PETER FROST’S obituary for Percy Blandford.
Published in the Daily Telegraph 23 January 2014
Percy Blandford, who has died aged 101, was at the heart of the British do-it-yourself boom in the period of austerity that followed the Second World War.
Blandford was the author of 113 books on subjects as diverse as making Shaker furniture; blacksmithing at home; wood turning; knots and ropework; upholstery; country craft tools; and farm machinery.
His principal interest, however, was designing canoes and other small boats; and his blueprints for home-built craft allowed thousands of enthusiasts, who would otherwise have been unable to afford the experience, to get out on the water.
The most popular of his small craft were his canoes (some 30 different designs) and the Lysander, a 17ft trailer-sailer. His biggest boat was a 24ft yacht.
In his home-built craft, Blandford became a useful canoe racer in his own right, narrowly failing to qualify for the 1948 Olympics. Instead he was appointed a timekeeper and judge for the rowing and canoeing events, stationed at Henley. “There were five of us,” he later recalled, “different nationalities, in a tiny box in the middle of the river. We got a signal from the starters and pressed our stopwatches.”
He treasured his official’s medal and blazer. “They got me into all Olympic events, even those at Wembley. Clothing coupons were hard to get, and one perk was that I was given coupons for a blazer, flannels, shirt and tie.”
He also worked as a commentator for the BBC on canoeing and rowing events.
The son of a grocer, Percy William Blandford was born in Bristol on October 26 1912. He was educated at Wells Road School in the city and became a trainee architect with PE Culverhouse, who rebuilt Bristol’s Temple Meads station in the 1930s. Blandford later worked as a teacher, but soon decided that he could earn more money by writing.
In 1941, at the request of the wartime government, he wrote a book called Netmaking. Many of Britain’s fishermen had gone off to war, taking their traditional skills with them; also, thousands of women needed to know how to make anti-aircraft and camouflage netting. Blandford’s book — which he wrote in an Anderson bomb shelter — has had scores of reprints and is still available. During the war he also worked as a technical writer for the RAF, and wrote the workshop manual for the Avro Lancaster bomber.
Blandford embarked on his canoe-designing odyssey in the late 1940s, building his first craft from wood and shop blind canvas salvaged from bomb sites. This was the PBK 10 (Percy Blandford Kayak 10ft). He then wrote comprehensive instructions and produced drawings that he offered for sale to the do-it-yourself market.
In the 1950s he qualified as a naval architect, and designed other boats, including small dinghies, trailer-sailers, yachts and cabin cruisers. More than three-quarters of a million of his designs were sold; his do-it-yourself plans are still available, and his boats are still being built.
By the mid-Sixties, surfing had arrived on the beaches of Britain, but surf boards from California were both expensive and hard to find. Blandford came up with a hollow, wooden surf board that people could build themselves. In May 1965 his design was published in Boy’s Own Paper under the headline: “Make your own super surf board for £4”.
Blandford had joined the Cub Scouts in 1920, the beginning of a lifetime’s commitment to Scouting. In 2000 the movement had to create a unique award to mark his 80 years’ continuous membership.
Percy Blandford was a co-founder of the International Guild of Knot Tyers and of the Canoe Camping Club, a forerunner of the British Canoe Union, the ruling body for canoeing in Britain.
His marriage, in 1938, to Ivy Harris was followed by a honeymoon on which they toured the Thames by canoe. His wife died in 2002, and their son predeceased him in 2006 .
Percy Blandford, born October 26 1912, died January 10 2014