Ray Middleton RIP – the race walker’s walker

In remembering the late Ray Middleton, an outstanding competitor and engaging character what better way to begin than with these thoughts from his great friend, Ron Wallwork. Their athletic careers were closely intertwined.

Ron and Ray rooming together in Jamaica

Ron writes:

Ray Middleton RIP

My first recollected meeting with Ray was at Southgate in 1962 when we were among the 213 walkers who faced the starter in the National 10 miles championships. Ken Matthews won in 76.10. Although I knew of him this was the race that started our relationship. We were caught up in a great scrap as shown by the result; Paul Nihill 5th/79.09, Ray 6th/7918, Rudy Haluza 7th/79.18, myself 8th/79.42, John Edgington 9th/79.49 and Peter Stableford 10th/79.51. It was the first time that I heard that loud, deep husky voice with the cockney accent and if memory serves, it wasn’t enquiring about the race we were in, but what had won the Grand National which was being staged 200 miles away in Liverpool and he was more concerned about the horse he had drawn in a sweep-stake!

The following year he went out of his way along with Harold Whitlock and Charlie Fogg to reassure me after a disappointing 6th out of six in my international debut in the Lugano Cup qualifying match against France. With the likes of Ken Matthews, and Ray winning their respective events, my below-par performance didn’t prevent GB from qualifying for the final. In the final Ray finished a splendid runner-up in the 50km and with Ken and Paul one-two-ing in the 20km the Lugano trophy was retained.

Over the ensuing years I met and spent time with Ray bi-annually on four occasions as we continued to gain selection for the Lugano Cup. Ray eventually notched up six appearances in this championship.
Peter Matthew’s overview of Ray’s career and the tribute by Tim Ericson show just what a great walker for more than a decade that he was at a time when the strength of the event in Britain was so great.
Ray’s wife Jean was like Ray, a character and anyone attending races in which Ray was competing was aware of her presence. I enjoyed their hospitality several times when needing overnight accommodation if I was racing in London.

Of course, the most memorable time was the three and half weeks we room-shared at the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica for the eight Commonwealth and Empire Games in 1966. He was still looking out for me then and it was great that he was able to share the podium with me. We had another cross-the-Atlantic stay together on the occasion of the USA vs. the British Commonwealth in 1967. Sadly, Ray didn’t get to race, but we had a great time in the six days we were in LA.

Norman Read with Ray and Ron


Over the years we met up several times at the Belgrave Seven and one memorable occasion was in the mid-’70s when Norman Read the 1956 Olympic 50km champion and Kingston Bronze medalist joined us.

Callum Wilkinson with Ray in 2021, both Tokyo Olympians

In more recent times, he was a regular visitor to the Moulton 5 and over the years gave away some of his GB vest badges to young walkers in the race who he thought outstanding. He wasn’t a bad judge! Callum Wilkinson was a recipient, who in 2021 joined Ray as a Tokyo Olympian and another was Jonathan Hobbs, the 2022 100 miles winner and National Long Distance champion.


The wonderfully atmospheric picture above was taken by Jim Coomber at the 1967 National 20 miles at Swindon. The winner wasn’t one of the three Kingston participants shown here. – myself, Ray and Don Thompson. The race was won by the Reverend Roy Lodge with Don taking second ahead of me. Also in the event that day was Johnny Todd at 2.55.26, Mike Hatton at 2.57.37 and Julian Hopkins at 3.05.38.
Lancs WC and Trowbridge tied on 52pts. However, Trowbridge’s fourth scorer finished one place ahead of Julian and so they took the National Team title.

In his piece, Ron mentions the contributions of Peter Matthews and Tim Erickson in remembering Ray’s exploits and achievements.

From the treasure trove of information collated by Peter Matthews, Editor of Athletics International & International Athletics Annual.

Raymond Christopher MIDDLETON (GBR) (b, 9 Aug 1936 Marylebone, London) died on January 8 aged 86. One of Britain’s greatest walkers, he had 17 internationals 1961-73, mostly at 50k, at which he had a fine record in the Lugano/World Cup: 1961-63-65-67-70-73: 4/2/7/8/11/19. Also 13th 1964 Olympics, dnf 1962, 5th 1966 & 1969 Europeans.

