Leonard Barden's Evening Standard column ends after 63 years

by ChessBase
2/3/2020 – "63 years, 7 months and 27 days", is how long English chess columnist Leonard Barden has been writing for the Evening Standard. Barden, who celebrated his 90th birthday last August, notes in the comments to his January 31st column in The Guardian, that only the Evening Standard column is ending, and the weekly Guardian column will continue as usual. Barden shared some thoughts on the milestone with ChessBase. | Photo: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

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Leonard Barden on chess

Leonard Barden was born in Croydon, London on August 20, 1929 and was one of the best English players in the 1950s and early 1960s. He competed in Chess Olympiads for the English national team on four occasions (1952, 1954, 1960 and 1962). In 1954, he was split first at the British Championships, in which he was second four years later, in 1958, after losing a playoff against Jonathan Penrose.

Barden studied modern history at Oxford, but made a name for himself primarily as a chess organizer, promoter, author and journalist. He organized tournaments, wrote numerous popular books, made radio broadcasts on chess for the BBC and commented the historic match between Fischer and Spassky in Reykjavík 1972 on English television.

In the Evening Standard, he wrote daily for 63 years, 7 months and 27 days, continuously, without any gap. That's longer and more frequently than any other chess columnist in the world. But on January 31st, 2020, he said goodbye to the daily column with a game of Magnus Carlsen playing black against Baadur Jobava at the World Blitz Championship in Moscow.

Reflecting on the change, Barden writes that the Evening Standard column has ended primarily due to budget cuts:

Otherwise I might well have continued until I dropped, as has been a long tradition with English newspaper columnists from the time of Amos Burn and JH Blake and continued with Alexander, BH Wood, and Golombek.

The column's finest period was in the 1970s when it played a significant role in England's rise to No. 2 behind the Soviet Union. 

Evening Standard front page

The Evening Standard, July 3 1972

The above shows the front page lunchtime Evening Standard story of July 3rd 1972 when Jim Slater doubled the Reykjavik prize fund and saved the match. I was Slater's chess consultant at the time, although the decision was his alone, and I also advised him when he offered £5000 and £2500 awards to the first English players to become grandmasters.

In autumn 1972 the Standard editor Charles Wintour asked me to suggest a London event his newspaper could sponsor. I recommended the Islington weekend congress which, with daily Standard publicity for entries in the chess column, attracted 1200 players in 1972 and nearly 2000 the following year.

Later the Standard's contacts found the National Bank of Dubai (which wanted to back bridge but at the time the bridge authorities didn't accept sponsors) and the tournament moved upmarket to a West End hotel.

The Standard also sponsored London junior championships, including simuls by Soviet grandmasters at the prizegiving, where in 1976 Nigel Short, then 10, beat Korchnoi.  In 1979 the Standard paid £1000, a large sum at that time, for Spassky to play England juniors. This was the 'hard bread' simul (Spassky's phrase) which he described at the most difficult of his life and where he only won one of the top 10 boards. Future GM Stuart Conquest played on board 29 out of 30.

After 1980 the Standard's interest diminished and eventually a decade ago the column became online only. However as stated in my final article, its duration has set a record for any daily column in all journalism by a single individual.

It continues to be ignored by Guinness World Records, who many consider the authority. GWR lists Lam Shan Muk of Hong Kong (46 years) as the longest serving daily columnist.

The Guardian chess column continues, with a Saturday print version and a longer one which goes online normally at noon on Friday. The Financial Times column also continues. It used to be print only but for more than a year has also been online, appearing by Wednesday at the latest.  As you will know, the Daily Telegraph has a daily column by Malcolm Pein, although this is behind a paywall. Only The Times has recently reduced its coverage following the retirement of Raymond Keene. The Spectator now has a weekly column by GM Luke McShane.

So in general English chess is very well supplied with print columns compared with most other countries, while English chess journalists such as ChessBase regular Daniel King, Simon Williams, Lawrence Trent, David Howell and several others are active authors and/or commentators. Where we are lagging behind many other nations is in young talent, where England has not produced a single potential 2650 player since Howell 20 years ago.

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