Kenneth Gandar-Dower

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Kenneth Gandar-Dower
Full name Kenneth Cecil Gandar-Dower
Country (sports)  United Kingdom
Born 31 August 1908
Marylebone, London
Died 12 February 1944(1944-02-12) (aged 35)
Career record {{#property:P564}}
Grand Slam Singles results
French Open 1R (1934)
Wimbledon 3R (1930, 1936)
Career record {{#property:P555}}
Grand Slam Doubles results
Wimbledon 3R (1932, 1934, 1935, 1936)[1]
Mixed doubles
Grand Slam Mixed Doubles results
Wimbledon 3R (1935)[1]

Kenneth Cecil Gandar-Dower (31 August 1908 – 12 February 1944) was a leading English sportsman, aviator, explorer and author.

Born at his parents' home in Regent's Park, London, Gandar-Dower was the fourth and youngest son of independently wealthy Joseph Wilson Gandar-Dower and his wife Amelia Frances Germaine.[2] Two of his elder brothers, Eric and Alan Gandar Dower, served as Conservative Members of Parliament.[2] All used different versions of their surname: Gandar-Dower, Gandar Dower and Dower respectively.

Gandar-Dower attended Harrow School, where he played cricket, association football, Eton Fives and rackets and, with Terence Rattigan, wrote for The Harrovian.[2] He then received a scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge in 1927 to read History,[3] gaining an upper second.[2] More important, he won athletic blues in billiards, tennis and real tennis, Rugby Fives, Eton Fives and rackets.[4] In addition, Gandar-Dower edited Granta magazine and chaired the Trinity debating society.[2]

Sporting career

Gandar-Dower became a leading tennis player, competing in a number of tournaments throughout the 1930s, including Wimbledon and the French Championships. He was nicknamed "The undying retriever" for his ability to run large distances during matches.[5]

At the 1932 Queen's Club Championship in London Gandar-Dower had his greatest tennis success when he defeated Harry Hopman in three sets. Newspaper reports stated that he "had Hopman perplexed with his unorthodox game and the number of astonishingly low volleys from apparently impossible positions."[6]

Gandar-Dower also won the British Amateur Squash championships in 1938[4] and continued to play cricket competitively throughout the 1930s.[4]

Gandar-Dower twice won the principal trophy in Eton Fives – the Kinnaird Cup – in 1929 and 1932, and was in the defeated pair in the 1931 final.[7]

Gandar-Dower caused a reputation for himself in real tennis through his tactic of getting to the net as quickly as possible and volleying everything in sight. This was frowned upon by traditionalists and it was considered that Gandar-Dower "disrupted the game for a while".[8]


In June 1932, with minimal flying experience, Gandar-Dower entered the King's Cup Air Race and "soon became one of the most colourful aviators of his era",[2] making one of the first flights from England to India.[2]


In 1934 Gandar-Dower led an expedition to Mount Kenya and the Aberdare Range in an attempt to capture a Marozi, a spotted lion rumoured to exist.[2] While he failed to capture or photograph a marozi (which remains undiscovered), Gandar-Dower did find three sets of tracks believed to be marozi and discovered that locals differentiated marozi from lions or leopards.[9]

He spent 1935 and 1936 in the Belgian Congo and Kenya, where he climbed active volcanoes and produced a definitive map of Mount Sattima.[2]

Cheetah racing

Gandar-Dower returned to England in 1937 with twelve cheetahs with the intention of introducing cheetah racing to Great Britain.[4][10] After six months' quarantine and six months' adapting themselves to the changed climatic conditions at Harringay and Staines stadia, the cheetahs began to race at Romford Greyhound Stadium,[11][12] disproving the belief that greyhounds were the fastest animals in the world, as the cheetahs were able to clip seconds off almost every greyhound record,[12] including the best time for 355 yards, which was 20.75 seconds until broken by cheetah Helen, who covered the distance in 19.8 seconds.[13]

However, cheetah racing ultimately failed as the cheetahs were not competitive enough with no interest in pursuing the hare[14] and could not negotiate tight bends.[2] Gandar-Dower also caused uproar at the Queen's Club when he brought a male cheetah into the bar on a leash.[15]

Writing career

Gandar-Dower was also a successful author, writing about his adventures. His titles include:

