James Leonard: An Obituary

Jan 2016: James Leonard was a remarkably gifted man, both intellectually and athletically. He was undoubtedly one of the best Eton Fives players never to have won the Kinnaird Cup, if only because of his limited availability due to other commitments.

At Eton, he won the School Fives with Richard Burrows in 1957 and the House Fives with Mark Rogerson in 1958. At Oxford he played in the first pair with Colin Drybrough, Old Cholmeleian cricketer and captain of both Oxford and Middlesex. In the Varsity match of 1961 they beat the Aldenhamian former Schools Champions, Guy Vine and David Barker, 3-0.

Leonard was also an outstanding rackets player. In 1958, he won the Public Schools Singles Competition and, with David Norman, the Doubles. At Oxford he won full blues for both rackets and real tennis; he became Amateur Rackets Champion in 1961, 1962, 1965 and 1967. In 1963 and 1967 he was the unsuccessful challenger to the World Champion, Geoffrey Atkins, who held that title from 1954- 72. Leonard used his fine analytical mind to exploit his opponents' weaknesses and to work out an often unorthodox strategy. Variations of pace and unusual angles excited him more than classic cross-court kills. He later donated the Leonard Cup for the National Under 21 Rackets Competition.

James Leonard was also a talented cricketer: as a batsman and wicketkeeper, he played many years of good club cricket. During the 1970s he ran a very entertaining annual cricket week in north Devon, for which invitations were much sought by his Eton Rambler friends for the amusement he offered both on and off the field.

Leonard’s real claim to fame, however, came from another direction: as a solver and later a setter of crossword puzzles. He was one of the earliest winners of the Silver Salva, the award for the leading solver of The Times crossword. With his brilliant mind, great sense of humour and gifted editorial ability, he established and edited the ‘Enigmatic Variations’ series in the Sunday Telegraph. For over 20 years, he challenged readers with more than 1,000 of these testing and witty puzzles.

In the Sunday Telegraph Leonard was known as ‘Rustic’, in the Daily Telegraph as ‘Citrus’ and in The Listener as ‘Mr Lemon’. He also produced The Listener crossword Who's Who, a record with biographies of the setters of that august puzzle. At The Listener crossword dinners, he was a genial, larger-than-life character, who dispensed advice and wit in equal measure. He was also a founder member with Roddy Forman of The Listener Setters' Distinguished Oenophile Elite.

After reading mathematics at Christ Church, Oxford, Leonard worked as a broker and underwriter for Lloyds from 1964 until his retirement in 1989. Later, he acted as an expert court witness, advising businesses on insurance and reinsurance.

Leonard had many other interests: he was a passionate ornithologist, spending one week in every four observing and recording rare species on the Isle of Lundy. He would thrill fellow enthusiasts with his discoveries. He was also a very competent embroiderer and upholsterer.

Those who grew to know James Leonard held him in great affection and admiration and will miss his wisdom and wit. They loved him for his quirky personality, his laconic email style, and his vast erudition. Many enjoyed his behavioural eccentricities: his high-pitched voice and his mounting impatience with convention. He could be both meticulously courteous and breathtakingly rude, but his sometimes irascible demeanour concealed, under the crusty surface, a warm and gentle person. Amongst the many accolades on his passing was the comment, "A happier or more interesting person I have yet to meet".

James Leonard was unmarried, but he cared deeply about his extended family and to them we send our condolences.

Gordon Stringer and Dale Vargas with acknowledgements to The Daily Telegraph and The Tennis and Rackets Association.