Saturday, 26 August 2017

The Magnificent Miss Hogg

Warren Maxwell, Gladys Hogg and Janet Thompson in 1978. Photo courtesy Warren Maxwell.

"Listen to them, but we'll do it anyway." - Gladys Hogg to Bernard Ford on judges

"I don't know everything and I'm not always right... but I think this is right." - Gladys Hogg to Warren Maxwell on ice dancing

"It is no exaggeration to assert that Gladys Hogg lives for the rink and on it. She has made the rink her habitat. It would be incorrect to describe it as an obsession. It is more than that; it is an all-absorbing enthusiasm for what constitutes her career; she is forever striving to attain still greater efficiency." - Erik van der Weyden


Born January 14, 1910 in Brentford, a historic town in the London Borough of Hounslow, Gladys Margaret Hogg started roller skating at the age of twelve. Incredibly, in three short years she had reached such a degree of proficiency that she won the British Roller Dance Championships with partner John Blaver. After defending that title in both 1926 and 1927, she took to the ice. Under the tutelage of legendary Swiss coach Jacques Gerschwiler, she was taught in the Modern English School. Fusing this very scientific style of skating technique with original concepts from ballroom dance, she turned professional in 1930 and began coaching at Queens Ice Rink in Bayswater on the first day the rink opened. Eight years later, she presented two new dances - a Rhumba and a Swingstep - at a competition at the Westminster Ice Rink. During this period, she also became a champion at another sport... fencing.

Miss Hogg, as her students called her with the utmost reverence, coached with a philosophy founded on bringing out the best in each skater and respecting their differences. In his 1968 book "Winter Sports", Howard Bass noted,"Gladys Hogg once told me no two skaters really tackle a jump in exactly the same way, and as long as the basic edges are correct they should be encouraged and helped to find the method which suits them best, and should not try to copy somebody else. To be one's self and not exactly like anyone else is the first step towards attaining that indefinable asset so invaluable in any kind of public appearance - contemporarily known as 'a gimmick.'" She was a stickler for technique and in turn, her students all stood out as having impeccable timing and a strong foundation of correct skating skills. Nigel Brown wrote in his 1959 book "Ice-Skating: A History" that Hogg "became the first woman teacher in the world to equal the highest pedagogic qualities of the male." She also made history in 1944 by becoming the first person - male or female - to pass the National Skating Association's Bronze, Silver and Gold teacher's certificates in one day.


Early in her coaching career, Miss Hogg continued to roller skate and also taught fencing until demand for her services became so great she closed her fencing studio. In the late thirties, with Jacques Gerschwiler, Howard Nicholson and Erik van der Weyden she founded the Ice Teachers Guild, a predecessor to the Imperial Professional Skating Association and British Ice Teachers Association, which offered voluntary tests to coaches to ensure competence in both figures and free skating. She even went through the process herself and earned first-class awards in singles, pairs skating, ice dance, instructor and roller dance. Remaining active as a skater, she claimed the 1947 Open Professional Championships in both pairs and ice dance with Ronald Baker and the 1950 Open Professional Championships in ice dance with Bernard Spencer. She even appeared on BBC programs "Sportstime" and "That's The Style" in the early sixties, introducing the British general public to the basics of ice dancing.

The list of skaters - and future coaches - who at one point or another studied under Miss Hogg is truly astounding! Courtney Jones and partners June Markham and Doreen Denny, John Curry, Robin Cousins, Diane Towler and Bernard Ford, Jennifer and John Nicks, Jean Westwood and Lawrence Demmy, Peter and Elizabeth Cain, Peter Burrows, Carol Lane, Robin Jones, Janet Sawbridge and partners Jon Lane and David Hickinbottom, Joan (Dewhirst) and John Slater, Janet Thompson and Warren Maxwell, Diana Clifton-Peach, Karen Barber and Nicky Slater, Wendy Sessions and Stephen Williams and countless others benefited for her depth of knowledge.

Miss Hogg also touched the lives of many young people who eventually chose paths other than skating. Dickie Arbiter, a Buckingham Palace Press Secretary, wrote in his memoir "On Duty With The Queen" of Miss Hogg's consternation with him when he wore white skates in her classes as a young boy: "'Ah Dickie,' she said, as I appeared on the ice, my beet-red face contrasting with the snowy leather on your feet. 'Are these your boots?' Stifling her guffaws, she added, 'I see. Well, well, how... erm... nice.' I did what one would at that age, and burst into tears. As if that wasn't bad enough, the crying set off a second reaction - I wet myself, creating a yellow puddle on the ice beneath me... Before long, my feet outgrew the hated white boots, and though I had no idea where the money came from, my mother gave me five £5 notes with which I was finally able to buy a pair of black skates."

