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Roger Squires, born 22 February 1932, in Tettenhall, Wolverhampton, England, is a British crossword compiler, living in Ironbridge, Shropshire, who is best known for being the world's most prolific compiler. He compiles under the pseudonym Rufus in The Guardian, Dante in The Financial Times and is the Monday setter for the Daily Telegraph.
Early days, education, the military, and introduction to crosswords
In the Second World War, as a deck leader in the Sea Scouts, he acted as a messenger, helping to transfer the D-Day wounded and was a member of a Gang Show entertaining war workers in factories, as if they were not suffering enough. Squires was educated at Wolverhampton Grammar School where he gained his School Certificate before joining the Royal Navy at age 15 as a Boy Seaman. He trained at the notorious HMS Ganges, where the lash was still in use, winning the award for the best all-round boy of the year, coming first in the Seamanship, Gunnery and School examinations and representing the ship at football and cricket. At 20, as the youngest ever Seaman Petty Officer, he became a Lieutenant in the Fleet Air Arm and flew for 10 years from various carriers, visiting over 50 countries. He flew in several Squadrons, 703X test flying the new Gannet anti-submarine aircraft, various Flights of 849 AEW Squadron in Skyraiders and Gannets, and in 831 Radio Warfare Squadron as Senior Observer. His first published puzzle appeared in 1963, the year that he left the Navy, in the Wolverhampton Express & Star. The first national was the Radio Times, and in the same year he became a regular compiler with the Birmingham Post. He then started compiling for syndicates that supplied puzzles for newspapers in the UK and abroad, including Central Press Features, The Press Association, The Syndicate, First Features, Morley Adams, and Gemini Crosswords.
Prolific professional career
In 1981 he joined The Guardian, the Times Educational Supplement,"The Glasgow Herald" and Financial Times and became the Birmingham Post crossword editor for 22 years. In 1986 he joined the Daily Telegraph and The Independent. He compiled for The Sun (1992–1998), The Times (1993–2005) and the Times Educational Supplement (1981–2006). He has set crosswords for virtually every British newspaper, under pseudonyms including Rufus, Dante, Icarus, Hodge and Bower. These include The Observer, Sunday Correspondent, Daily Mail, and Mail on Sunday. In 1990 he captained the Great Britain crossword team in the 12 nation International Crossword Marathon in Bjelovar, Yugoslavia.
He registered his company name of "Cryptic Crosswords" in the early 1970s.
He has now published over 70,000 crosswords in total, and on 14 May 2007 what was estimated to be his two millionth clue was published in the Daily Telegraph. The clue was 'Two girls, one on each knee (7)'.
Squires is recognised by Guinness World Records as "The World's Most Prolific Crossword Compiler". He appeared in the Guinness Book of Records from 1978 until all crossword records were dropped in 2002, though they were continued online until 2006. An update to December 2005 was included in the 2008 print edition. The 1992, 1993 and 1994 editions also included his brief history of crosswords. He is now back in the Guinness Book of World Records in the 2014 edition, launched October 2013. His puzzles have appeared in 592 outlets, including 115 publications in 32 countries outside the UK. In 2013, he celebrated his 50th year as a professional setter, on the same day as the Crossword's First Centenery. By 30 June 2013 he had compiled 74,634 crosswords, equivalent to 2.25 million clues. He holds the record for the longest word used in a published puzzle, the Welsh place name: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, which he clued as an anagram: "Giggling troll follows Clancy, Larry, Billy and Peggy who howl, wrongly disturbing a place in Wales (58)". He is one of only four setters to have been on the regular teams of all five quality newspapers (The Times, Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Independent and Financial Times). He holds the Guinness Record for the Longest Published Crossword – at 8 feet long, because Onsworld Ltd were unable to publish the whole 24 ft puzzle. He has also produced a 3D crossword that fits on a Rubik's Cube. Since passing his two millionth clue Squires has cut down his workload and now only provides regular crosswords for The Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Financial Times, Yorkshire Post, The Telford Journal and for two syndicates, Gemini Crosswords and the Press Association. For two years from January 2009 he single-handedly supplied the Guardian Saturday Magazine General Knowledge crossword.
