Jack Besford

Biographical information

RolesCompeted in Olympic Games
Full nameJohn Charles Preston "Jack"•Besford
Used nameJack•Besford
Born30 January 1911 in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, England (GBR)
Died26 February 1993 in Jávea, Alicante (ESP)
AffiliationsSouth Manchester Swimming Club, Manchester (GBR) / Brighton SC, Brighton (GBR)
NOC Great Britain


In 1927, at the age of 16, Jack Besford was the number one backstroke swimmer in Britain. That year, he won the first of seven national 150-yard backstroke titles between then and 1936. The next man to win seven such titles was John Brockway in 1955. In addition to winning the title seven times, Besford was also runner-up four times, in 1926, 1929 and 1933-34.

Besford, who studied to be a dentist at Manchester University, appeared at two Olympics, 1928 and 1936. In between he finished third in the British Empire Games 100 yards backstroke in 1930. Four years later he won the silver medal and added another bronze in the 3x110 yards medley relay with Mickey Ffrench-Williams and Alan Summers. Also in 1934, Besford won the 100 metres backstroke gold medal at the European Championships in Magdeburg, and he brought home with him the extremely large Hitler Trophy.

The unique trophy was commissioned by the German Chancellor Adolf Hitler, who was so confident that the German Ernst Küppers would win the gold medal. The trophy, a model of a bronze eagle standing over 2-feet tall (61cm) and weighing around one hundredweight (51kg), was to be presented to Küppers by the Führer, but his propaganda machine let him down and Besford was champion. It is reported that Hitler stormed out of the arena, leaving the president of the German Swimming Association to present the trophy to the Briton. The trophy ended up in Besford’s dental practice in Brighton. He would dearly have loved to repeat his success at the Berlin Olympics two years later, but unfortunately he did not.

Besford quit serious swimming in 1936 but made a comeback, and attempted to win his eighth national title in 1939, but without success. He served with the Royal Navy in World War II. He later taught dentistry at the University of Beijing and also spent a while living in Japan before returning to Brighton. Besford was honoured with the OBE in 1974 for services to the British community in Tokyo. He retired to live in Jávea, Spain, where he died in 1993. He married Pat Leveaux in 1940, and as Pat Besford, she became one of the most respected female sports journalists of the post-war era and was author of several swimming books, including Encyclopaedia of Swimming (1971). Their son, also a dentist, looked after the Hitler Trophy and put it on display in his Harley Street surgery before giving it to the Victoria Baths in Manchester, where his father did his swimming training as a youngster.


Games Discipline (Sport) / Event NOC / Team Pos Medal As
1928 Summer Olympics Swimming (Aquatics) GBR Jack Besford
100 metres Backstroke, Men (Olympic) 6
1936 Summer Olympics Swimming (Aquatics) GBR Jack Besford
100 metres Backstroke, Men (Olympic) 7 h2 r2/3

Special Notes