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Dennis Hunt 1931-2021

By now many of you will be aware of the sad passing of Dennis Hunt. Already there are numerous moving Face Book posts which speak volumes about how he was regarded in the fencing world.

Dennis loved being around fencers. He loved giving his advice on sabre fencing to absolutely anyone, and although he had been poorly for quite a long time, even up until last weekend he was talking about coming back to coaching. Typical Dennis!

Dennis was already an English Sabre legend when I first started fencing but I got to know him as a person when visiting Jenny in Bristol at Salle Roeder. He and his family were guests at our wedding over 40 years ago forming a memorable guard of honour. We have been close ever since. But I think everyone felt close to Dennis because he always had time for everyone.  

Dennis was a smoking connoisseur of both pipe and cigar and, although not really a smoker myself,  in latter years I took to buying a packet of a particular strawberry flavoured cigars (yuk!) from the Canaries. Whenever Jenny and I had a week out there I always brought one for Dennis which he took with amazingly good grace and we would guiltily smoke it at competitions, out of sight of the would be athletes inside. Well to be fair I felt guilty, I don’t think Dennis was too bothered. I will miss those sessions and the fact that he used to say “Carl these are the nicest cigars I’ve ever had”, rather than what he must have been actually thinking which probably was ‘Why do you keep bringing me these cheap holiday cigars, they’re rubbish’. But that was Dennis – he would never say anything like that.

Dennis career as a sabre coach influenced hundreds of fencers over the years. Many achieving great results and many still competing today. They will all have their own stories to tell about the charismatic man with very little ego. Condolences to his family and Marcia whom he spent an enormous amount of his life with and who looked after him up until the end.

Carl Morris, BVF President

Dennis Hunt was undoubtably one of the most decorated Sabre coaches we have seen in recent times. During the 70’s through to the late 90’s Dennis was one of the best Sabre coaches in the country. The list of fencers he made into good technical fencers was considerable and as the fencing landscape changed over the years, Dennis was always taking every opportunity to learn the new techniques and styles from across Europe that he would feed into his fencers to take to all levels of competition. His own son Martin was an exemplar of this as well as many others including Steve and Pete Hutton, Gary Faulks, Chris Buxton, Chris Prevett, Michelle Narey, Jim Crawford and Sam Horne to name but a few. He joins a small but illustrious list of coaches that taught into their later life (Bela Imregi being one who Dennis certainly looked up to). To be still giving lessons at 89, and possibly longer if Covid had not got in the way, is some achievement. This wouldn’t be limited to his own club members either, he was always willing to offer a lesson or any advice to any sabreur.  His coaching didn’t always occur on a regular club night, he would give a lesson in any location going, such as the back garden, a hallway or in the garage.

His own fencing career saw him successfully compete at the time of de Beaumont, Leckie, Acfield and then into Cohen, Deanfield, Philbin et all. He competed at all levels, and successfully too, right up to his recent years. Dennis’ reign as Southwest Champion down the years will be a hard task for any fencer to surpass.

He understood timing, style, competitiveness, and class, whether he or his fencers competed at county, section, national and international level. He could quite happily marvel at the quality of lesson and technique of the Russians, Hungarians and Italians but learn at the same time and install some of the qualities through his lessons. He regularly took lessons from the likes of Steve Boston even after he became a coach. Always learn from the best was his philosophy. His reputation and status across the European circuit, as well at home, was simply a credit to the man he was.  

Outside of fencing it would be the best quality clothing, fine watches, excellent cigars and of course the extravagant pipes in their many, supported by the morning, afternoon, and evening tobacco to suit! He’d marvel at Buddy Rich, possibly the greatest technical drummer ever and the likes of Sammy Davis Jr dancing as well as Mohammad Ali. He also had a passion for his dogs, Sasha, Jason and Alex and doted on them.

