Attention: You are using an outdated browser, device or you do not have the latest version of JavaScript downloaded and so this website may not work as expected. Please download the latest software or switch device to avoid further issues.

News > Archive News > Obituaries > Geoffrey Atkins (T 40-45)

Geoffrey Atkins (T 40-45)

6 Nov 2021
Written by Tracey Ahmet

Former rackets world champion Geoffrey Atkins was born on January 20, 1927 and died on November 6, 2021, aged 94.

Geoffrey Willoughby Thomas Atkins and his twin brother Robert were born into an Indian Army family in Poona (now Pune) in India.

The boys were sent to England to prep school, where Geoffrey displayed precocious gifts as an expressive, fine-featured child actor, garnering rave reviews when he starred in two West End plays. After he had appeared in several films, including two with Robert Donat, MGM offered him a contract in Hollywood, but to his disappointment his father vetoed the idea.

At Rugby, Geoffrey shone at squash, rugby, hockey and cricket. Then in his final year, noticing that the school’s two rackets courts were often empty, he asked the resident professional, 70-year-old Harry Grey, if he could have a go. He was hooked at once and practised alone for hours, mastering the speed of the ball and the court’s angles, then began playing competitively, with immediate success.

During a short service commission in the Grenadier Guards, Geoffrey developed his skills as a doubles player and partnered his company commander at Sandhurst, Ronnie Taylor, to the Army rackets championship four years in a row. He went on to Queen’s College, Cambridge, spending most of his time playing sport and winning Blues in rackets, Real Tennis and squash, in which he twice represented England.

By the early 1950s Geoffrey was among the world’s best, winning the British Amateur Singles in 1952 and 1953, together with the American and Canadian amateur singles titles.

After Cambridge, he worked for Dunlop in London, and in 1954 he challenged the world champion Jim Dear, the Queen’s Club professional, for the title, not expecting to win. Dear, a sporting legend, was also British Open squash champion and took the world Real Tennis crown the following year.

In the first of the two best-of-seven-game legs at Queen’s Club, Geoffrey stunned the world champion by winning the first three games, as Dear could not handle his fiendish underarm twist serve. He won the first leg 4-1, and required just two more games in the second leg to take the crown.

Dear had other ideas, snatching the first three games, needing only one more to retain his title. However, Geoffrey’s fighting qualities prevailed and he won the next two, to become the new world champion.

Days later, he married Pippa Fulljames, eight years his junior and daughter of the chaplain at Rugby, where they had met more than a decade earlier. The pair honeymooned aboard the QE2 en route to America, where they settled in New York for several years.

Geoffrey took jobs in the energy industry and worked briefly for a food processing firm in London, Japan and Chicago. During the 1950s and 1960s he won titles around the world, including twice taking the Tuxedo rackets championship in New York three years in a row.

He successfully defended his world rackets title four times against the powerful Charles Swallow and the big-serving James Leonard, notching up a 17-year reign.

Geoffrey only renounced the world title in 1971 when work and family commitments prevented him devoting enough time to training but he remained a revered figure – and so fit that even after gruelling matches he would come off court looking immaculate, without a bead of sweat or a hair out of place.

Eventually returning home from the US, and after working and living in London, Geoffrey retired to Hayling Island in Hampshire. There he played golf and continued his racket sports at the nearby Seacourt Club until sidelined by complications from a knee replacement. Mentally sharp, he enjoyed sea swimming and sunbathing on warm days, and was honoured when Seacourt marked his 90th birthday with a gala dinner.

Geoffrey’s marriage to Pippa Fulljames ended in divorce. He is survived by their daughter and son.

Adapted from The Telegraph.

Similar stories

Most read

Have your say



Rugbeian Community Office

✉ Email us

+44 (0) 1788 556 139

© Rugby School 2022

Charity Registration Number 528752

This website is powered by