British skaters aren't always given recognition internationally, so it was most pleasing to receive the news that Phyllis and James Johnson have been elected to the Legends section of the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame.
British pairs Skating Champions will have been familiar with the name of Johnson as they held the Trophy that bears it.
But to look at their many achievements we have to delve back into the history of British Skating.
The earliest British Figure Skating Championship, The Challenge Cup, was held in 1896. The Challenge Cup was for combined skating in the English style and competitors were in teams of four. It was a very prestigious competition.
Phyllis was a member of H D Hoffman’s team, which won the cup in 1902, 1903 and 1904.
In 1903, as Miss Phyllis Squire, she entered the British English Style individual Championship, first instituted in 1902 and was placed 2nd. Her Challenge Cup Team Captain, Mr H D Hoffman, was 3rd.
In 1904, skating for the Davos Skating Club, Phyllis was Champion.
When Phyllis passed her first class test in Davos, at age 13, she was the youngest lady ever to do so and it was considered so remarkable that it was reported in the newspapers of the day.
Phyllis was an early exponent of International Style skating, the style of skating we know today.
The Swedish Cup, as the competition was known at the time, was the British Championship in the International Style, and was not gender specific until 1927.
It was then the trophy was re-designated as The British Men’s Championship and a separate Ladies Championship introduced.
James, who by now was a member of the NSA council, was a member of the Swedish Cup sub- committee between 1907 and 1914.
Phyllis had some success against the men placing 2nd to Basil Williams in 1913 and 2nd to Arthur Cumming in 1914, but in 1921 Phyllis was Champion.
A great achievement to hav - not only having been British Champion in both the English and the International Styles, but to have done so competing against men!
She did not confine herself to British competition and we can obtain an idea of how talented a skater she was when we consider that she also competed in the World Ladies Championships, winning a silver medal in 1913 and Bronze in 1912 and 1914.
However, it was as a pair that Phyllis and James excelled. It would be true to say that Phyllis was the better skater of the two but together they skated their way to great success.
The first World Pair Skating Championship was preceded by the St Petersburg Pairs Competition and was contested by only the world’s best pairs. The Johnsons travelled to Russia and returned home as medallists.
Their pairs record speaks for itself:-
The Johnson’s were World champions in 1909 and 1912 and 3rd in 1910. (There was not a European Pairs Championship until 1930)
They were the silver medallists in the first ever Olympic Pair Skating competition at the1908 summer Olympic games and in 1920 Summer Olympic Games Phyllis won a Bronze medal with Basil Williams as her partner.
Phyllis and James donated the Johnson Trophy, for the inaugural British Pairs Skating Championship, 1n 1914. A competition that they also entered and won as the first Champions.
It should be remembered that skating for ladies was quite difficult as they were corseted and wore long flowing black skirts.
However, Captain T D Richardson recalls that Phyllis once thoroughly shocked an audience by skating in a competition in a green velvet outfit that barely covered the top of her boots, which gave her more movement. It is not mentioned whether she was corseted or not but she was a fairly bohemian lady so I suspect not.
After competitive skating both became judges both for NISA and ISU Internationals and wrote articles on skating. The great American Skater Irving Brokaw consulted them on the pairs skating chapter of one of his books.
Sadly, James died in 1921 but Phyllis later remarried and by 1926, as Mrs Phyllis Waite, she was on the first class judging panel.
Phyllis Squire (1886-1967) and James Johnson (1874-1921), British and World Pairs Skating Champions and Olympic Pairs Skating medallists were GB’s first notable pairs skaters, and we are very proud that they have been honoured as Skating Legends.
n.b British Members of the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame:-
Captain T D Richardson Christopher Dean John Nicks
Reginald Wilkie John Curry Robin Cousins
Jean Westwood Jeannette Altwegg Doreen Denny
Lawrence Demmy Diane Towler June Markham
Madge Syers Bernard Ford Henry Eugene Vandervell
Courtney Jones Herbert Clarke Phyllis Johnson
Jayne Torvill Gladys Hogg James Johnson