Everyone who knew Dennis will have many memories and recollections about his traits, stories, and antics down the years. The amount of retail sports equipment in the house would mean additional effort would be required to navigate from room to room, let alone finding his house keys. Time keeping was interesting. Some learnt the art of getting him to a competition on time, which normally meant telling him check in was 2 hours earlier and of course, managing to arrive with about 5 minutes to spare! Some saw a fine medieval door located in the centre of Taunton probably five times in an attempt to get off the roundabout at the right exit. Others recall going up and down the M4 from Bristol to the de Beaumont Centre in lightning quick time in his car, or the time of getting lost in a Spanish taxi in Barcelona where the driver didn’t speak a word of English. 

He covered many generations of fencers including sons and daughters of some he taught when they were juniors themselves. His days at Phoenix Sword Club in Bristol, which became Roeder, were special times and his involvement with the Veterans continued those special times. In the 90’s Salle Roeder was rightly renamed Salle Hunt-Roeder in recognition of the efforts and success he brought to the club, something that he was deeply touched by and truly honoured to receive the recognition.

Dennis was a uniquely special gentleman who made wearing a tracksuit under a tweed jacket and cravat something of recognisable statement, his passion, connection and legacy to the sport will live on forever, you won’t get many of his type again, so thank you for the ride Dennis, it was great fun!

Steve Hutton

I first met Dennis at a European Vets Championships in Liege in 1993. Dennis won the Mens Sabre Cat 3 competition.

Dennis entertained us over dinner with stories of his fencing career: the fencing establishment controlled by Charles de Beaumont; the sabre teams travelling to fence in Europe in a Rolls Royce; the way a hard hitting sabreur was put firmly and painfully in his place.

His stories were so well told that I suggested we write a book around them but he declined. He didn’t think he had enough material.

Dennis started coaching at Bath in the 1990s and worked there for about 20 years. He was engrossed in sabre and coaching and valued technique especially a light touch.

Dennis was always well turned out, usually with a cravat and pipe. His voice seemed well suited to gentleman’s clubs. And he had a gentleman’s suspicion of any food that was not simple meat and 2 veg.

He always seemed genuinely pleased to see me and I am sure that a lot of people will have had the same experience. A simple “How are you, Dennis?” was always met with “I think I’m alright” with his characteristic chuckle. When I was chasing him for entry fees his usual reply was “There’s a photocopy of the cheque in the post”.

Thank you Dennis, I enjoyed your company and will miss you.

John Mason

The passing of Dennis is a very sad loss of one of the “old school” of British sabre fencing.
I first met Dennis in 1970 at the Winton Cup at Lilleshall. I was making my first appearance for the North West team and he was at that time one of the top sabreurs in the provinces and had been a mainstay of the Rest of Britain team for many years in the annual match against London. He never wore a tracksuit in those days, instead he sported had his trade mark three quarter length camel hair overcoat with a flower in the lapel and the ever- present pipe in his mouth. I have only one memory of that first encounter with Dennis (apart from the coat) and that is of being stunned by a prime parry riposte with a circular cut to chest – Zorro himself could not have delivered a more spectacular hit – that felt like I had been cut in half. Not only had I been sucker punched with a great hit but the roar of approval from the South West team added to my humiliation. He was very gracious in victory and afterwards gave me a few tips for which I was grateful and surprised that a top fencer would take the time to help a youngster like me. From that day we remained lifelong friends. Whenever we met in recent years we invariably got round to talking about “the good old days” of “steam” sabre and the great sabreurs and coaches of those long gone days.
Dennis will be sadly missed by those who knew him and long remembered for his gentlemanly conduct, sportsmanship and infectious love of sabre fencing.

Jim Philbin

My fondest memory of Dennis is when we were in Martinique in 2001 for my first World Championships; I hadn’t really got to know him before then. I discovered a man with a very wicked sense of humour. No one could touch him for the way he delivered a joke in his West Country brogue – I can still hear his “church bells” and never laughed so much. But he was also a true gentleman, his manners were impeccable and he was always smartly dressed. We are all the poorer for his passing. My and Marish’s condolences go to Marcia and his family.