RWA 50k champion 1963 & 1965 (2nd 1961-2, 1964, 1966-7, 1970). At 20 miles he was 2nd at the 1966 Commonwealth Games and 2nd RWA 1965-6 (3rd 1961 & 1963), 3rd RWA 20k 1967, 3jrd AAA 7 miles 1962.

He set world walks bests at 50M 7:31:06 & 8hr 85.618m in 1974;

Personal Bests: 3000m 13:25.0 (1969), 2M 14:05.0 (1968), 10000m 46:59.0 (1969), 7M 52:02.0 (1968), 20k 1:34:06 (1968),1:32:57 short (1970); 30k 2:26:46 (1969), 50k 4:15:51.4 (1972).

Ray leads Don Thompson in a race at Battersea Park. Thanks to Brian Keegan

The indefatigable Tim Erickson has put together an excellent survey of Ray’s career on the Victoria Race Walking Club website – https://www.vrwc.org.au/tim-archive/articles/wo-ray-middleton.pdf

Within its pages, Tim draws our attention to a highlight of Ray’s career

Excerpts from the Athletics Weekly report (October 12, 1974) – dug out by Rob Elliott, Sarnia RWC.

Five World Bests for Ray

In a race which produced sterling performances in plenty, constant fluctuations in fortune, courage, endurance and fortitude, the most satisfying aspect of the Accolade 8 Hours track walk was the involvement of everyone present. Organiser Bill Sutherland did a fantastic job and was rewarded with a record-breaking day in all ways…everyone had a great day, but no one more than Ray Middleton.

The epitome of the walker’s walker, Ray had his finest race in a career already lasting almost two decades in the sport. Never experiencing a rough period, Ray says he was lifted by the encouragement and excitement of the crowds as he got amongst the records held by Harold Whitlock since 1935. Harold was there, very happy indeed to present the very cup he had received 39 years ago to Ray, who in turn was proud to have beaten the very fine records set by a man who has been an inspiration to all British walkers for the past four decades.

From the start, Ray made it clear he meant business by setting the pace, tracked by John Lees and Dave Boxall, the latter dropping away after 5 miles or so.

10 km splits Middleton 53:04, Lees 53:05, Boxall 53:39, Lawton 54:32, Selby 55:02, Markham 55:27, Fogg 55:50, Michell 55:53, Holmes and Harrison 55:55, Harding 56:17, Young and Dowling 56:18, Casey 58:23, Vos 58:36, Moulinet 58:37.

John Lees then took over and proceeded to blaze the trail in no uncertain manner before being overhauled by Middleton at 26 miles. The 20 Mile splits were as follows

20 mile splits: Lees 2:50:59,Middleton 2:53:02, Selby 2:56:13, Lawton 2:56:17, Fogg 2:58:55, Harding 3:00:37, Markham 3:01:23, Boxall 3:02:37, Harrison 3:03:05, Holmes 3:03:10, Moulinet 3:03:17, Michel 3:04:29, Young 3:05:27, Dowling 3:15:30, Vos 3:16:23, Casey 3:18:23.

Ray’s judgement and experience now paid off as Lees felt his great effort. Charley Fogg, walking a stormer, came into third with Harding, looking better and better, close behind.

50 km splits: Middleton 4:34:04, Lees 4:36:30 (personal best!), Fogg 4:39: 26, Selby 4:40:15, Moulinet 4:44:50, Selby 4:47:51, Holmes 4:50:01, Michel 4:50:44, Lawton 4:51:38, Markham 4:52:02, Harrison 4:53:48, Boxall 4:55:52, Young 4:57:17.

With the records at his mercy, Ray went on relentlessly. Moulinet had roared through to such effect that he had virtually caught Lees at 40M and was to have a battle royal with John and Ken Harding for second as the latter closed up. First Lees recovered and dropped his rivals but finally it was super-vet Harding who finished strongest of all. Colin Young now was making inroads after having to make several pit stops early on.

