The Great Fletch
Brisbane’s Wimbledon great Ken Fletcher “the James Bond of the tennis world”.
“Think Russell Crowe in tennis whites” (New York TENNIS Magazine)
First published: 2008
This is how reviewers saw the book:
The life of a working-class kid from Brisbane who, with only his talent and charm, conquered the world. He was the James Bond of the tennis world, mixing it up with film stars and royalty, yet worried that his mum would disapprove of his glamour-boy life. You’ll experience Fletch’s charm and you’ll be genuinely moved by the mad, magic rollercoaster of his life, Fletcher’s romantic liaisons, flirtations with the rich and famous, and priceless ability to get himself in and out of trouble. Fame and considerable amounts of cash slipped effortlessly through his fingers. Fletch was one of those people who thrived on life. He is an object lesson on how you can achieve success without letting it go to your head. A man brought undone by quirks of fate and character.
At the beginning of April 1966, just as I couldn’t take the dank darkness of London any more, the phone rang on my desk. Fletch! He was phoning from Nice on the French Riviera. “Thirty-two rouge has finally come up while surrounded! A repetition! Every one of my pockets is stuffed full of francs. I’ve sent you a return air ticket to Heathrow. As well, I’ve won a diamond bracelet! A Chinese gambler next to me ran out of money. So he reaches over to the beautiful bird with him, unclasps her diamond bracelet, and sells it to me for 1000 US dollars and then proceeds to do the lot! Then a German desperado, seeing this — he’s looking a bit sick on it —offered me his VW for 400 dollars and now I own a car!”
But can you keep it?
“It’s all ridgy-didge. Dick Crealy’s got a university degree, so the boys got him to write out a change of ownership certificate on a serviette and Wolfgang and I both signed. It’s all been done legally. Now we can drive around the Mediterranean to Monte Carlo for the next tournament. I promise I’ll get stuck into them. Then we’ll hit the Monte Carlo casino in the leg and I’ll get you into The Show. This year I’m an Aboriginal Davis Cup player from 400 years ago, plus I’m playing a Mexican singing ‘Mañana Mañana’. I’ve got a sombrero and a poncho.”
How could I resist?
At Nice airport, Ken led me to an old Volkswagen with German number plates. He looked a bit sheepish: “Have you got some money for petrol?”
But what about all the money you won?
“The Big Fella was against me last night. I have still got the car, but.”
What about the diamond bracelet?
“That rotten bloody Chinese bastard offered to take it to a jeweller to have it valued for me and he hasn’t been sighted since.”
Ken was staying at the palatial five-star Negresco Hotel — “the swishest on the Côte d’Azur” — and arranged for me to share a hotel room a few blocks away with 20-year-old blond Brisbane tennis player John Decker. Then he took us both over to the beach, where — accustomed to the golden sands of the Gold Coast — we burst out laughing. “See, it’s all bloody gibbers,” Ken exclaimed. The harbour was full of yachts. One was so big it had an aeroplane with folded wings on board: Ken said this belonged to Monte Carlo casino owner Aristotle Onassis, who had made his huge fortune as a shipping tycoon.
Next morning we drove the twisting road around the Mediterranean to Monte Carlo on a warm sunny day with all the windows down and all the way, as we beetled along, he sang “The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo”.
The next time I talked at length with Fletch was four years later in October 1970. We met up outside Earls Court Station in London, at the top of the stairs. He had an umbrella and a beer belly: I’d never seen him with either before. Ken, now 30, had phoned me at Reuters on his arrival in London and said he had a plan to make our fortune. I arrived at the station with my Norwegian girlfriend Lajla Nystad and Fletch gave me that look of his which said, “You’ve done the wrong thing. This was just for us.” Then we set off in the rain along the curving street to a nearby pub. I can understand now why Fletch wanted me to go alone. We had a lot to talk about, things that only we understood.
Inside the pub, he leaned across the table and whispered, “I’ve finally come across a great rort. And you being my dear, dear mate, we’ll both make a million. We can’t miss out! Lend us a pound and I’ll buy you a drink and tell you all about it.” For a man with a great idea Fletch seemed preoccupied, constantly looking out the window as if expecting something. He was easily diverted, even while talking. No one sitting in the pub that day and looking at this sunburnt man with the receding hairline and nervous, quick movements would have described him any more as “happy-go-lucky”. Instead of sitting back telling jokes, Fletch was jittery. He sat high in the chair and leaned forward over the table as if dominating us. He had the look of a hollow man. He didn’t call me Q or talk about old times; he no longer had that confident air of the soldier of fortune. I wondered: What has happened to you, Ken, to weigh you down in these intervening four years? How come you’re borrowing money instead of giving it away? It was clear that life had passed with him but roughly since I saw him last. He kept referring to himself as “Hong Kong’s Number 1 layabout”.
