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Bernard Ford: In Memoriam

British Ice Skating is sad to announce the passing of skating legend Bernard Ford on April 5th 2023. A four-time ice dance World Champion with his partner Diane Towler, Ford continued to contribute to the sport as a coach, consultant, judge and more, long after he stopped competing. Our deepest sympathies to all those affected by his loss.

Bernard Ford 1947-2023

Bernard Albert Ford was born in Birmingham on 27th September 1947. He was brought up in Saltley, Birmingham, where his mother, Elsie had a shop. He began skating at the early age of four and passed his first test at age eight.

Bernard started his competitive career, like most skaters, in regular club competitions. Among his contemporaries were John Curry and Janet Sawbridge and it was a source great pride to Bernie that he often beat John Curry in competition in those early childhood days.

It was not long before he was competing in Open competitions and we know that by the time he was 8 years old he travelled to London for the Wembley Opens, following that by competing there most years. However, although a good free skater, he always lacked confidence in singles competition and, in his teens, decided to try ice dancing. This was a truly momentous decision.

Whilst he was still a pupil at King Edward VI School, Birmingham, his parents took him to London and the great coach Gladys Hogg, at Queen's. Miss Hogg partnered him with Diane Towler quite soon after and so began a skating partnership phenomenon. From this point I cannot mention Bernard without including Diane Towler. This partnership was so good that within 4 years their dedication would see them emerge as World Champions.

At first, Bernard’s parents would drive him to London after school on Friday’s. This was before we had a motorway network and so the journey took some time. He not only spent the weekend training with Diane but he also had to fit in his homework. After completing his GCE “O” Levels, he moved to London and lodged with Diane’s family. To enable his career to progress Bernard's parents eventually decided to sell their house in Birmingham and moved to London, where they both had two or three jobs to support his skating.

In the 1964 British Championships they placed 4th but as Ian Phillips and Marjorie McCoy retired they were unexpectedly propelled into the The World Championships and finished 13th in a competition they could not have expected to even compete.

In those days the Championships consisted of four compulsory dances and a free dance. The OSP and three compulsory dances was not introduced until 1968. 1965 was the first of many special years for the pair. They placed 3rd in the British Championships and amazed us all by finishing 4th in both The European and World Championships. In Moscow They received the most applause of the night for their free dance, which placed 2nd, giving the 4th place overall. An indication that so much more was to come and, in fact, that was the last time they finished in anything other than first place in amateur or professional competition.

From this point on Bernard and Diane contributed to the evolution of ice dancing by bringing innovation, expression and musical interpretation to Ice Dance and forever changed the direction of the discipline. The couple introduced twizzles, dance spins and lifts to their free dance. Although some of these moves had been seen in professional competition they had not been tried in amateur competition, having not previously been allowed. Not only did they introduce new moves and holds to Ice Dance but also non-traditional music and costumes, their brightly coloured co-ordinating costumes were innovative in ice dance and influenced all who were to follow them. They were truly trendsetters. The two went on to dominate world ice dancing over the next four years. It was not unusual to see marks of 6.0 awarded to their free dances at European and World level. Their 1967 “Zorba the Greek” free dance remains one of the greatest ever free dance programmes. By todays’ standards maybe not unusual but in 1967 the like had not been witnessed before. (You can see for yourself by viewing “Zorba the Greek” on The floskate YouTube Channel) This was not only innovative at the time but established new horizons in ice dance.

What was also remarkable was that Bernard and Diane were accustomed to indoor skating whilst most of the European and World Championships were skated on outdoor rinks. In the case of the Davos Championships there had even been a fall of snow that covered the ice but they were able to master complete control nevertheless.

In 1968 they came away as winners when Ice Dance was a demonstration sport at the Winter Olympics Games, in Grenoble. After the 1969 World Championships Bernard and Diane toured with “Zorba” and other exhibition numbers such as the intricate “Mame” but in the amateur world they had nothing left to win and after lucrative offers following the tour the two turned professional in April 1969.

They did not stop competing though and went on to win The World Professional title that year. They both began a coaching career at Streatham despite reputed offers of £100,000 to skate in America. Show skating was next on the agenda. They appeared in Jack and The Beanstalk at Wembley in 1970 but although Bernard loved the pull of show skating, Diane knew that show skating held no interest for her and wanted to further her career in coaching.

This meant Bernard needed to re-think his career path and in 1970, he emigrated to Canada for a coaching position at The Cricket and Granite Clubs, in Toronto. Thus a new and successful career began. In the years that followed Bernard built a reputation as coach and choreographer and was the recipient of many coaching awards.

Bernard took Tracy Wilson and Rob McCall to the World Championship bronze medal before relocating to Seattle, USA, where the pupils he coached reached US nationals and World Championships but Canada still lured and in the early 2000’s he returned to Canada and made his home in Edmonton, Alberta.

Bernard had not only been coach and choreographer but a judge in professional competitions, a writer of articles on skating, and a consultant in Ice Dance to Skate Canada and the ISU Dance Technical Committee. He ran numerous summer schools, was instrumental in restructuring the Canadian Ice Dance Test System, and established The National Ice Dance Centre of Canada.

With Diane Towler, Bernard won four British, four European and four World Championships.

He was inducted into The World Figure Skating Hall of Fame, The Skate Canada Hall of Fame, The Richmond Hill Sports Hall of Fame (Canada) and The British Skating Hall of Fame.

He received and MBE from Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II in 1970.

Great achievements for the boy for Birmingham.

Bernard Ford died of a myocardial event in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada on 5th April 2023 aged 75.

His funeral will take place at a date to be arranged in Richmond Hill Ontario Canada.

Elaine Hooper

BIS Historian

April 2023

Many thanks to Ryan Stevens, Phil Hayes, Frazer Ormondroyd and Sally Stapleford.


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