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Mandrake: Wimbledon stands accused of lying

PUBLISHED: 00:07 20 April 2018 | UPDATED: 10:14 20 April 2018

Wimbledon 2017. Picture: PA Wire/PA Images.

Wimbledon 2017. Picture: PA Wire/PA Images.

PA Wire/PA Images

In this week’s diary column, the Daily Mail and Wimbledon keep schtum and Sarah Sands overlooks Sir David English’s assessment

Whether it’s 1939 or 2016, one newspaper can always be relied upon to be on the wrong side of the argument.

It’s no surprise that the Daily Mail got it wrong about both Adolf Hitler and Brexit.

What is surprising is that it would now appear to be dragging the great British institution of Wimbledon down to its level.

Mandrake disclosed last week that the Mail had spiked a feature it had commissioned about how Wimbledon had colluded with the Nazis in banning the German tennis ace Baron Gottfried von Cramm from playing in the last tournament before the Second World War.

The reason was the paper’s executives had belatedly twigged that Harold, the first Viscount Rothermere – then the Mail’s proprietor – had used his influence at Wimbledon to ensure von Cramm was not permitted to compete, even though he had been expected to win. Rothermere – a staunch supporter of Hitler – despised von Cramm as he had seen fit to criticise his idol.

After some goading, Wimbledon issued a statement in response to my piece in which they maintained that von Cramm had not been entered that year by the German Lawn Tennis Federation.

They also stated that the country had entered another player, Daniel Prenn.

I contacted Patrick Ryecart, the actor who has written the screenplay to a forthcoming film about von Cramm called Poster Boy – he had developed it in collaboration with the late Sir David Frost – and asked him to comment on Wimbledon’s statement. He laughed.

“Wimbledon have refused to make public the paperwork they have relating to this period, but this beggars belief,” he said.

“Just for a start, Prenn was banned from playing in Germany because he was a Jew and had actually escaped to the UK in 1935 and lived with the Sieff family, who founded Marks & Spencer.”

Wimbledon’s version of events is also contradicted by John Olliff, the revered player and former Daily Telegraph tennis correspondent, who wrote in his authoritative book, The Romance of Wimbledon, that von Cramm had been “refused” entry to the 1939 Wimbledon tournament. I

asked Alexandra Willis, Wimbledon’s spokeswoman, if she would now like me to run a line in this column stating unambiguously that nobody involved with Wimbledon at the time – including Rothermere – had sought to ban von Cramm from taking part in the 1939 tournament. She chose not to take me up on my offer.

The Mail, too, is maintaining an eloquent silence on the matter.

Off to Room 101

“In this uncertain and dangerous world, it would be prudent to remain engaged within a full range of multinational institutions with growing foreign policy influence: the UN, NATO and, yes, the European Union,” wrote Mark Field in the run up to the EU Referendum. In November, after the once-evangelical Remainer was appointed as minister of state for Asia and the Pacific at the Foreign Office, he received a visit from Legatum’s Shanker Singham. The FCO has just disclosed that they talked about “economic diplomacy”.

Singham, who has lately left Legatum for another think tank called the Institute of Economic Affairs, would appear to have cured Field of his ‘thoughtcrime’. “I am under no illusion that Brexit remains a long and bumpy road,” Field wrote shortly afterwards. “Nonetheless, the task is not impossible.”

Sands of time

Sarah Sands, cheerleader-in-chief to Boris Johnson when she was editor of the London Evening Standard, luncheon companion to Nigel Farage, Rupert Murdoch and Liam Fox, and the mother of a lad named Henry who was on the payroll of the former Ulster Unionist MP David Burnside – yes, another prominent Brextremist – has been talking about who it is that influences her as the editor of the Today programme.

“The professional feedback I now receive comes in several guises,” she wrote in the Financial Times. “The first is listeners’ response, which I always welcome. Next, comes political pressure – disguised as objective criticism – which is to be rationalised or resisted. Finally, there is the rage of social media.”

Oddly, the lady who almost always makes sure that The New European is overlooked from her show’s review of the papers on Thursdays, chooses not to include the late, great Daily Mail editor Sir David English’s assessment of her. “Her whole background is in features,” he once noted. “She knows nothing about news.”

Sands lasted only nine months as editor of the Sunday Telegraph. She was replaced by Baroness Wheatcroft who was seen as a “stabilising influence” after Sands took the paper disastrously downmarket.

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