Phil Beckett


Philip John Beckett (not Phillip John Beckett)

News was received on Thursday 14th April that former Phoenix Chess Club member Philip J. Beckett (not Phillip ditto currently of Worksop Chess Club) had died the previous day. He’d not been active in Sheffield & DCA chess since 2012, but still appeared at the chess clubs from time to time, and was latterly well-known for appearances, with other chess-players, on pub quiz teams.

Phil had developed throat cancer, and died in Sheffield’s Northern General Hospital on the afternoon of Wednesday 13th April 2016.

Born in November 1952 in the London Borough of Hackney (reportedly in a hospital in Stoke Newington), Phil was the the first son of Kathleen and Peter Beckett. They lived in Stoke Newington till Phil was about 3 when they moved to Forest Road, Walthamstow.

He left Walthamstow to study maths at Southampton University in 1971. He was considered a whizz-kid at the time and had a very creative mathematical brain.  He had a preference for way-out abstract mathematics and was always getting complex mathematical brainwaves and stopping suddenly to jot them down on any scrap of paper he could find - sometimes leaving a trail of them all over the floor!  (Lynne)

Back in London, more specifically in Waltham Forest district, in 1973 he married Lynne C Archer, then in 1975 along came their son Neil Bruno Beckett (known as Bruno), and then in 1978 their daughter Georgia Beckett.

Lynne tells us: "We met in 1971 and married in Walthamstow in November 1973.  We went back to live in Southampton in a shared house near the sea in Netley Abbey.  We moved back to London in 1974 when Phil graduated.  He got a 2:2 despite walking out on two of his final exams as he'd got fed up with them!  He had given up on academia by then but still carried on with his "own" maths for quite some years!  Phil worked as a porter for Whipps Cross Hospital in Leytonstone for a lot of the time when the children were little.  (Bruno is now Bruno Neil Beckett, Georgia is Georgia Nova Manon Catherine Beckett but her middle names were not on her birth certificate as Phil forgot what they were when he went to register her birth!).  He also played for Waltham Forest Chess Club.  Phil had a very deep love of music and had been an ardent fan of modern jazz from at least the age of 16, I think.  He stopped working when we moved to Sheffield in October 1983, as his eczema (before the age of 23 he had had a very clear skin) had become very bad - and also because he was a natural rebel with no materialistic goals whatsoever!"

Although Phil and Lynne eventually split up, Lynne remained Phil’s best friend.

After the move to Sheffield in 1983, it was not very long before Phil joined Banner Cross Chess Club (which had been formed in 1982, and was later to be known, after other changes, as Phoenix Chess Club – which folded in 2015).  There was a slight problem in that the similarly named Phill J. Beckett, who now plays for Worksop, was also a member of Banner Cross.  Thus there is a record of a Banner Cross Phoenix v SASCA A match, played on 15/10/1984, in which Banner Cross had “P. J. Beckett” on board 1, and “P. J. Beckett” on board 6.
The number of ells in their first names was hardly enough to distinguish the two, so Phil agreed to forego the middle initial for chess purposes, leaving Phill to retain it. Thus “P. Beckett” came into being (for chess purposes).

In 1989 he went on a government training scheme in computer literacy, which is where he met Ian Copley. “We found we had many shared interests including maths and backgammon. We played backgammon together while we were on the scheme.” (Ian Copley)

Phil’s chess grade seems to have peaked at about 149 in 2008. He continued to play for Phoenix until the end of the 2011-12 season, thus being involved in Sheffield league chess over a period of about 30 years. He was also involved with Sheffield Nomads Chess Club, though not as a league player it seems.

Though no longer active as a league player, he had become interested in Chess960 (which randomises the starting positon of the pieces, within certain rules, resulting in 960 possible starting positions – so throwing the concept of opening theory out of the window). “He seemed to spend a great deal of time playing this as he was always to be spotted in Highfield Library playing some online tournament on the public computers.” (Jon Nelson). He had of recent times organised Chess960 tournaments at Sheffield Nomads Chess Club.

Ian Copley met Phil again in 2009, when he joined Nomads chess club, when it was based at the Harlequin. “We started playing backgammon together downstairs at the Harlequin while the chess club was taking place upstairs. We also played chess and draughts together and we discovered chess 960 when I bought a chess clock that also had a piece scrambler built in. He became very interested in chess 960 but I soon lost interest. He convinced me that there is only really time to take one game seriously. With him it was chess 960 and with me it was backgammon.” (Ian Copley)

Outside chess, Phil was a valued member of pub quiz teams:
“He certainly had a mathematical brain and kept up with musical trends so was great to have on a quiz team. Fond memories of quizzes in Fagan’s, Gardener’s Rest, Harlequin, Three Tuns – if you were a quizmaster you certainly knew Phil as he wasn’t averse to shouting out his disagreement with some of the answers!” (Jon Nelson)
“Phil was well-read (fiction and non-fiction). He had a very good general knowledge, with a particular interest in mathematics and the sciences. He was a very useful quiz team member and we will miss him. His enthusiasm was infectious.” (Brian Stephenson)
“Phil lived a bit of an alternative life, as some of us Nomads have, and was keen on radio rather than having a TV, Linux rather than Windows, late nights rather than mornings.” (Jon Nelson)

This preference of the radio rather than a TV meant that whereas others watched Mastermind on television, Phil would more probably be listening to Brain of Britain on the radio, a programme which goes back many more years. The decision to have a try himself was a brave one in view of one obvious disability, a severe stammer. “Did anyone else happen to catch him on Brain of Britain? I did, by complete accident; he was really impressive!” (Jeremy Hamm).
Research reveals that "Phil Beckett, a former hospital worker, now retired, from Sheffield" appeared on the edition of Brain of Britain broadcast on Mon. 11/02/2013, at 3.00 p.m. on Radio 4 (repeated Sat. 16/02/2013, at 11.00 p.m.). This was the final first-round heat. There was a three-way tie on 8 points between three of the four contestants, including Phil, the fourth contestant scoring 7 points. Unfortunately, another chap won the tie-break. He was in Brain of Britain twice, both times appearing in the first round only, and was thinking of applying again.

But it wasn’t all chess and quizzes, apparently:
“He still played other games from time to time though. He often tried to persuade me to learn Bridge. Even a few months ago, he and Tony Goddard were teaching Bridge to a young couple, Theo and Sol.” (Ian Copley)
“In the old days he used to talk about playing Go in the Jolly Buffer on Ecclesall Road.” (John Nelson)
Incidentally, Tony Goddard was once British Go champion.
The general belief is that Phil had worked as a hospital porter, but had retired early, long ago, due to ill-health.

Less evident than his stammer (which got less noticeable in later years) was the fact that Phil had epilepsy, and he had other ailments including a skin complaint which he bore with patience.
Obviously, Phil will be missed by a large number of friends.

Compiled from details supplied by Phil's wife, Lynne, and contributions from Jon Nelson (chess and quizzes), Ian Copley (quizzes), Brian Stephenson (quizzes and chess), Jeremy Hamm (chess), and Phill “2-ells” Beckett (chess) with some research by Steve Mann (chess).

Photos Nos.1 & 3 from Jo Woollard and No.2 from Ian Copley

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