Engaging Channel Swimmer Remembered
Today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of charismatic British channel swimmer Frannie Blankers-Thrupiece (1917-1985). Ms Blankers-Thrupiece, who was born in the Netherlands, emigrated to England during the Great Dutch Tulip Famine of 1941 and settled in the West Country where she met apprentice typewriter engineer Ariel Garamond Frutiger Thrupiece at a Chilfrome Palais d'Amusement tea dance. As she later recalled: "I sat on his shift key and he felt my carriage return. It was love at first sight." She is an aunt - by marriage - of the late Professor Brian Thrupiece with whom she shared a deep passion for underwater synchronised dialectics.
It was in August 1943 that Mrs Blankers-Thrupiece became the first woman to break the 55 minute barrier for a shore to shore traversal of a 500 meter wide stretch of the Bristol Channel without the aid of a float. A year later she recorded a time of 54 minutes and 13 seconds - an achievement which would stand for nearly 30 years until - controversially - Belinda Evinrude shaved some 41 minutes off the time assisted only by a hard shell Lycra swimsuit and a small outboard motor. The East Dorset Swimming Association declined to uphold a challenge lodged by the Blankers-Thrupiece family in 1973, finding that the Lycra shell was insufficiently body-hugging to provide demonstrable aerodynamic assistance and the outboard motor was legal under the modified Crampston-Torquemada non-Wankel engine Marine and Riverine Interference Rules. The family have refused to recognise the Association’s findings until this day.
Mrs Blankers-Thrupiece - a considerable beauty in her day (“though she didn’t wear too well” (Thrupiece, The Early Diaries Vol VIII)) - went on to be a well-respected local celebrity. She appeared several times in South Central Dorset Life Magazine, opened a number of branches of Threadboots the fledgling pharmaceutical retailer and once appeared on Take Your Pick with Michael Miles. She did not distinguish herself during the famous Yes-No Interlude, falling victim to Bob Danvers-Walker’s unforgiving gong but she did go on to pick Box 11 which held the Treasure Chest containing £13. She was briefly the face of Helena Thrupenstein - the Dorset and East Grinstead-based cosmetics company. On her death in 1985, she was “buried” - as she wished - at sea though - in a peculiar twist of fate - her coffin refused to sink and was carried in a freak squall towards the Hook of Holland. It was never recovered.
Mrs Blankers-Thrupiece was a fashion icon whose face was much in demand in the 1930s and 40s. It was preferred to her feet by 80% of those surveyed.