Milestones in his career include: passing publication of 4,000 cryptics for the Birmingham Post (in 2001), 1,000 cryptic crosswords for The Financial Times (2003), 10,000 quicks for the London Evening Standard (2004), 1,000 cryptic crosswords in the TES (in 2000), 1,000 Quicks for The Guardian (2000), 15,000 cryptics for Gemini Crosswords (inc. The Features Syndicate, First Features) (2010), 5,000 cryptics for the Press Association (inc. Central Press Features, Morley Adams Ltd) 2010, 3,000 cryptics for the Glasgow Herald (2010), 3,000 cryptics for the Yorkshire Post (2010), 1,500 cryptics for the Telford Journal (2010), 1,000 cryptics for The Guardian (2010) and 1,000 cryptics for the Daily Telegraph (2010), this latter event being celebrated in an article titled "Meet the Telegraph's cryptic crossword maestro".
Many crossword anthologies, including The Times, Guardian, Telegraph, Financial Times, and the Herald include cryptic puzzles by Squires, including one book devoted solely to 100 of his Guardian cryptics. In collaboration with Ken Guy he produced three general knowledge books on "The 1950s", "The 1960s" and "The 1970s". He has been featured in a number of crossword books, viz. Jonathan Crowther's "A-Z of Crosswords", ex-Daily Telegraph crossword editor Val Gilbert's "80 Years of Cryptic crosswords" and "A Display of Lights (9)", the latter describing the lives of the Telegraph's six greatest Cryptic Crossword setters – of which Roger is the only one still living, Sandy Balfour's acclaimed memoir "Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose (8)" – the title came from a Squires Guardian clue – and his "A Clue to Our Lives – 80 Years of the Guardian Crossword" in which he describes Squires as "a legend in the crossword world", and in Don Manley's "Chambers Crossword Manual". In 2008 the Shropshire Star published an article, "Editor's tribute to cryptic king Roger" about Squires' inclusion in "A Display of Lights (9)".
Roger celebrated his 80th birthday on 22 February 2012. He was somewhat overwhelmed with the response to his reaching this milestone. On his birthday the main cryptic crosswords in the Guardian and FT, plus the Telegraph toughie crossword, were all based on his crosswords and personal life. The Guardian and FT also arranged a party at the Guardian London offices – almost a hundred attended; the Telegraph organised a large luncheon party in Birmingham; and bloggers from all over the country gave him a surprise party in his home town of Ironbridge, Shropshire. John Graham, the great setter Araucaria, wrote a personal sonnet for Roger and his work.
(The following is an excerpt from "The Editor's Musings" – by Tom Johnson, from issue No. 253, March 2012, of "1 Across" magazine. Reprinted by kind permission of "1 Across,The Old Chapel, Middleton Tyas, Richmond, North Yorkshire DL10 6PP)
- 22 February marked the eightieth birthday of Roger Squires, who compiles as Rufus in the Guardian and Dante in the Financial Times amongst many other commitments and guises. Roger is feted as the country's most prolific compiler, having concocted well over two million clues for crosswords appearing in publications worldwide.
- Roger was born in Tettenhall near Wolverhampton. He joined the Royal Navy aged fifteen as a Boy Seaman, later flying in the Fleet Air Arm as a Lieutenant for ten years and in 1961 survived a ditching off Ceylon, escaping from his aircraft sixty feet below the surface. Whilst at sea, he began setting crosswords, his first appearing in the Radio Times. He left the Navy in 1963 and soon became a free-lance entertainer, as a magician and TV actor. He appeared in shows such as Crackerjack, The Rolf Harris Show, Doctor Who and Crossroads.