40M: Middleton 5:56:29, Lees 6:04:04, Moulinet 6:04:22, Harding 6:0449, Selby 6:13:25, Fogg 6:14:10, Michel 6:19:52, Young 6:23:07, Holmes 6:23:43, Boxall 6:23:57, Harrison 6:24:05

And so to the last gruelling miles. Ray swept on inspired, Ken never faltered, finally John Lees and Alain Moulinet slowed and Charley Fogg went berserk in a final effort and thought he had nailed third, only to discover he had to find another lap to get Lees. Closing strongly, Colin Young overtook Michell despite the latter’s last-minute burst.

The generally cold weather with a strong breeze was responsible for the many short pit stops taken by several walkers, while some ultra-fast laps were put in when certain walkers heard their chosen favourite records played over the loudspeaker system! Organiser Bill Sutherland had “The Sun Won’t Shine Any More” played just before the finish – the signal for a torrential downpour. All in all, a memorable day for everyone who was present.

Results (15 finishers from 16 starters)

1. Ray MiddletonBel53M 352Y / 85.618 km
2. Ken HardingRSC52M 645Y / 82.277 km
3. John LeesB&H51M 1353Y / 83.314 km
4. Charley FoggEnf51M 1042Y / 83.029 km
5. Alain MoulinetFRA51M 817Y / 82.824 km
6. Peter SelbySy WC51M 158Y / 82.223 km
7. Colin YoungEx B50M 89Y / 80.550 km
8. R MichellB’hth49M 1491Y / 80.221 km
9. D. HarrisonBoundary49M 950Y / 79.741 km
10. Dave BoxallB&H49M 221Y / 79.052 km
11. M HolmesYks48M 1448Y / 78.573 km
12. Peter MarkhamLeic48M 1214Y / 78.360 km
13. J VosNeth47M 486Y / 74.796 km
14. T CaseyRoI44M 1456Y / 70.855 km
15. John DowlingRoI43M 693Y / 69.418 km

50 Mile splits for the top contenders: Middleton 7:31:06 Harding 7:40:45; Lees 7:42:33, Moulinet 7:46:44, Fogg 7:48:13, Selby 7:49:55, Young 7:57:17

Our Club Secretary, Roy Gunnett was present at the 8 Hours race and comments:

I remember the Accolade 8-hour race in 1974 as an enthralling and exciting race to watch.

It was brilliantly organised by Bill Sutherland with sponsorship from Accolade (a very popular sports drink sadly no longer available).

John Lees took an early lead but by around 25 miles Ray Middleton took command for the rest of the race – walking with a powerful fluid style churning out the miles. He broke not only the long-standing 8-hour world record of Harold Whitlocks but other distance/time records en route. It was a truly inspiring performance by Ray. He finished the race with the crowd watching cheering and clapping him home enthusiastically.

In the last hour of the race, they played music to the competitors of their prior choice to motivate them. I remember Charlie Fogg (who was one of the competitors) saying after the race that those who took part might be great race walkers but their taste in music was dreadful!

In Tim Erickson’s splendid bio, he includes a fascinating glimpse into the tradition of race walking in the Post Office. Wonderfully he includes a link to this film of Ray winning the 1970 European Postal Walking Championship contested by walkers from thirteen countries.

Postman’s Races were a regular fixture in UK and Europe and there were even European Championships held in the sixties and seventies. The British-based Postman’s Walks were held annually from 1961 to 2011. See a full discussion of these events at http://www.vrwc.org.au/tim-archive/articles/Postman%20Walks.pdf.

Graham Young reminiscences with particular reference to the Postal dimension of Ray’s career

I first met Ray when we were competing in a selection race at the London Postal Region Recreation Grounds at Swakeleys, Middlesex in 1965. Not unexpectedly, he went on to win the 15 k trial convincingly, and later that year we were both part of the team representing the GPO in the UISPTT Uniform Race Walking Championships in Munich. However, that was not the first time I was aware of his outstanding prowess. On the Pathe Newsreel shown at the Strand Cinema Douglas in 1961, there was a brief account of him winning the inaugural Postmen’s’ Uniform Race around the Old Roman Walls in the City Of London.

