BRITISH PIONEER DIVER TREVOR HAMPTON DIES
Captain Trevor Hampton, known to thousands of pupils of his first aqualung diving school as "Skipper", has died aged 89, writes Reg Vallintine.
Trevor was in at the start of sport diving in Britain after WWII, establishing the first school for amateur divers at his idyllic home on Devon's Dart Estuary, where he lived for the rest of his long life.
Even before the war, Trevor had shown himself to be an adventurous sort. From humble beginnings in Birmingham, he joined Austin as an apprentice and ended up racing motorcycles on the Isle of Man.
He and a friend become the first unaccompanied canoeists to paddle across the English Channel. Then, at 23, he bought a 27ft yacht, intending to sail round the world. This idea thwarted by his first wife's seasickness, Trevor took to the skies to become an RAF fighter pilot in time for the war.
Older than the average intake, he flew Wellington bombers and ended up as a senior test pilot. He became a Flight Lieutenant and was awarded an Air Force Cross.
After the war Trevor bought another boat and sailed as far as Spain before giving up with a knee injury.
His interest turned to diving. He had experimented by building his own scuba equipment from an old gas-mask and some ex-RAF oxygen cylinders. It had worked well enough to allow him to explore the underside of his boat.
Deciding to become a marine surveyor, Trevor read Jacques Cousteau's The Silent World and approached Siebe Gorman, which had just started making the Cousteau aqualung under licence.
He took courses in helmet-diving, oxygen rebreathers and scuba, but his next step unfolded almost by accident. A man visited his home asking to learn how to use an aqualung, and Trevor agreed to teach him - for £5. When others arrived he realised that a new career beckoned.
He opened the British Underwater Centre, the first aqualung diving school in Britain. He qualified the men as Menfish, girls as Mermaids and children as Tadpoles. Those who completed the longer course, which included helmet diving and oxygen, became Master Divers. Soon not only amateurs but would-be professionals were arriving.
I learned to dive with Trevor in the summer of '55. I had two years' snorkelling experience from the Med and turned up in an old rugger shirt which, Trevor had said, would be my protective wear! Others wore pullovers. Would I make the grade?
The Skipper was patient but firm. After a comprehensive lecture he equipped us, minus fins, and said: "Walk down the ladder to the bottom rung and keep breathing."
The temperature took my breath away but the breathing under water was an amazing sensation. Looking round I saw a fish vanish into the murk. I was hooked!
On my second dive I was told to pull my way down the shotline, clearing my ears. I would have no fins yet, but should walk on the sandy bottom at 9m, then pull myself up again.
Down I went, assisted by a giant weightbelt. Seaweed encircled me as I detached myself on the seabed, walked around and pulled my way back up.
"Good," said the Skipper.
"By the way," I said, "there's a thick patch of weed below us."
"No, it's flat sand."
"I've just been down!"
"Must be your imagination, dear boy!" The pale sunshine gradually warmed my back and I felt as if I had found Atlantis.
Trevor insisted that only those who passed the course could become members. There was no membership fee but our names and qualifications were published in his handbook. I became British Manfish No 143.
Trevor had a number of famous clients, including Arthur C Clarke, Richard Dimbleby, and naturalists David Attenborough and Tony Soper. Two enthusiasts who had decided to form Britain's first diving club also came to Dartmouth to learn more about the practical side. They were Oscar Gugen and Peter Small, who would found the British Sub-Aqua Club.
Oscar made only two dives but Peter and girlfriend Sylvia Gregg successfully completed the course.
It is possible that discussions might have included some way of involving Trevor in the budding BSAC, but after Oscar and Peter had departed to organise the club's inaugural meeting, they discovered that Trevor had also encouraged Harold Penman - who was starting up the rival Underwater Explorers Club.
This did not go down well in the BSAC camp. Nor did Trevor's method of teaching self-reliant solo diving using a life-jacket (then unknown) and a boat, at odds with the BSAC's belief in buddy-diving.
The result was a degree of bad feeling over the years, including the threat of litigation by Trevor when he perceived himself the victim of slander by an individual in the BSAC. Following an apology, no further action taken.
Trevor's talents extended to completing the BBC film The Master Diver with Johnny Morris, a classic of underwater tuition. In 1956 he published The Master Diver and Underwater Sportsman, a manual which went to three editions and is prized by diving book collectors. His first book, Alone at Sea, about his solo sail to Spain, had been privately printed in 1948.
As the years rolled by, Trevor enjoyed doing a series of commercial diving jobs, including engineering projects such as the Avon Dam and the Brixham breakwater, which was nearly the end of him. While packing bags of cement under the breakwater, Trevor discovered a small cavern and moved some bags in to fill it.
When he tried to swim out again he found that carelessly slung bags from above had blocked his exit.
He had to fight his way out with air running low and "my heart beating a bit faster".
Trevor often commented that jobs successfully completed in nil visibility and difficult conditions gave him more satisfaction than "tourist dives in clear waters".
He retired and sold his school in 1976, aged 63. Some five years ago he bought a motor cruiser to enjoy in his final years. He is survived by his second wife Gwynn, son Gara and daughter Jill.
- Our pictures of Trevor Hampton were provided by Dr Peter Glanville, 50, a South Devon GP. Both he and his father Michael, now 79, have worked as diving medical referees - and were taught to dive by Hampton.
"I remember Trevor as very confident, relaxed, commonsensical - and funny," Dr Glanville told Diver. "I agreed totally with his ethos of self-sufficiency, and have continued to practise it throughout my diving life."
Though an adventurer, Trevor would not rush in but have a "very good think" first. "On one occasion he was asked by the Royal Navy to help search for a dummy atom bomb warhead that had been lost during an exercise off Norfolk," Dr Glanville recalled. "The RN divers had dived repeatedly to no avail. Trevor arrived, thought about it and called a fishing boat to drag the bottom. The warhead was picked up almost immediately!"
A sense of achievement was what drove Trevor Hampton. "Like Reg, I remember Trevor saying very clearly that he was in diving to do a job of work, whether it be teaching or other projects," said Dr Glanville.
"Seeing the fruit of his labours was evidently what satisfied him most."