Arthur Apfel was an unlikely British Men’s Champion.
Arthur was born in Johannesburg, South Africa on 29th October 1922.
In September 1936, the Empire Exhibition was held, in what was then Milner Park, to celebrate the 50th Jubilee of the city. The highlight for Arthur, when he visited the exhibition, was the Ice rink. As soon as he saw it Arthur said that he knew he had to learn to skate. There had not been an ice rink in South Africa before except for a short lived one in 1909. Although Arthur was able to skate whilst the Exhibition was running it was not until the following year that the Wembley Ice rink was opened in Springfield and then he could really get started.
He quickly progressed but there was no test or competition structure in South Africa so to progress he knew that he would have to travel abroad. To that end, in 1938, only 2 years after he had first set foot on the ice, Arthur sailed to England, rented a room in Park Road Twickenham, and began training with Arnold Gerschwiler at Richmond.
Arthur’s skating developed well and he was renowned for his spinning ability, something he later put to good use. Between October 1938 and March 1939 Arthur passed all of the NSA tests up to silver and was competing regularly.
Following the war Arthur was ready to compete as soon as the first competitions recommenced and although it would be fair to say that most of the British men had either not yet been demobbed or had, sadly, not returned from the war there were entrants and so the Championship was able to take place with Arthur taking first place to become the first South African man to win the Swedish Cup.
However, it was not just the British Championships in which he was a force to be reckoned with. The following year he just missed out on a podium place when he finished 4th in the European Championships but took the bronze medal in the World Championships behind Arnold Gerschwiler’s nephew, Hans, who also trained at Richmond with his uncle, and the great American skater Dick Button. His amateur competitive career was short lived though.
Ice rinks were beginning to open in South Africa and Arthur saw an opportunity to make a career in skating at home and so, in 1948, he turned professional and returned to South Africa to teach. At the same time, though, he was perfecting a show routine and for this he partnered Leah Rom and the two gave show performances as pairs skaters on stilts!
So successful was this partnership that they came to the attention of Tom Arnold, who produced ice shows in the UK and it was not long before Arthur was back in the UK, this time with his partner, appearing in” Humpty Dumpty On Ice”.
In the meantime, show skating in South Africa had become very popular and Arthur realised that he could make a good living at home. He made use of his spinning ability and billed himself as “The Fastest Spinner in the World”. He covered himself in gold for the routine and performed and perfected it over many years until his retirement.
He was very proud of teaching his son Julian to skate ate at only 18 months old and also taught many other South African skaters to perfect their spins.
Arthur retired to the Queenshaven retirement in South Hills, where he was very willing to talk to any of us skating researchers from all over the world by telephone or correspondence.
Arthur Apfel died on September 15th 2017 Aged 94.