In 1966, Ray was staying in the same hotel as the Boundary Harriers contingent prior to the Annual Bradford Whit Monday 50 km. I can still picture him coming down to breakfast wearing his tracksuit in a hotel where the dress code applied! Fortunately for the staff, no one challenged him!! This was the first instance I experienced sportswear being accepted as casual dress, now regarded as being perfectly normal. How things have changed! Ray won the race from the nine times previous winner, my own coach at that time, Albert Johnson, on what was my twenty-first birthday.

We were again part of the National six-man Team which this time included John Cannell for the next race in the series of European Uniform Championships held in Bremen, Germany in 1968. The event was dominated by the team from Romania, which had appeared unexpectedly the night before the event without their uniforms with the story that “Security Reasons|” prevented them from taking the kit out of the country. Quite unfairly, they were permitted to race in trackster bottoms and vests. Not everyone was convinced that any of them had ever delivered a letter. Might it just have been a coincidence that they were all members of their Olympic Squad!?

The 1970 event was hosted by London Postal Region, starting on the newly laid, all-weather Tartan Track at Crystal Palace. Then after a lap of the Motor Racing Circuit, we headed around the surrounding London streets. However, this time justice was done and Ray was the individual victor. He was later interviewed on the Blue Peter programme, which was then at its zenith.

Also there is coverage of the 1968 LPR race out there but I haven’t been able to find a film of the 1962 race recently.

One of my most treasured possessions is an official poster that Ray gave me after he returned from the 1969 European Championships in Athens, in which he finished fifth in the 50k, with a time of 4:27.00.

The details escape me, but I recollect that Ray’s home City honoured his sporting achievements by including him in the Annual Lord Mayor’s Parade dressed in period uniform.

Ray ploughed a lot back into sport, and was at one time manager of the LPR Sports Ground at Hillingdon. He was ever willing to give advice, and encouragement, particularly to newcomers. The news of his demise came as a great shock to me. I admit to having been quite tearful. My sincere condolences go to his family, and many friends. RIP Big Man!

.Guy Goodair recollects:

My memory of Ray was that he was the rock of Belgrave Harriers, always at the forefront of their very strong team. Usually, I was miles behind Ray but the nearest I got to him was in the National 10 miles at Bolton which was won by Ron Wallwork (75.06) and Ray finished 10th in 78.16 with me 3 seconds behind in 11th spot. The team race was won by Met WC with Belgrave second and Wakefield Harriers just pipping Lancs WC for 3rd spot (162 finished that day)

Guy in pursuit of Ray in the 1967 National 10 miles

Rob Elliott remembers:

Rest in Peace Ray Middleton. Ray was one of the first race walkers outside of Guernsey that I had heard of when I started racing in 1970. Through the connections of Sarnia Walking Club and Belgrave Harriers via Len Duquemin and John Moullin, I heard of him racing in Guernsey in 1967 in the tough West Show 20 miles walk in 2.43.35. First got introduced to him in one of my early races in England. Always described to me as one of the hard tough men of racewalking. Pleased to be seated at the same table as Ray at the Commonwealth Reunion dinner some years ago. Chatted about Guernsey and he remembered the race and the finish, going through a field into the show arena for the finish.

Ray leading Charley Fogg and Len Duquemin with French athlete, JC Decosse half hidden in a France versus GB [British Race Walkers Club] match at Sutton Coldfield 1972. Ta to Len for the photo.
Thanks to John Cannell via Chris Maddocks for this photo of Ray leading Eric Hall and John Paddick

John Cannell – Terrible news, a real hard man in racing terms. Never gave up. The races when Ray and Don Thompson were involved in were legendary.

Chris Maddocks – When I was new to race walking I recall the Belgrave Harrier at 6’2″ as big in stature and character.

Steve Till – RIP Ray. On my very first race – Surrey 10,000m at Battersea Park track in 1976, I was a bit overawed by those around me, but afterwards, Ray came up to me and said, “You walked well, lad.” That meant the world to me

Tony Geal – A great man, always cheerful at walks, always willing to extract the ‘michael’, always hard to beat, fond memories of Ray and the friendly rivalry between Steyning and Belgrave RIP Ray

Frank Clark – A great walker. Nice to have known him. R. I. P. Ray

Tony Malone – Great Walker hard as nails when competing. Great Cockney wit. Great shame. Condolences to all family and friends.