- In 1978, Roger took up crossword compiling full-time, being editor of the Birmingham Post crossword, and setting for many newspapers, including the FT, Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and Evening Standard. He set puzzles for the Times for ten years from 1995 until 2005, working under four crossword editors, John Grant, Brian Greer, Mike Laws and Richard Browne. He compiled for the Independent from its inception and for the Times Educational Supplement for twenty-five years, until a new editor dispensed with the crossword overnight! Roger holds the record as the World's Most Prolific Compiler, with over 70,000 published puzzles appearing in almost 600 publications.
- On Saturday 18 February John Henderson (aka Enigmatist) and Jane Teather arranged a surprise birthday celebration for Roger and his wife Anna, at a public house five minutes' walk from their home in Ironbridge, in Shropshire. Family friends, crossword compilers, bloggers and solvers met for lunch and an afternoon of conversation, solving and crossword discussion. I was delighted to meet Dave Tilley, Big Dave of the Telegraph crossword blog fame and many of the bloggers on his site who were also attending. Roger entertained us with some card-tricks and spoke of his life and times. It was a most pleasant occasion.
- Soon after 5.30pm on the following Tuesday, many of Roger's colleagues from the crossword world assembled by invitation at the Guardian offices in London to celebrate once again. Hugh Stephenson and Colin Inman, crossword editors of the Guardian and FT respectively, headed the guest list, along with Enigmatist, Paul, Shed, Boatman, Qaos, Arachne and Pasquale from the Guardian compiling team and myself (Gozo) from the FT team. Richard Browns, crossword editor of the Times was also invited.
- During the two-hour party, Alan Rusbridger and Polly Toynbee from the Guardian spoke fondly of Roger's achievements in the crossword world. John and Jane had once again been instrumental in behind the scenes planning and they had prepared framed copies of the celebratory crosswords and tributes which commemorated Roger's big day. About half a dozen of us compilers had worked on the birthday puzzles which were to appear in the Guardian and FT the following day, and which included many references to Roger's compiling history and life. Another puzzle appeared as a tribute in the Toughie series in the Telegraph. Araucaria was unable to attend the Guardian celebrations, sad to say, but he had written a sonnet to mark the event (see below). Many solvers and bloggers had sent their wishes and praises which Jane had transcribed into another huge framed print. Champagne, wine and nibbles were in abundance along with multi-coloured cupcakes each of which was topped with a completed crossword grid on rice-paper – the solution to the Guardian puzzle appearing the following day to mark Roger's 80th birthday.
- Roger and Anna thoroughly enjoyed both these events, the Ironbridge celebrations being far more of a surprise, as they had been told that John and Jane were having a weekend in the area and "Would you like to meet us for lunch on Saturday?”
- Roger's third and final celebration was held on Thursday, 8 March. It took the form of a slap-up lunch at the Hotel Du Vin in Birmingham organised and conducted by Phil McNeill and Daniella Gomes, respectively the Puzzles Editor and Assistant Puzzles Editor of the Daily/Sunday Telegraph.
- In attendance, other than the Guest of Honour and his wife Anna, were Val Gilbert, former (and for 30 years+) Crossword Editor of the Telegraph, Jeremy Mutch, and Peter Chamberlain, all of whom, like Roger, have clocked up more than one hundred published puzzles for the paper; Philip Marlow, who is nearing his own century; John Henderson, official wine-taster, who is nearing double figures on the back page; Dean Mayer, who compiled the Telegraph toughie dedicated to Roger on his birthday; and a surprise guest called John Graham, better known as Araucaria, who composed the birthday sonnet below for 'young master Squires', but had been unable to attend the bunfight at the Guardian two weeks earlier.
- Master magician Roger Squires
- For eighty years has graced the land,
- And still his mental sleight of hand
- Perplexes, conjures, and inspires,
- Not his the strained linguistic mires
- That only nerds can understand;
- His clues, meticulously planned,
- Delight us as they cross the wires.
- So, as we toast our honoured guest,
- Best wishes; thanks, and this behest –
- Pray relish and don't rue the fuss
- We make of you, dear Rufus: plus
- Remember this, young master Squires:
- No cruciverbalist retires.
