Farewell to Basil Henson 1925 to 2017
Basil Henson was not the world's greatest Real Tennis, but he did have one faithful supporter. He regularly took his dog to sit in the Dedans, who faithfully barked whenever Basil played a backhand volley.
Basil was hugely enthusiastic when he took up the sport just before his fiftieth birthday and played on most of the 40-plus courts throughout the world. Visits to the US, Australia and France were planned so as to partake in another match at another venue. He became a key administrator and, through the handicap system, continued competing until he reached 90.
Basil was a very charming man, comfortable with his own values, who raised funds for young people to participate, but self-denigrating on court. In his red Dunlop Flash tennis shoes, he cut a distinctive figure. He was a founder member of the Dedanists Society, supporting junior development.
Aside from Hatfield and Lord's, Henson enjoyed Hampton Court. He also enjoyed appearing at Queen's Club in west London when he was not at Lord's. The amount of time he spent on the game had a bearing on where he lived: Hatfield and, after the death of his wife, a flat in Primrose Hill, close to the MCC.
Basil Howard Henson grew up in Brighton. Educated at Royal Russell School in Croydon, he subsequently undertook his National Service in the Fleet Air Arm before attending the London School of Economics. His contemporaries included the future cabinet ministers Reg Prentice, a great friend, and John Stonehouse; and his lecturers included Professor Harold Laski and Ralph Miliband. These left-wing figures had little influence on his politics; Basil was a staunch Conservative. He worked for the Commonwealth Relations Office, and was subsequently a banker for Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China, and worked for the Federation of British Industries and the City & Guilds of London Institute.
Basil's wife, Jill Hine, whom he met in 1966, had worked at Bletchley Park during the war; they married the next year. She accompanied him on a trip to France so that he could complete his full set of courts. Henson's final appearance on court was in a doubles match at Hatfield, two days after his 90th birthday.