Don Cox – Ray always said “It’s a matter of hanging on. “

Steve Barry – R I P. RAY. ONE OF THE GREATS

Bob and Olive Dobson – An inspiration to Bob in his early days. Shocked to hear this news.

Bob Gutteridge – Rest in Peace Ray, many great memories. Bob Gutteridge Met WC

Brian Adams – When I first got involved in the sport in the early 60s Ray had such a high profile and therefore such a big influence on me, even before I got to know him.

Tony Taylor – For my part I witnessed Ray in the flesh at the 1965 National 50 kilometres championship held in Bolton. As best I remember the race took place over an undulating 10 kilometres lap, around which I slowly made my way. Don Thompson and Ray were locked together the number of times I observed their progress and I missed seeing Ray’s winning move. In my naivete, I could hardly believe Don had been soundly beaten.

Ray congratulated by Don, clocking 4:17:23 tto the 1960 )Olympic champion’s 4:18:31. Ta to Jim Coomber

Four years later I found myself in the midst of a race-long scrap involving up to ten athletes at any one time with Ray often taking up the lead. In the end, five of us finished within 12 seconds of each other – Phil Thorn, Bill Sutherland, myself, Roger Mills and Ray. I was just chuffed to be in such company.

Two years later I finished again just one place ahead of Ray in the National 20 kilometres championship, 11th and 12th respectively, separated by a mere 11 seconds. As a result, Lancashire WC pipped Belgrave Harriers to win our first national team title. Ray’s post-race comment to me in the mist-filled dressing room, delivered with a wry smile, was something like “never again, Tony, never again”.

A number of people have indicated that they might submit anecdotes and memories and I will post as appropriate.

Thanks to Rob Elliott we’ve been able to resurrect this fascinating portrait of Ray published in the Race Walking Record, March 1965.

PORTRAIT OF A STAR

RAY MIDDLETON (Belgrave Harriers) 

Ray was born in London on the 9th of August 1936. At school, he competed in the high jump and the 880 yards. Not being too successful at these sports he tried his hand at race walking and liked it straight away. His first race was in 1951 when he finished third out of three in a one-mile novice walk. 

Progress was slow but steady for Ray. In the R.W.A. Junior 5 Miles Championship in 1956 he finished sixth with a time of 41m.21s. The following year he began to win club championships and in 1959 at Wembley he won his first major race, the Southern “Garnet”. He gained his county vest the same year. In 1961, ten years after taking up the sport, Ray established himself as a force to be reckoned with over the long distances. He finished third in the National “20” behind D. Thompson and J. Edgington with a time of 2h.51m.02s., second in the Leicester Mercury Walk and second in the National 50 Kilos when he split the two Thompson brothers, Don and Nigel by clocking 4h.29m.47s. He gained his first International vest that year when he represented Great Britain in the Lugano Cup Competition over 50 Kilos. A year later he won all the Surrey County titles at 2 miles and 7 miles on the track and 10 miles on the road. For the second successive year, he finished second to Don Thompson in the National 50 Kilos with a time of 4h.30m.59s. 

At Baddesley in 1963 Ray gave the best walking performance of his career to date when on the third try he won the National 50 Kilos with a world-class time of 4h. 16m.43s. Later in the year when representing his country over 50 Kilos in the Lugano Cup Competition he finished first in the Zone Match against France and second in the final. Nineteen sixty-four began well for Ray with a third place in the National “20” and a second in the National 50 Kilos (won by P. Nihill). Unfortunately at the Olympic Games in the autumn things did not go well for him in the 50 Kilos where he finished 13th in 4h.25m.49.2s. just outside the previous Olympic Record. 