Miss Hogg was almost single-handedly responsible for the seemingly endless stable of winning British ice dance teams in the fifties and sixties. Her teams swept the podium at both the British and World Championships in 1966. Two years later, they made a clean sweep of the British, European and World podiums. Sadly, she seldom saw her student's winning performances at overseas events because she refused to board an airplane. She told her students she "wasn't afraid to fly, I just don't like it." If an event were held across the Atlantic, her students would get an American or Canadian coach to take care of them, but if events were in Europe, she'd travel by train.

Jean Westwood and Bernard Ford - both World Champions and Hogg pupils who would go on to make great impacts on the discipline of ice dance as coaches in North America after their competitive careers ended - reflected fondly on Miss Hogg's impact. Bernard recalled, "I honestly don't ever remember any lessons because she was such a great coach. She bred into you a way learning without ever making you feel like you were taking a lesson. She obviously taught a great technique too. It was just bred into you." Jean reflected, "She taught me to teach myself and do the choreography for the pair. This also taught me choreography to give my students. Nowadays, coaches also have a choreographer or trainer. That is the reason so many of her pupils became top international coaches in North America as she trained us to do it all. I even did embroidery on my students costumes... The biggest gift she gave to all of her students was to teach ourselves. A great lady. In 1965, she congratulated me on my pupils winning silver and bronze. I replied that she had trained the top five couples."

In June of 1969, Miss Hogg became Dame Gladys Hogg, MBE when she was was honoured as a  Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. She was the first skating professional in Great Britain to ever be bestowed with the title. At a party in her honour at the Queens Ice Club, she was welcomed with a spontaneous standing ovation and top competitors and even judges joined beginners on the ice to celebrate her passion for ice dancing.

Miss Hogg remained very active as a coach through the seventies but was initially dubious of some of the changes in direction the sport was taking. In particular, she was concerned that the judging of the OSP might be influenced by rhythm preferences and that ice dance teams would end up duplicating themes from the OSP in their free dances. It was during this period that she began coaching Janet Thompson and Warren Maxwell, who would go on to win two British titles and a silver medal at the 1977 World Championships. Warren recalled, "She was an interesting person but she didn't like very many people and she would never let people get close to her. She took me under her wing. All the other kids were rich and happy and I was this poor kid with a big problem. My mother stole a bunch of money from a very powerful judge. There was a big push by this judge to get me kicked out of the sport. I was only fourteen at the time and obviously I had nothing to do with it. Gladys came to my rescue just like an attack dog. She just cleaned everyone's chops and got it set right. I was depressed for weeks but she took care of me, she brought me back, she helped me, she mentored me. She knew I was a sort of ship without a rudder. I didn't know what the hell was going on and I wasn't well brought up. She taught me how to be a good person, how to behave, how to be a much better person. I saw a part of Gladys that not many people did because she always had this hard exterior. You know, tough as nails like you couldn't get close to her... Diane [Towler] told me a couple of years ago, 'You were the only one that Gladys ever liked.' I loved her so much."

When Warren and Janet had their first lesson with Miss Hogg at Queens, Warren became quickly aware of a trait he shared with his beloved teacher... a bit of a potty mouth. "We had come from the Callaway's, and Betty Callaway was very on the ball... very well-mannered, never got upset, never raised her voice. We were doing the Kilian and Gladys used to get the more senior skaters to skate the dances with the junior couples. She got Peter [Dalby] to do the Kilian with Janet, my partner. They did the Choctaw, and two steps later, they wiped out because Queens was such a weird shape and the Kilian was such a round dance. So I'm standing beside Gladys when these two wipe out and she says, 'Fuck! What a stupid bastard he is!' And I was like 'Whoa!' especially after Betty Callaway.'" On another practice session at Queens, Warren was at one end of the rink arguing with his partner. "Gladys was right down at the other end of the rink," he laughed. "It was a public session, so there were a lot of people on the ice. She screamed out at the top of her lungs down the ice, 'Warren! Watch your fucking language!' I used to swear a lot. I would swear at my partner very loudly because she was not as focused as I was. One time we were at the National Championships in Nottingham and one of the judges, Lenore Jennings, and Gladys were sitting talking in this lounge. Lenore called me over. She says, 'Warren, Warren, come over here'. So I go, and she kicked me in the shin. I didn't say anything, and she did it again. Then she says, 'Gladys told me you say 'fuck' all the time, so I wanted to hear you say it!' One time, Miss Hogg and Warren got into an argument and she refused to teach him for a couple of days. He said to her, "I don't want to keep up all this fencing all the time!" and she replied, "Fencing? You fence with me and it'll be the last fucking thing you ever do!" I was talking about verbally fighting, and as usual, she was right. She was always right."

From the beginning to end of her career, Miss Hogg was a creature of habit. She'd arrive at Queens from her flat in Chiswick by half past five in the morning and would work until twelve. "That was her life. She didn't go to parties. Ice dancing was really the number one thing in her life. She was totally dedicated to it. She didn't have an outside life at all," recalled Warren. A life that is, except for her cars. "I've got to go wash George!" she would announce to her confused students. George was her car.

