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News > OBs Remembered > RIP - Robert F Gregory (ORC, 47-53)

RIP - Robert F Gregory (ORC, 47-53)

Farewell to Fleet Street puzzle king Bob Gregory
Robert F Gregory ORC, 47-53
Robert F Gregory ORC, 47-53

I came to CCB in 1947 at the age of 12.  We lived in Cardiff and I, up that time, had been a pupil at Llandaff Cathedral School. That establishment turfed boys out at age 12 and Whitchurch Grammar School in Cardiff was the obvious onward path. Unfortunately, entrance to this excellent school was by way of the then existing “Common Entrance” exam which I sat and failed. My parents wondered what to do with me and perhaps in desperation entered me for CCB to arrive in September of 1947. I was to be one of only three Jewish boys at the school. These were the twilight days of Britain’s involvement in the Palestine Mandate and British soldiers were being killed by Jewish resistance fighters such as The Irgun and The Hagganah so that the anti-semitism which I experienced in the beginning was both understandable and quite unpleasant.  It wasn’t helped by my having been entered at CCB as “Robert Krakauer” before my parents had the family surname changed by deed poll to “Gregory”. Robert Krakauer was on the Orchard House boards but Robert Gregory turned up at the beginning of term. A name such as “Krakauer” from Krakow in Poland didn’t help in those days so soon after the end of WWII.

My Viennese parents had arrived in the UK in 1938 as refugees from the darkening Nazi clouds in Germany and Austria. They were far from religiously observant and had sent me to the Llandaff Cathedral School at age 8 before choosing CCB. When I arrived at Brecon, I knew a bit about Christianity and nothing at all about Judaism. Nevertheless, there was a dilemma as to whether I should attend the mandatory chapel services and conform or be further isolated by opting out. This was eventually resolved by Canon AD James who suggested that I attend Chapel but be permitted not to kneel during services nor to intone any “In the name of the Father, the Son and The Holy Ghost etc”.    This fudge worked through my six CCB years and eventually when, as a school prefect I was invited to read lessons in chapel, I did so but using texts from the so-called "Old Testament" — our Torah — only.   Gradually the antisemitism fell away and I became just another boy at the school.


I was a dedicated aficionado of the late Bob Gregory’s JC crossword for almost 20 years. By golly, I shall miss him.
Week after week, I had the pleasure of trying to solve the clues, then the challenge of grappling with his answers when they were published in the following issue.
After enjoying the crosswords for years, very often being stumped even after I saw the answers, I began to correspond with him by email in March 2005. My regular queries, which he positively encouraged, led to a genuine pen-pal friendship for the next 16 years.
He also compiled other crosswords — in Saga Magazine as Cullen and in the Spectator and the New Statesman as Smurf — but it was clear that he particularly enjoyed compiling the JC crosswords, which he described as “gleeful” in a 2019 interview published in the Guardian: “Each puzzle has a Jewish-based theme. It’s an odd hybrid of cryptic and straight clues … Religion isn’t much my thing, but I have amassed an eclectic assortment of material to ensure the Jewish theme.
"Biblical references (strictly Old Testament, of course) … bits of the Talmud and Kabbala, Jewish personalities of stage, science, history, and politics; bits and pieces about Israel; Middle East archaeology; everyday bits of anglicised Hebrew and – the greatest joy – nuggets of Yiddish which have made it to everyday language.”
He explained to me in January 2014 that he was a “strictly secular Jew who has learnt a great deal about the facets of Judaism since starting to set the JC crosswords, now rapidly approaching number 600”.
He told me in July 2018: “My parents were Viennese 1938 vintage refugees and my first language was German in which I am still, nearly 80 years later, fairly fluent. My alma mater is Cambridge (Sidney Sussex) where I read natural sciences and biochemistry. Both these elements an unlikely background to spawn a cryptic crossword compiler.”
I expressed my admiration of him regularly, and he said he enjoyed our communications — “never a bother, always a pleasure” — referring to the “friendship we have established through the medium of the JC crossword”.
He sent me a 1974 Guardian article which reported that he had just broken the record for flying a light aeroplane from Britain to Hong Kong. In 2016, he said that he would have enjoyed meeting face-to-face but for his disability (which I later understood to involve him being wheelchair-bound), which now prevented him from making the regular trips he used to make to his London HQ in Old Jewry, where he was a corporate CEO.
He researched me on the Internet, and we began to share details about our lives. He had been a successful litigant in contested tax litigation, while I am a former High Court judge; we had both set up a charity, in his case in memory of his daughter who was killed in Thailand in 1988; we had both owned a home in southern Spain. He sent me a 2019 entry in Crossword Who’s Who describing him as a retired company director and commercial pilot now living in Cardiff with his wife and two dogs.
In March 2020, he wrote: “At 85 with lung disease together with long-standing albeit slow heart failure, I see myself as a prime candidate for tzores down the road.”
But he kept going, and in October 2021 reached his JC crossword number 1,000, celebrated with his own accompanying epitome, in which he recorded being told by a JC Editor that his crossword was the next thing many readers turned to after the Social and Personal columns — certainly true for me!
I received an email from him on 18 February 2022 stating “I am ill”. I never heard from him again, despite a number of emails, and I learnt the sad news of his death in August from Stephen Pollard’s tribute in the JC.
Fortunately, the JC seems to have a stock of Bob’s crosswords which it is still able to continue publishing, but they will soon come to an end.
Even if, as I hope, they manage to find a compiler who can equally “gleefully” perform Bob‘s task, I doubt very much that he or she will be willing to develop the same relationship, fielding queries like those I cannot now raise as to some of Bob’s recent clues, to which I will now never know the answers.
How was the answer to “Nigerian settler broadcast during an uprising” Naira? Or to “Jeep regularly rolling round ancient West Bank city” Jericho?
Oh Bob, how you are missed! And how talented you were!

Sir Michael Burton GBE is a former High Court judge



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