Bernard Cafferty – 30 years at his Post!
by Steve Giddins
This issue (December 2010) marks 30 years of continuous editorial involvement with the BCM for our Associate Editor, Bernard Cafferty. One Sunday at the end of October, I journeyed to Hastings to meet Bernard. Sitting in his book-crowded, seafront flat, overlooking the charred remains of the recently-destroyed Hastings Pier, he told me about his long association with our magazine.
Bernard, many congratulations on such a splendid anniversary! Thirty years is a long time in any role, especially nowadays. How did you come to be Editor of the BCM originally?
I came right at the end of 1980. The magazine was just celebrating its centenary, but it was a period of crisis. Brian Reilly had been owner and editor for over 3O years, and had always envisaged retiring at some stage and having his son Freddy take over. This was actually a slightly dubious business plan, because for all his skills with typesetting and photography, I don’t think Freddy knew much about the chess world, although he had knocked around in it for years. However, it all became irrelevant, because Freddy led a rather self-indulgent life, according to Brian, and did not look after his health at all. Tragically, in June 1980, he died on the operating table, during routine heart surgery, only just 50 years old. This threw the whole future of the BCM into doubt, just as had been the case in 1920, when RC Griffith and a group of London colleagues saved the magazine, following the retirement of IM Brown. When I first came to Hastings to join the BCM,I lodged with Brian Reilly for a time, and I became steeped in the history of the magazine from many conversations with him.
So were you approached to take over?
No, the job was advertised in late 1980 and I applied. I had been a contributor on and off, but over the years, I had been much more associated with BH Wood’s magazine.
Yes, my recollection was that when I subscribed to it around 1973-4, your were a regular in that magazine. You were living in Birmingham then?
Yes, I often met BH Wood in local competitions, as Birmingham and Sutton Coldfield are only about seven miles apart. I even had a long-term aspiration to be editor of
the magazine, but BH soldiered on and on! So it was quite out of the blue that I saw this BCM advert in late 1980 and thought it was a job description that suited me. In effect, I think only Stewart Reuben and George Botterill expressed an interest in the job, apart from one other person, Andrew Teal of Halifax, who became the typesetter. He was interviewed, but it was suggested that his chess background was not adequate to be editor. I was interviewed by the board and appointed. I don’t think either Reuben or Botterill were very keen to relocate to the south coast, and possibly they didn’t like the salary either. To tell the truth, I didn’t particularly want to relocate either, but there you are, I did so and now I am very happy here.
Prior to that you were a freelancer?
Yes, I was a translator and writer. I had done this for about 10 years. I had been teaching Russian and maths in a Birmingham grammar school before that, but the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 killed the study of Russian, and I decided I
had to up sticks and make a career in chess. I
did that in 1970. So I did ten years of being
self-employed, which had its ups and downs.
The Fischer boom was very goodfor chess, of
course, and gave rise to the “English
“We were not quite Gutenberg, but
we were pretty close!”
Chess Explosion”. The whole period when I
was editor, in the 198os, was really the high
point of that English chess explosion.
So when you came in, Brian retired as
editor, and also as owner?
Brian didn’t retire as editor until August 1981. We worked in tandem between Jan-Aug 1981. I was officially Deputy Editor, although I was already doing most of the work. I played in the British Championship in August 1981, my last appearance, and Brian then retired as editor and took the title of Consultant, remaining on the board for some years afterwards.
As to ownership, Freddy’s death meant that Brian could not pass the business to him, so in late 1980, he sold it to the then BCF. David Anderton was the main person on their side, who pushed the matter. I was given the undertaking that there wouldn’t be editorial interference from the BCF. That was achieved most of the time, let’s say!
And during your time, the magazine was typeset in traditional fashion?
Yes, Andrew Teal was doing it up in Halifax. I visited him twice, but otherwise it was all done by post and telephone, and then later on, by fax.
So how did it work? You sent typewritten sheets to and fro in the post?