  • Amateur Adventure, based on his flight to India, was published in 1934. In a contemporary book review, Flight Magazine wrote that Gandar-Dower "produced an amusing record of his adventures ... that nearly everyone will recommend their friends to read."[16]
  • Into Madagascar, published in 1943, is a history/travelogue, in which he reports that the nineteenth century Malagasy monarch Queen Ranavalona I had "a passion for sewing her subjects up in sacks and making use of the first-class facilities offered by her capital in the matter of vertical drops."[17]
  • The Spotted Lion, published in 1937, recorded Gandar-Dower's search for the marozi through Kenya. The Spotted Lion has been credited with bringing the marozi to the attention of the world.[18]
  • Abyssinian patchwork: an anthology, written in the mid-1930s but not released until 1949, covered the mistreatment of Ethiopians under Italian Fascism.[19]
  • Inside Britain and Outside Britain were co-written in 1938 with James Riddell. Satires, they are described as having "much gentle irony and are occasionally clairvoyant in their political speculation."[2]

World War II

At the outbreak of World War II Gandar-Dower was in the Belgian Congo photographing gorillas.[2] Returning to England, he then worked on the Mass-Observation project with Tom Harrisson[2] before being hired by the Government of Kenya to improve its public relations with the native inhabitants, producing a number of works that the government considered "excellent".[20] Later he acted as a war correspondent, covering campaigns in Abyssinia and Madagascar, travelling vast distances by bicycle and canoe. During the un-resisted assault on Tamatave in eastern Madagascar he leapt from an amphibious vessel wearing a bowler hat, carrying a camera in one hand and typewriter in the other.[2]

On 6 February 1944 Gandar-Dower boarded the SS Khedive Ismail at Kilindini Harbour at Mombasa, bound for Colombo.[21] While approaching Addu Atoll in the Maldives, on 12 February 1944, the vessel was attacked by Japanese submarine I-27.[21] Struck by two torpedoes, the Khedive Ismail sank in two minutes, with a death toll of 1297, Gandar-Dower among them.[21]

Gandar-Dower's obituary in Wisden stated that "he was one of the most versatile player of games of any period."[22] A wealthy man, Gandar-Dower left over £75,000 in his will.[2]


  • Fage, J., Clark, D., Roberts, A. and Oliver, R. (1986) The Cambridge History of Africa: From 1905 to 1940, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-22505-1.
  • Haigh, G. (2006) Peter the Lord's Cat and other unexpected obituaries from Wisden, Aurum Press, London. ISBN 1-84513-163-0.
  • Lewis, J. (2000) Empire State-building: War & Welfare in Kenya, 1925–52, Ohio State University Press, ISBN 0-8214-1399-6.
  • Shaw, K. (2009) Curing Hiccups With Small Fires, Boxtree: London. ISBN 978 0 752 22703 0.

Footnotes and citations

  1. 1.0 1.1 Wimbledon Results Archive
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 Malies, J. (2004) "Gandar-Dower, Kenneth Cecil", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  3. The Times, "University News", 21 December 1926, p. 14
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Haigh, p. 63.
  5. The Canberra Times, "Wimbledon", 27 June 1936, p. 1
  6. The Canberra Times, "Crawford Shines", 18 June 1932, p. 1
  7. List of Kinnaird past champions, Eton Fives Association
  8. The Times, "Tufton's coolness helps to survive crisis", 9 May 1973, p. 12
  9. Shuker, K. (1989) Mystery Cats of the World, Robert Hale. ISBN 0-7090-3706-6.
  10. The day big cats went to the dogs, Mark Barber, Financial Times, 5 August 2003
  11. The Times, Racing Cheetahs, 11 December 1937.
  12. 12.0 12.1 The Canberra Times, "Sport Flashes", 3 January 1938, p. 3
  13. The Times, "The Belgian Royal Visit – 13 December 1937 – On This Day", 13 December 1995
  14. Llewellyn, D. "Left-field tales far from the norm", Independent On Sunday, 20 September 1998.
  15. Shaw, p. 56.
  16. Flight, "Book Reviews", 19 April 1934, p. 394
  17. Newton, R. "Madagascar: Lost Palace of the Tana", Travel, Accessed 11 February 2009.
  18. Heinselman, C. "Marozi: How the Lion Got His Spots",, Accessed 11 February 2009
  19. Fage et al., p. 868
  20. Lewis, p. 116
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 UK Roll of Honour, Accessed 8 February 2009
  22. Haigh, pp. 62–63

External links