His favourite races are an odd mixture; any race on the track and 20 miles to 50 Kilos on the road. Winning the 1963 National 50 Kilos after finishing second two years running is the performance which gave him the most satisfaction. Ray, a very popular member of his club, has had advice and help on all aspects of walking from many Belgravians and from Colin Young (Essex Beagles). His training programme is moderate compared to that of his rivals for 50 Kilos honours. In the winter he does very little stripped work, only strolls on Sunday mornings. About mid-February, he starts doing “stripped” training twice a week, races on Saturdays and continues the Sunday strolls. By the end of March, he feels fit enough to step up his fast work, now transferred to the track, usually two outings per week with a strip spin over 12 miles on the road on another evening and strolls on Tuesdays and Sundays. Prior to important races he trains hard and gets plenty of good food and sleep. 

To the beginner Ray offers this advice, “never attempt any distance race until old enough and don’t worry about going through the field, only training can enable you to do that”. In his experience, the main differences between racing at home and abroad are the International Judging rules, feeding and race presentation. He thinks that we should have the International Judging and feeding rules in SELECTION races, thus leaving most of our domestic programme untouched. On the question of race presentation, he says, “countries like Italy and Switzerland always have race sponsors so they are able to put plenty of money into their races. Only races like the Leicester Mercury and the Chippenham to Calne can match the foreign races at the moment”. 

Ray sees no major difficulties for our walkers in next year’s Commonwealth Games for he is sure that the selectors will take into account the hot climate when making their selections. About the next Olympic Games (Mexico City 7,000 feet) he remarks, “I feel sure that our Olympic Committee will ensure that our runners and walkers get as much time as possible to get acclimatised; we did wonderful in Tokyo, why not in Mexico?” 

The new R.W.A. Championship changes have, he thinks, led to a better spaced out racing programme although he personally would have liked to see the National 20 Kilos in late June. His aim for 1965 – to cause at least one major upset amongst National title favourites. 

Ray is an elected member of the R.W.A. Southern Area Committee and he has definite views of his own on our sport, especially in the International sphere. He advocates better opportunities for the walker who is dedicated enough to reach the International standard to get his “vest”. On this point he comments, “there is plenty of International competition and we are always saying that we are on very good terms with the B.A.A.B. Well! let them show us walkers their goodwill by giving us a chance to get that England vest more often remembering that we won’t get invitations from other countries unless we invite their walkers to our country”. 

In Tokyo, he found that the walking was very good and he was impressed by the fact that the walkers from other countries were a part of their country’s team. They trained with the runners and field events specialists. The weather varied from hot one day to very wet the next. He would have liked some heat for the 50 Kilos but it was not to be. His last word on the Tokyo Olympic Games is “fantastic”.

The interview with Ray and the write-up were the work of John F Keown, the Editor at the time.

Athletics Weekly has also carried a tribute at https://athleticsweekly.com/athletics-news/olympic-race-walker-ray-middleton-dies-1039964149/

The Surrey County Championship 10 miles Walk at Mitcham on 24 February 1962. Ray is away and heading for victory in 77:26. Thanks to Alan Mead.

Alan Mead, the Belgrave Harriers historian has produced this great tribute to Ray on the club’s website. It offers a more intimate insight into Ray’s remarkable life.

https://www.belgraveharriers.info/middleton-ray

The AW article notes too :

In a bad week for British race walking, former international Chris Smith also died aged just 64. The Leicester athlete’s best performances included 1:28:34 for 20km and 4:31:52 for 50km and following his competitive period he became one of AW’s contributors, supplying news and results from the race walking world for several years.

Chris Smith RIP

Chris was in addition a towering and inspiring coach at the heart of Leicester’s remarkable tradition of encouraging race walking in schools.

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2 Responses to Ray Middleton RIP – the race walker’s walker

  1. sarnia says:

    Sent you the March piece to messenger.

  2. William Mackintosh Saunders Sutherland says:

    Memories of the GB Walking Legend Ray Middleton and his dear ever supportive wife Jean and children Deborah and Leslie are endless and so much cherished by us and others. ‘Up the Bels!’ The 60’s and 70’s were the Golden Era for GB Race Walking and everyone involved be they fast or slow were the product of the fantastic era of Pedestrianism. Ray was one of the very best and most consistent of our GB stars. He was a great friend, encourager and a real character and will be sorely missed by so many admirers. May He Rest in Peace. Kath and Bill Sutherland xxx

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