known Scottish connection – he was possibly the most well known and well liked character in English Billiards. Jock’s enthusiasm for billiards, his generous support of the sport and his vivid and astonishing historical knowledge of the game were unmatched by any standards.

Born at Brentford on 20th October 1920, a well educated man with a gentlemanly disposition, slightly eccentric but with a character as large as life, Jock was loved by all. Little is known of his early childhood, but we do know that Jock worked for a bank from leaving school to his retirement. He started playing billiards at 14 years. When introduced to Claud Falkiner, a family friend, Jock was told by the great man ‘that he might do well if he stuck at it’. He certainly did stick at it, and was still sticking at it almost up to the day that he died. Jock wasn’t the greatest billiards player the world has ever seen but, for enthusiasm, he was the top of the tree. A little bit of progress was for Jock like ‘finding nuggets of gold’. Since the start of the Amateur Billiards Circuit in 1991 there had been only two occasions when Jock missed tournaments; only hospital treatment had prevented him from turning out. Before the ABC events Jock was a regular entry in the ‘Mini Prix’ series, and he never missed an English event for which he was eligible.

Jock and I had at least three things in common. We were both in the RAF and served in Malta at the same station; we were both very fond of jazz, and we were both, of course, billiards buffs. When we had the time to relax and reminisce these three subjects usually engaged our conversation. Whereas my RAF service was in peacetime, Jock was in the thick of it, at the sharp end as they say. He served as a radar operator in Malta from 1942 to 1944, during the Malta siege and when the garrison was under heavy bombardment from axis air attacks. Incessant air-raids from the German and Italian aircraft raining their bombs on the scarcely defended islanders gave Jock plenty of work to do on his radar scanner. It was during Jock’s service in the Mediterranean that the island of Malta and its people were awarded the civilian Victoria Cross for their courage in withstanding a relentless enemy onslaught and for their sufferings from the privations of the siege. Jock had vivid and painful memories of the Maltese and their plight in those terrible times.

I was never sure which was Jock’s greatest love, his billiards or his jazz. In the 1950s and 60s Jock was a regular columnist in contemporary jazz magazines. An aficionado on the national and international jazz scene with a profound knowledge of jazz history, jazz musicians and those wonderful jazz vocalists, Jock was a mine of information, and very well known, and respected, for a tremendous knowledge of jazz. A trip to New Orleans and a wander down Basin Street held lasting memories for Jock and was one of the highlights of his life. Sharing a bottle of red one evening and discussing the life and times of ‘Billie Holliday’ brought a tear to Jock’s eye; ‘poor girl’ he said.

The generosity that Jock McGregor extended to English Billiards has been well chronicled, and is held in the highest regard by those responsible for organising and administrating the game in England. His support for the E.A.B.A has helped to give the Association its firm footing and its bright future. His popularity extended across the Irish Sea and condolences have been received from Davey Pogue, Secretary of the Northern Ireland Billiards Association and his many friends over the water. There were very many happy moments to savour on those International weekends. One of the funniest occasions was when a bunch of the boys were approaching the famous ‘Crown Bar’ in Belfast City, calling there for the traditional ‘Irish stew’ and a jar of the ‘black stuff,’ when who should walk down the street but Jock McGregor, looking as pleased as punch, on the arm of a very smart, very attractive and apparently well-to-do lady. The boys stood there gaping and gob-smacked, in stunned silence, as Jock and his lady acquaintance sailed by completely oblivious of the inquisitive onlookers. Later the same evening when Jock was ‘politely’ reminded about this very swift and apparently friendly relationship, he had to think for a moment. ‘Oh yes? Oh yes!’ he said. ‘A very nice lady! A lovely lady! She was showing me the way to the railway station ‘.

The style is ‘The man himself’. Jock was a gentle man, a caring man, he enjoyed his life, he loved company, he had an eye for a pretty girl, and he loved his game of billiards; what more could a friend ask for? Thanks for the memories Jock.

Thanks go to Martin and Nicola Goodwill for their care and consideration at the time of Jock’s sudden demise and to the staff of the A. & E. Unit at Swindon General Hospital for their care during Jock’s short illness.

The funeral service, which will conducted by the Rev. Mark Powell, has been arranged to take place at St. Barnabas Church, Pitshanger Lane, Ealing, W5 1QG on Friday 17th March at 1.00 p.m. should friends need any further information please contact Derick Townend on 01423 563469.

The Red the White and the Spot

In clubs and in halls
The sound of those balls,
Is joy beyond compare.
The scent of a whiff,
No hint of a tiff
If there’s one place to be, it’s there.

A rub of the chalk
And we talk, and we talk,
Of Lindrum & Russell & Co.
The green baize and leather,
We’re all in together,
There’s nowhere else to go.

When the game is no more
And we add up the score,
Of the loser, the cannon, and pot.
We thank our good maker,
The almighty laiker
For the Red, the White, and the Spot.

Derick Townend