Choctaws, Costumes And Charisma: The Courtney Jones Story
"Courtney himself was awe-inspiring too: urbane, sophisticated, a million miles from anything in our experience... As we talked, we began to relax. Courtney began to show a different side to his personality - nothing he liked more than fish and chips and apple pie, he used to say. 'Common as muck,' he'd say, putting on a northern accent." - Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, "Facing The Music"
June Markham and Courtney Jones
Courtney and June only ended up together by sheer happenstance, when Miss Hogg (who was to partner Courtney for his Gold Dance Test) fell ill and suggested he team up with June, a strong singles and pairs skater. Needless to say, in no time it was apparent the partnership had potential. In only their first season together, June and Courtney won the silver medals at both the European and World Championships.
June Markham and Courtney Jones
On December 1, 1956 in Nottingham (after only fifteen months together) the duo won the British Ice Dance Championships in a field of six ahead of Barbara Thompson and Gerard Rigby and Catherine Morris and Michael Robinson despite a mishap in their free dance. Courtney took a six month leave from the Royal Air Force in hopes of claiming gold at the European and World Championships... and his decision paid off. At the 1957 European Championships in Vienna, June and Courtney would breeze through the Rocker Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz, Kilian and Argentine Tango and claim their first European title in a British podium sweep. In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On The Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves recounted their performances at the 1957 World Championships at the Broadmoor in Colorado thusly: "Markham/Jones, showed for the first place votes how the Argentine Tango and free dance ought to be. All five judges placed them first in the free dance... for their footwork and exquisite carriage." After winning their first World title, Courtney and June wowed Skating Club Of New York members and the public alike with an exhibition at Rockefeller Center.
In November 1957 in Nottingham, June and Courtney won their second British dance title ahead of and decided to start using their status as the world's top ice dancers to evoke change. Writing an editorial for that same month's "Skating" magazine, the dance duo suggested that the free dance be longer than three minutes and wrote: "We particularly noticed the continental trend towards a freer expression of dance steps, allied to a very strong feeling for the character of the dance... Are ice dancers getting too concerned with the correct execution of the dance steps and thereby losing the 'feel' of the dance itself?"
Their vocal suggestions didn't hurt the team in the least. They won their second European title in Bratislava in a convincing fashion and headed to the Palais de Glace in Paris, France for the 1958 World Championships. Lynn Copley-Graves noted, "The defending champions introduced a new element to the free dance: exceptionally fast timing (more than 200 beats per minute in the first movement) and footwork to match, similar to the best free skaters, and they made it look good!" T.D. Richardson tells us that they 'They are in a class apart and have mastered the art of presentation without that awful 'coyness' or showy nonsense seen alas! too often. What a wonderful programme is theirs, demanding real skating ability.' Although fast South American rhythms were common among the British and some of the other Europeans, only June and Courtney did not make this new style look awkward. They deserved the 6.0's they received." The March 4, 1957 edition of the "Ottawa Citizen" praised them effusively as well: "Jones and Miss Markham virtually wrapped up the dancing title Friday night in the compulsory dances and then clinched the crown with an exhibition of their own creation. Jones, 23, a member of the Royal Air Force recruiting division, skated with erect poise with his 18-year old blonde partner in perfect unison with him. There was little doubt after they glided through their first dance that they'd go back with the championship."
June Markham and Courtney Jones atop the podium at the World Championships
Following the 1958 World Championships, June announced her retirement from competition and her plans to teach at Queen's Ice Rink. That year, June and Courtney were the third ice dance team to ever receive the prestigious Vandervell Trophy, a feat Jones would later repeat with his subsequent partner. Courtney was dejected by the team's split, later admitting, "I was very disheartened because it was a very sudden stop. I was working in a factory. I had three jobs actually. And I gave up." He had no reason too, though. Miss Hogg found him a new partner in no time flat.
Doreen Denny and Courtney Jones
That November, Courtney Jones arrived at the British Ice Dance Championships with eighteen year old partner Doreen Denny, a former singles skater, and defended his title in a decision of five judges to two ahead of teams who had significantly more experience together. Lynn Copley-Graves noted, "Because of Courtney's job as a dress designer after leaving the RAF, training time was precious to the new champions. They practiced late at night after the regular Queen's Ice Club session [Courtney worked from 6 AM to 6 PM] and got so used to cut up ice that good ice made dancing seem easy. Courtney had been with the firm less than a year, but he would be allowed to leave for Worlds because his skating involvement would make money for the firm. Doreen already was testing his skating fashions for durability while skating and for shrinkage." Courtney had actually been designing matching costumes for years and was absolutely one of the pioneers in ushering in new trends in ice dance fashion.
At the 1959 European Championships in Davos, any doubts as to the efficacy of this new partnership were dismissed when Denny and Jones soundly claimed the top spot on the podium in a field of fifteen. Jones continued to push the envelope at the 1959 World Championships, ruffling feathers in the compulsory dances by starting on the weak beat in the Fourteenstep. Lynn Copley-Graves noted, "The British skaters always thought the American preoccupation with strong and weak beats was a little far-fetched and it wasn't against the rules. They skated a great dance, followed it up with a solid European Waltz and Paso Doble and an excellent Argentine Tango." Skating in pale blue matching costumes, they won their first World title ahead of strong American and Canadian teams skating on home turf, infusing elements of ballroom dance and trademark fast footwork into what was at the time a very staid discipline. After winning in Colorado Springs, Doreen and Courtney won the Vandervell Trophy, and Doreen took and passed her NSA Gold Ice Dance test, which she'd never taken despite now being European and World Champion. British Pathé even made a ten minute film about the team called "Courtney Jones and Doreen Denny" that aired in British cinemas.
Doreen Denny and Courtney Jones
After repeating as British Dance Champions, Doreen and Courtney headed to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, West Germany for the 1960 European Championships, where they claimed yet another title, this time in the pouring rain. At the World Championships in Vancouver, British Columbia, the couple again caused a commotion in the compulsory dances when Courtney forgot his skates during one round. Despite this, they won all four compulsories and the free dance. In "Skating" magazine, Edith Ray commented on the brilliance of their free dance: "Their program was better constructed than last year, and showed masterful composition, with moves flowing into one another in kaleidoscopic variety. They covered the surface with these interesting moves and dance steps, into which they wove their highlights. Skating in matching gray outfits, they gave a superb performance, with a seemingly flawless rhythm, although, just as everyone else does, they wasted time and motion on a few 'cutenesses.'" Doreen and Courtney almost retired after the 1960 World Championships. Doreen wanted to turn professional and Courtney's commitments in dress design were dictating that it was almost time to call it quits... but they decided to hang on for one more year.