Dickie Burnell

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Richard Burnell
Personal information
Full name Richard Desborough Burnell
Nationality English
Born (1917-07-26)26 July 1917
Henley-on-Thames, South Oxfordshire
Died 29 January 1995(1995-01-29) (aged 77)
Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire
Country  Great Britain
Sport Rowing
Event(s) Double sculls
Former partner(s) Bertie Bushnell
Dickie Burnell
Medal record
Men's rowing
Olympic Games
Representing  Great Britain
Gold medal – first place 1948 London Double sculls
British Empire Games
Representing  England
Bronze medal – third place 1950 Auckland Eight

Richard Desborough Burnell (26 July 1917 – 29 January 1995) was an English rower who competed in the 1948 Summer Olympics and won the gold medal alongside Bertram "Bert" Bushnell in the double sculls. He and his father Charles 'Don' Burnell are the only father and son in Olympic history to have both won gold medals in any sport.


Burnell was born in Henley-on-Thames the son of Charles Burnell who had won a gold medal in the Men's Eight in the 1908 Summer Olympics. He was educated at Eton College and Oxford University.

In May 1939, Burnell was commissioned into the London Rifle Brigade. He was on the losing Oxford team in The Boat Race in 1939. He was a rowing correspondent for The Times and wrote several books on rowing matters. He rowed for Kingston Rowing Club and in 1946 he won the Wingfield Sculls.

1948 Summer Olympics[edit]

In the 1948 Summer Olympics Burnell won the gold medal with his partner Bert Bushnell in the double sculls event. Burnell was chosen to pair with Bert Bushnell in the Olympic double sculls event, having never previously trained with his new partner.[1] Jack Beresford told Bushnell that there wasn't a chance for him to win the single sculls, and so created the double sculls team instead.[2] Their differing physiques – Burnell was 6 ft 4inches and weighed 14½ stone, while Bushnell was 5 ft 10 inches and 10½ stone – presented some difficulties in the boat, which Bushnell had to re-rig so that they were able to reach together.

The pair only had a month to train for the Games,[1] with animosity between the two due to the difference in their class backgrounds. Bushnell later said in an interview, "There was class tension there and it came from me being bloody awkward."[2] Bushnell struck up a friendship with American rower John B. Kelly Jr. and Australian Merv Wood.[3] The rowers' diets had been increased from the normal 2,500 allowed by rationing to a "miner's diet" of 3,600. However, the other teams were having food flown in specially to increase their calorie intake and allow them to train more.[2] Bushnell would invite Kelly and Wood over for dinner, with his guests bringing the food.[3] Bushnell and Burnell both attended the opening ceremony of the 1948 Games, something Bushnell described as "dreadful", as they gave the athletes poorly fitting uniforms and made them stand out in the sun en-masse for three hours.[3]

On the Henley Royal Regatta course, they lost to France in the first round, but then won both the repêchage followed by the semi-final. On 9 August 1948, in front of a home crowd, Bushnell and Burnell competed in the Olympic final against the double scull teams of Uruguay and Denmark.[2] Bushnell nearly missed the final, held at the Leander Club in Henley, as stewards would not allow him to enter; he later explained "You see I wasn't a member then – not posh enough".[3] At around the three-minute mark, the British team decided to push for the win, eventually taking it in six minutes and 51.3 seconds, two lengths ahead of the favoured Danish duo of Ebbe Parsner and Aage Larsen (6:55.3) and five ahead of Uruguay (7:12.4).[3][4] On the jetty they were awarded their medals while standing in their socks. There were no ribbons for the medals due to cost saving measures, and so they were given them in presentation boxes while God Save the King was played by a band.[2]

1950 British Empire Games[edit]

At the 1950 British Empire Games he won the bronze medal as part of the English crew in the eights competition.

Burnell died in Wallingford.


Burnell and his father Charles Burnell are the only father and son in Olympic history to have both won gold medals in any sport. In 1940 Burnell married Rosalind, a daughter of English Olympic gold medal-winning rower Stanley Garton. They had five children: Peter, John, Edward, Alexandra (“Zandra”), and Elizabeth (“Tizzy”).[5] Burnell's son, Peter, rowed for Oxford in 1962.


R.D. Burnell was also the author of several books on rowing, among them:

  • Swing Together: Thoughts on Rowing (1952)
  • The Oxford & Cambridge Boat Race, 1829–1953 (1954)
  • Sculling: With Notes on Training and Rigging (1955)
  • Henley Regatta: A History (1957)


During the run up to the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, the BBC produced the film Bert and Dickie (also called Going For Gold: The '48 Games), depicting Burnell and Bushnell's achievement at the 1948 Games, with Sam Hoare portraying Burnell, and Bushnell portrayed by Doctor Who actor Matt Smith.[2][6]. The film is the only occasion on which Richard Burnell was ever referred to as Dickie - he was always known as 'Richard', or 'Dick' to a select few.


  1. ^ a b "Olympian who became 'Recirc Bert' of cruiser hire". Henley Standard. 25 January 2010. Archived from the original on 24 February 2012. Retrieved 23 July 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Jeavans, Christine (23 July 2012). "Matt Smith on pain behind 1948 Olympics' Bert and Dickie". BBC News. Retrieved 23 July 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Hampton, Janie (15 February 2010). "Bert Bushnell: Britain's last surviving gold medallist from the 1948 Olympics". The Independent. Retrieved 23 July 2012. 
  4. ^ David Wallechinsky and Jaime Loucky, The Complete Book of the Olympics: 2012 Edition (London: Aurum Press, 2012):878.
  5. ^ Göran R Buckhorn, "The Burnell-Perry Thames Dinghy; Or With Cerise Coloured Blades In Connecticut", Hear the Boat Sing (28 February 2012).
  6. ^ "Going for Gold – The '48 Games". BBC America. Archived from the original on 7 August 2012. Retrieved 11 June 2017. 

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