Andrew Thomas talks to Peter Holme about judo, the Olympic Games, ballroom dancing and his love of local history

Peter Holme describes himself as ‘a Kendalian through and through’. He was born in 1944 and lived with his parents and two brothers at a house off Castle Street, which had an outside toilet and no electricity.

An early memory is of family days out to places like Southport, Blackpool and Fleetwood. “My parents were not well off,” he said. “We would buy a ‘run-about ticket’, which offered unlimited rail travel for a week in the North West area. My mother would make egg sandwiches, put them in a bag and we would head off somewhere. That was our holidays.”

He passed the 11-plus and went to Kendal Grammar School, where a classmate was historian David Starkey.

After joining the Kendal Sea Cadets, he had his heart set on a career in the Royal Navy and, having passed all the examinations, it was ‘a big blow’ when he was not able to join due to poor eyesight. A variety of jobs followed, including working in the grocery department at the Co-op, for Kendal Socks and at distribution depots, including one operated by SPD, where he spent 35 years until retirement in 2005.

An early interest was ballroom dancing. “At the age of 16, with my mother’s encouragement, I joined a dancing school which met in a room above a garage off Castle Street,” said Peter. “This was the time of the Twist and other strange dances, but I was doing the type of dancing you see on Strictly – ‘proper’ dancing, such as the waltz, quickstep, tango, samba and military two-step.

“In 1963 I won the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing’s highest award for proficiency in amateur dancing.”

Then came a moment that changed his life. “When I was about 20 or 21, we were larking about in the stocking factory when my workmate suddenly picked me up and tipped me on to my back. I said ‘how did you do that?’ He told me he did judo and, by chance, there was a beginners evening class about to start at the tech college. I went along and that was it – it became what I would call an obsession for the sport which has stayed with me ever since.

“It was a complete change from tripping the light fantastic to performing fantastic trips!”

Peter added: “I liken judo to physical chess. You are trying to get your opponent into a position which means you can do something which will flip him over.”

He was taught by Tony Macconnell, whose excellent reputation attracted some of the world’s best players to train at Kendal, including GB number one Brian Jacks; Neil Adams, the first British male world champion and Japanese star Yasuhiro Yamashita.

“I got my second Dan black belt but realised I was not good enough to be on the Great Britain team. I moved into refereeing and refereed at the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh in 1986.” Later he moved into running and organising competitions at national and international level. He was the ‘floor manager’ at the World Championships in Birmingham and ran the judo event at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester.

When London won the 2012 Olympic Games nomination, he immediately contacted the Olympic Association and was appointed to the organising group.

“If you are an athlete and good enough you can perhaps go to more than one Olympics,” said Peter. “As an official you will only have one if you are lucky enough for a Games to be held in your country.”

Peter has written several books on judo and is chairman of the renowned Kendal Club, which meets at the excellent Dojo at Parkside Road.

In the mid 1980s he presented a hospital radio show at Kendal, which included finding snippets from back copies of The Westmorland Gazette on microfiche at Kendal Library and linking them with music of the same era. A conversation about this with former Gazette editor John Lannaghan led to him being asked to write a book to mark the Millennium – The Westmorland Gazette Book of the Twentieth Century.

Research involved hours poring over old bound copies. A favourite and poignant excerpt Peter found was written by an unnamed reporter, who was standing outside the Gazette offices just after the end of World War One was announced. “People were coming up to him to ask if it was true. The report ends with the reporter noting a rifle party across the street waiting to escort the body of a soldier who had died during the conflict to the cemetery.”

He is fascinated by first-hand, ‘real’ history as told by those who were there. About eight years ago he joined Kendal Oral History Group, which records the life stories of people who have spent all, or a significant part, of their lives in Kendal and the surrounding area. Their recollections are helping to create a collective history and picture of life, which complements the official records of the time.

Peter has interviewed around 50 people over the years, including some who told of their experiences during the flooding which followed Storm Desmond in 2015. The interviews have given him an even greater insight into the town’s history.

Peter’s other interests over the years have included orienteering and wind surfing and in recent years he has spent a lot of time travelling abroad.

His proudest achievements, however, are linked to judo, specifically his involvement with the Commonwealth and Olympic Games. “It is not something that will fall into your lap,” he said”. “You have to work really hard. I have been involved in judo since the 1960s and the Olympic Games were in 2012.”