Geoff Silverman

I’ve known Dennis for over 50 years, he used to come to the club in Wells, Avalon Fencing club. At the time I had a Yorkshire terrier, and he loved Dennis, he used to sit on my fencing bag whilst I fenced, but would stand up wagging his tail when Dennis came in the room, and in breaks used to play outside with Dennis’s dog an Alsatian, just one of many memories.

Sue Benney

I first met Dennis when we were in the South-West winning team at the 1968 Winton Cup. Although we fenced different weapons, he was always a friendly and encouraging presence. Later, his classical style of sabre dominated the early years of the veterans’ sabre championships, where he won four of the first five events, and earned him the first European Cat 3 and Commonwealth titles.
Socially, he emanated a warmth that always made him a pleasure to talk to and his distinctive West Country burr seemed to come from the very limestone crags that surrounded his Bristol homeland. He will be much missed.

Malcolm Fare

He was an absolute gent, a legend, a fantastic coach and one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Rest in peace old boy xxxThoughts are with Marcia and his family and friends ?

Jim Crawfurd (taken from Facebook)

An immeasurably good man, a legend of our sport, and a kind and generous coach. I’m so sad to hear this news.

Jon Salfield (taken from Facebook)

o saddened to lose such a great man and a true gent to everyone he met. I have so many happy memories since I first picked up a Sabre at Roeder 34 years ago thanks to Dennis. RIP my friend.

Jonathan Blackhurst (taken from Facebook)

Very sad news! Dennis was so enthusiastic about fencing and will leave a very big hole! His voice and advice I will miss! Condolences to Marcia and the family !

Beth Davidson (taken from Facebook)

So sorry to hear this, Dennis was an amazing coach and a lovely person, he was always willing to give warm up lessons and support at competitions. He was one of the first to give me sabre lessons, and always supported my son. RIP Dennis you have a great legacy.

Sue Benney (taken from Facebook)

Very very sad to learn that Dennis has passed away. My condolences to his family and close friends. Dennis was always fun to be arround, he added so much colour to any situation. He was always supportive of other fencers. He will be greatly missed by the fencing community. Rest in peace Dennis.

David Sweeney (taken from Facebook)

So sorry to hear this, Marcia. I first met Dennis when I went to university. He was a kind, generous, lovely man who had a wicked sense of humour and always had a twinkle in his eye. He will be sorely missed by all who were lucky enough to know him. Sincere condolences to Marcia, Martin and family.

Mavis Thornton (taken from Facebook)

Meeting Dennis at the 2012 Olympics. He was probably tMy condolences to Marcia & the family. I used to take private lessons from him when I worked in Bristol for a couple of years. He was an enthusiastic, generous and entertaining coach and even after I had stopped taking lessons he was always prepared to stop & chat when I met him & fencing competitions etc. Always a pleasure to talk to and a fantastic coach to take a lesson take a from. Will be greatly missed

Alistair Brook (taken from Facebook)

Dennis gave me my start in sabre: he will be sorely missed, though his legacy will live on with his many devoted students.

John Rohde (taken from Facebook)

A true gent. I was lucky enough to take lessons from Den when I was at uni in the SW many moons ago. Fiercely competitive but all done with a great spirit and a keen sense of humour. Friday nights in Bristol will never be the same. RIP

Nick Fletcher (taken from Facebook)

So sorry to hear such sad news. We will miss Dennis as a friend and a great Coach. Fondest memories of him at Clearwater Beach Florida up to his waist in the warm water with hat and a pipe!!

Lynne Bornemisza (taken from Facebook)

I first met Dennis some 50 years ago when he completed at Sabre competitions. Always polite, courteous with advice to pass onto fencers at all levels. A true gentleman and who will be sorely missed. My sincere condolences to Marcia, Martin and family.

Maggie Myers (taken from Facebook)

I have very fond memories of Dennis. He was always a gentleman, polite, and impeccably dressed, with a huge repertoire of fencing stories.
He will certainly be missed by all his fencing friends.

Sue Church