Miss Hogg retired from coaching in 1984 after an incredible fifty-four year career as a professional after watching Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean claim Great Britain's first Olympic gold medal in ice dance. She passed away in London at the age of seventy five just one year later.

Posthumously, Miss Hogg was finally inducted into the World Figure Skating Hall Of Fame in 1999.
Benjamin T. Wright, former chairman of ISU Technical Committee and ISU and USFSA historian remembered, "She was the dominant dance coach... She was THE coach." In her 1992 book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves noted, "She used her technical and competitive experience on rollers to groom her pupils in a new way, exposing them to media attention and exhibitions and smaller competitions... After making her pupils powerful skaters with deep edges and excellent, close technique, she added an intangible 'plus' quality to draw in the judges and spectators, right down to the costuming. She learned from Courtney Jones how to dress skaters and colour their hair to match the theme and music. The 'packaging' concept worked. If skaters looked good, judges treated them as if they were good. She blended clarity of explanation, patience, understanding, and firm discipline in her teaching. Her pupils did not waste time."

Warren Maxwell felt it was important to stress that the way in which Miss Hogg is often portrayed historically as a tough taskmaster who didn't progress with the times is in no way accurate. He recalled, "She had such a hard exterior, but she had a soft heart. I would describe her as the fountainhead of ice dancing. She made ice dancing was it is, and everyone else is just an extension of that... and I'd say that even if she wasn't my coach. Most people saw her as a severe, military type coach but if you got under the skin a little bit, she was amazingly interesting. She was sort of intellectually curious. You could really talk to her about things... If you could see the way that Demmy and Westwood danced, the way that Courtney Jones danced, the way Towler and Ford danced, saw the way that we danced and then saw the way Torvill and Dean danced - who were taught by Betty Callaway who was taught by her - she had to be very progressive to coach people through all of those times. There were no choreographers in ice dancing in those days. We all did our own music and choreography and she would sort of help you and tell you what to change. We all thought we were so damn smart doing our own choreography but she was the one manipulating the program to suit the judges. I remember sitting down with her at our very first European Championships in Zagreb... wondering why our marks were so low.  I didn't know about all of the politics and the bullshit and I got angry. She calmed me down and after that, Gladys and I sat and watched every single practice. Back in London, she admitted the Russian style was overcoming ours and that the Russian style - because of both politics and the fact it's more pleasing - is going to be ascending. She said, 'Our judges are never going to change. So when you choreograph, you're going to have to choreograph two different free dances... One for Great Britain and one for international judges... and she walked me through how to do that. As successful as Gladys had been, she always saw what was coming. She was always a person to put her couples in a place where we could be slightly ahead of the trends of the time, which was pretty strong for an older lady who had been doing things the same way for a very long time. It says a lot about how she thought."

Although perhaps not as well known to North American audiences, Miss Hogg remains to this day one of the most influential coaches that figure skating has ever known and the gratitude that we as supporters of the sport owe to her legacy is just immeasurable.

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6 comments:

  1. My husband, Jon Lane, was on the British team with his partner Janet Sawbidge, when they achieved the Grand Slam in Geneva in 1968, along with Ford/Towler and Suddick/Cannon. Miss Hogg was at the the event and the following morning she gave them all shit because the press wouldn't leave her alone. "You all shouldn't be so bloody famous" was her parting shot. She always used to tell us we needed a "long, low, centering movement" in our programs. No one actually knew what that was, but we would all potter off and try and do it, with varying degrees of success. We still say that to our students when we do choreo, with exactly the same result! Miss Hogg, was, as everyone says, a genius, particularly at getting you to think for yourself. Although she never really mentored anyone in coaching, she was really doing that all the time, and her work and ideas are still being passed on by her students. We were so lucky to have her.

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    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your memories of her Carol! I think the fact that she let her students pick their own music and do their own choreography was absolutely genius. The number of her students who went on to become fantastic coaches and choreographers as a result is staggering. I'm not surprised by the "You all shouldn't be so bloody famous" quote... Warren told me she was notoriously camera shy and they pretty much had to tie her down to get her glammed up for the photo shoot the picture at the top was taken for. Hilarious about the "long, low, centering movement"... I'll be looking for it in everyone's programs now. ;)

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  2. Ryan thank you so much for this. Having recently seen glimpses of Gladys in the K&C of some old competition footage I have, this is wonderful to read. She certainly was quite a character! Loving your work as ever! Frazer

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    1. You're so welcome! Had wanted to do something on her for a long time and glad I finally got around to it. Super interesting woman! :)

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  3. ‪My husband Robin Jones was British Men's Champion 1960-62, 6th Europeans, 12th Worlds & Olympics. We won British & World Professional Ice Dance Championships 1963-64. Miss Hogg not only taught you to skate but taught you how to teach as well and for that I will be forever grateful.‬

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing Heather - So many people seem to say that - she was quite the coach and person!

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