[Laughs]. Yes! That was the old technology. One sent typed sheets to the typesetter, who sent back very long sheets called galley proofs, which were much longer than an 44 sheet, and then you got busy with scissors and paste and made up the pages yourself. That was the old technique I learned from Brian. By 1990, it was all old-fashioned and gave way to modern-style desktop publishing, but it was fascinating stuff to do.
So when Stephen Fry made his TV programme last year about the Gutenberg press, it must have brought back some memories?
Oh yes! We were not quite Gutenberg, but we were pretty close. And of course, in those days, the print unions had a strangle-hold. One other crisis for us was when Pitman, who printed the magazine for us for many years, started having union troubles
in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The BCM could have come to an end then, had it not been for the expertise of Freddy Reilly. The magazine acquired typesetting equipment and he did the job. Pitman told us they would not be able to print the magazine for us any more, because of the unions, but Brian was a determined man, and his son sorted out this other solution.
Your Russian knowledge must have been highly useful during your period as Editor?
Well, that was one reason why I was considered the right person for the job. The Soviet school was still dominant then, and I had always followed Russian chess sources. I subscribed to the Sovietsky Sport newspaper for many years, and used to listen to chess broadcasts on short-wave radio, when world championship matches and other big events were taking place. I did get a great deal of material from Soviet sources during my period as Editor.
You did the job for eleven years in all?
Yes. By 1990, there were a number of changes in society, which affected us. Computers were coming in, and what with the decline of the Fischer boom, the speeding up of the game and QP finishes, etc, circulation and profits had declined. There was the need for a new business model, which was Murray Chandler coming in, and buying the
magazine in two stages. ln 1991, Murray took over and the business was relocated to London. I did not want to move from Hastings, as I had grown to like it here – the
chess club is open every day, and is a great amenity, although the workload at 9 Market Street was such that I only became a member of the club on semi-retirement in 1993.
The sea air is also better for my health. So Iretired as Editor and became Associate Editor, which I have been ever since.
Obviously, the period I was Editor was one of immense change. We were not the only magazine to lose circulation over the years. Take the Deutsche Schachzeitung, for
example, which was often thought of as the German equivalent of the BCM. They had some 7,5Oo subscribers around 1980, yet when Rudolf Teschner retired (he had been editor even longer than Brian Reilly had of the BCM), the magazine folded within a few more years. But you can see what palmy days they were for chess. When I took over
as BCM Editor, D. Sch. was one of eight or nine national German chess magazines.
Now there are what – three?
Going further back, what are your first recollections of the BCM as a reader?
[Laughs heartily] Round about 1949-50. A friend of mine at St Mary’s College in Blackburn used to subscribe and we swapped magazines, so I first saw it around that time. lt was just after Botvinnik had become world champion, and he remains the player I most admire.
It must have been something of a dream come true when you later translated his books and met him?
I did not actually meet him until 1994, by which time the Soviet Union no longer existed and he himself only had a year to live. But we corresponded extensively before
The period lwas Editor was one of
When I translated his memoirs, Pergamon wanted various excisions of parts that they thought would not interest the Western reader. There are bits when he talks about such things as how he managed to buy some fine secondhand furniture, for example – something that would concern Soviet readers greatly, but hardly seems worthy of
l mention to us in the West. Botvinnik was quite a domineering person in many ways, and took a very active part in this process. I
still have a copy of the Russian edition of the book, with Botvinnik’s handwritten “so-glasen” and “ne soglasen” in the margins,
indicating which excisions he agreed to and
those he did not!
[At this point, Bernard disappears from the room, and returns moments later, clutching a decaying paperback, printed on typically rough Soviet paper. All
through, the book bears handwritten comments, clearly made in Botvinnik's famously
copper plate Cyrillic handwriting.] The latter
were rather more numerous than the for mer, I have to say! I also had quite a few letters from him, but I sold these some years ago.
It is rather ironic that you should have started off by being associated more with BH Wood’s magazine, but then became BCM editor. I too, begun by subscribing to our rival
We both saw the light in the end! As they say: “There is more joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth…”!
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