Peter May in the 1951 Cambridge Eton Fives team
Peter May (1929-1994)
If ever one player's name in Eton Fives has been synonymous with that of a legend then Peter May must rank foremost. As a pair with his brother, the late JWH, also from Charterhouse, they were- never defeated. In fact, only once were they taken to five games, namely by D. J. S. Guilford (Old Harrovian) and T Hare (Old Etonian) in a Jesters match versus Cambridge.
It was in the Kinnaird Cup, however, that they proved how invincible they were, winning in 1951, 1952 and 1953, ruthlessly demolishing all opponents 3-0, except in the 1953 final when D. J. S. Guilford, partnered by M. J. Shortland-Jones (Old Harrovian), took one game.
Possibly the May brothers were the two most outstanding players in the history of the game and other leading players of their time readily acknowledged that the result of a match was never in doubt, Although opponents felt that they had had good rallies and long games they usually came off court having achieved very few points. The secret was that most rallies were only when the May brothers were serving. Their cuts were normally irretrievable and they seldom failed to return cuts.
Peter May made another valuable contribution to Eton Fives, that of sportsmanship. With perect manners both on and off court and despite his extraordinary talent coupled with an innate determination, he exuded a modesty and consideration for other people which was just as much one of his hallmarks.
The committee, for the survival of Cambridge court games, enlisted his support and he had also been a member of the EFA Committee. Had he survived, and if he could have been persuaded to serve the EFA again, at a time when the governing body is very much looking to the future, he would undoubtedly have been able to lead the committee with a strong sense of purpose and the lustre of his name and character could have been magical to the fortunes of Eton Fives. Alas, not to be.
Letter from M. J. Shortland-Jones to The Daily Telegraph, December 1994:
Your obituary, article and letter on Peter May pay eloquent tribute to the cricketer but make no mention of his outstanding abilities as an Eton Fives player.
By the time he came up to Cambridge in October 1949, his reputation had reached awesome proportions: I went up in the same year, and with five blues still in residence there was never any doubt who would fill the vacant place in the side to meet Oxford. As luck would have it one of the old blues withdrew, and so in 1950 Peter and I were both awarded our half-blues, he to play in the first pair and I in the third; in 1952, when Peter was Captain, we played together in the first, and I have vivid memories of my earnest second-fiddling to his virtuoso performance on the top step. It was in large measure due to his play that Cambridge won in all three years.
In 1951 he paired up with his brother John, and over the next three years they were an unbeatable combination; indeed, in all the Kinnaird championship matches they only once failed to win three-nil. Thereafter Peter withdrew from the Kinnaird competition and rarely appeared on court again.
As a player he was an example to us all in his attitude and expertise: he had assimilated the best qualities of his mentors at Charterhouse, and an opponent rarely had the need, and never the time, to ask for a let before it had been offered. Much has been said about his unassuming demeanour on and off the field of play, yet in fives he taught us that successful attack is based on a sound defence. He showed a quickness of reaction that allowed him to take the ball so much earlier than was the norm at that period, together with an agility and speed about the court that were unexpected in one so tall. Those of his generation would echo Hamlet's words,'l shall not look upon his like again.'
Reflections of Robin Moulsdale October 2005:
Dick Kittermaster always propounded the theory that in those finals (Kinnaird 1951 & 1952) we won more rallies than the Mays, but they cut better than we did. It's a nice idea. They certainly were splendid games. I have a memory about lets which I have told often and may be a dream, but playing with Peter for Cambridge, Peter asked for a let, was refused and was so irate Oxford didn't get another point!