- Roger was presented with a framed copy of his first Telegraph puzzle that had been reprinted on the Monday of his birthday week, an iPad cover engraved with a clue for ROGER SQUIRES written by Dean Mayer (aka Anax) and a birthday cake iced with a Don Manley-designed grid. Dean’s clue read: “Understood foremost of setters, some papers’ Monday Maestro (5,7)”. Apologies were received by Kate Fassett, Val’s successor and Phil’s predecessor; Sunday Telegraph Brian Greer and fellow veteran setter Nuala Considine.
- Our thanks to Enigmatist for his report of this third celebration.
- Thanks also to Araucaria for permission to reprint his birthday sonnet.
Other various appearances
Apart from crosswords, he is qualified for membership of Mensa and The Magic Circle, and he was a Fleet Air Arm observer in his twenties, during which time he qualified for the Goldfish Club (for survivors of aircraft ditchings) by escaping from his Gannet AEW aircraft 60 feet below the surface off Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in March 1961. His first civilian job was Entertainments Manager at Butlin's busiest Holiday Camp at Bognor Regis. "When I realised I was paying a professional act more for one night than I was being paid for a week" said Squires "I knew I was in the wrong job". He left to earn his living from crosswords, acting, writing and magic. From 1964 to 1977 he made over 250 appearances on TV as a comedy magician (26 Rolf Harris Shows (BBC1), five Crackerjacks (BBC1), and ATV Today); as an actor, playing for three months in the weekday Crossroads (ITV) as Amy Turtle's nephew Harold Bracket, and roles in Doctor Who, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Licking Hitler, Spy Trap and War and Peace, plus films including The Beauty Jungle; and as a contestant (Countdown, Crosswits (twice), Catchword, and captained the Wolverhampton teams in both the IQ programme Pencil & Paper (ITV) and Crossword on Two (BBC2).
He was featured talking about crosswords in the TV programme "How To Solve Cryptic Crosswords" (BBC4) in 2009, and in the BBC One Show (BBC1) in 2011. In November 2011 Roger was interviewed by Shuchi on her Indian-based Crossword Unclued website.
In 1977 his first marriage foundered and he gave up professional acting and magic to work from home so that he could look after his two pre-teenage sons. To earn a reasonable living he had to provide 40 crosswords a week. The head of crosswords at Central Press Features suggested he claim the title of "most prolific crossword compiler" and Norris McWhirter of Guinness Records accepted this claim in 1978.
Squires is now married to Anna who brought along a 3-yr old stepdaughter Tamsin, now a doctor, to add to his stepson Simon, now a Yacht-master in Thailand, and his own son Michael, a vet with his own Sheffield practice. Michael, with wife Charlotte, has now provided grandchildren Esme and Oscar.
A keen sportsman, Squires represented the Royal Navy and Fleet Air Arm at football and cricket and is a qualified Football Association Coach and Referee. He played competitive squash until age 65. He stills swims regularly.
- "Why you buy a particular paper (9)", The Independent, 4 December 2006
- (Pat-Ella)"Crossword setter hits puzzling landmark", Richard Savill, Daily Telegraph, 15 May 2007
- "Ace’s two millionth brainteaser", Shropshire Star, 1 October 2007
- "Tales from a cryptic crossworder", BBC News, 7 November 2002
- "Meet the Telegraph's cryptic crossword maestro", Christopher Howse, The Daily Telegraph, 30 April 2010
- "Editor’s tribute to cryptic king Roger", Toby Neal, Shropshire Star, 23 December 2008
- "Clued up", Steven Hastings, Times Educational Supplement, 1 December 2000
- "Mensa FAQ "Have you got any famous members?"". Mensa. 22 July 2014. Archived from the original on 22 July 2014. Retrieved 13 August 2014.
Other celebrities reported to have qualified for membership include... Guinness World Record crossword compiler Roger Squires
- "Interview: Roger Squires", Shuchismita Upadhyay, Crossword Unclued, 9 November 2011