“Think Russell Crowe in tennis whites.”
New York Tennis magazine
“The life of a working-class kid from Brisbane who, with only his talent and charm, conquered the world… So compulsively entertaining… imbued with warmth and charm.”
Sydney Morning Herald
“The best sporting biography you will ever read… brilliantly and simply written… as moving as it is informative.”
Alan Jones, 2GB
“This wonderfully entertaining biography succeeds where many fail — it gives the reader a strong sense of the person…Written with love, humour and without pulling any punches.”
Dianne Dempsey, Melbourne Age
“I haven’t read a better sports biography in years…as good as it gets. A great writer, Hugh Lunn …has produced…a marvellous biography that does great justice to the memory of the man and his amazing adventures around the world as he is courted by (and courts) royalty, movie stars, billionaires and the pantheon of tennis. You’ll experience Fletch’s charm…and you’ll be genuinely moved by the mad, magic rollercoaster of his life. They don’t make ’em like The Great Fletch anymore.”
Graem Sims, Inside Sport magazine
“A fascinating portrait of a different era in tennis…the cover describes Fletcher as an ‘Aussie larrikin’, but Lunn delivers a much more complex figure than that, a man brought undone by quirks of fate and character. Superior sports writing.”
Keith Almond, Melbourne Herald Sun
“A must read for any sports fan… Do yourself a favour — buy this book.”
Mark Oberhardt, Courier-Mail
“Funny and fond appraisal…Fletcher’s romantic liaisons, flirtations with the rich and famous and priceless ability to get himself in and out of trouble make for a rollicking read.”
Craig Cook, Adelaide Advertiser
“A heart-warming story.”
Susan Wyndham, Melbourne Sunday Age
“Lunn writes here (as he always does) in an easy, generous, quirky, conversational way…Ken Fletcher, for many of us, may be elevated into an antipodean version of Paul Bunyan or Dick Whittington…The scene where Fletcher explains away a condom his mother found while ironing his tennis shorts is a miniature gem…This book is subtitled ‘a dazzling life’. That is a quite ambitious assertion, one backed up in part by the glamour and adventure of life at the top of your sport, and partly by Fletcher’s colourful determination to enjoy all the other facets of life as well.”
Mark Thomas, Canberra Times
“Whether it was with a tennis racquet or a cold beer in his hand, Ken Fletcher faced life with a smile on his dial…He didn’t just embrace the experience of living, he devoured it.”
Mike Colman, Brisbane Sunday Mail
“This book had me wishing I could race out and buy tickets to the tennis…in the 1960s. Ken Fletcher was the James Bond of the tennis world, mixing it up with film stars and royalty, yet worried that his mum would disapprove of his glamour-boy life.”
Kris Humphreys, Melbourne Sunday Age and Sydney Sun Herald
“A cracker of a read. Struth, what a character!”
Rod Moran, West Australian Magazine
“Fletcher is brought lovingly to life…Lunn is an excellent scribe and this book transcends the usual sporting hero pap.”
“Affectionate memoir in an easy, generous, quirky, conversational style.”
“In a word: Ace…humorous and insightful account.”
Weekend Gold Coast Bulletin
“Ken Fletcher could well have been the person who invented the saying, ‘I’m here for a good time, not a long time’, as fame and considerable amounts of cash slipped effortlessly through his fingers…Despite the light tone, I found myself pondering the true meaning of those two words, success and failure, when viewed in the context of Ken Fletcher’s glamorous, frenetic but somehow unfulfilled life.”
Kaye Franklin, Rockhampton Morning Bulletin
“Hugh Lunn has the marvellous ability to take us back in time to where nostalgia meets reality.”
Michael Roser, Toowoomba Chronicle
“Fletch was one of those people who thrived on life…It is a book of memories, of a lot of funny occasions and yet the magic of Fletch shines through…He is an object lesson on how you can achieve success without letting it go to your head.”
Dennis Booth, Forbes Advocate