Bernard Martyn Watney, collector, writer and medical practitioner: born Cape Town 6th September 1922; married (one son, three daughters); died London 28th September 1998.
Dr. Bernard Watney was a man of many parts. He moved easily between his interests about which he was always most passionate. Colleagues in each sphere were probably unaware of his expertise in other worlds. Most Saturday mornings he would make his way to the Portobello market, never by taxi, and wend his way around his favourite stalls and then on down Kensington Church Street to his regular calls. Was he quietly offering medical advice, discovering a rare corkscrew, swapping a piece of porcelain, buying a tee-shirt or remembering yesterday’s wine tasting? Probably all of these. On returning home Bernard would unearth his latest treasures and, sharing a vintage wine, would recall the tale to Mavis, probably in their overcoats in that most eccentric of Hampstead homes.
Bernard was born in South Africa in 1922. His parents were medical missionaries. A horn beaker would remind him “of a nostalgic smell which, mixed with a taste of boiled water, pervaded my childhood”. The family returned to England when Bernard was eight years old. In 1942 he went up to Cambridge and read medicine at Trinity College. He continued his studies at the St. George’s Hospital in Knightsbridge where he became the resident medical officer. His career took a turn in 1953 when be became the London divisional medical officer for the western region of British Rail.
In 1971 Bernard was appointed medical adviser to the Guinness Company. In the interview waiting room another applicant turned to Bernard “oh dear, not you again. I was at Paddington in 1953”. Bernard was able to develop his interest in both tropical medicine and the control of alcoholism in industry.
Bernard’s long-standing love and connoisseurship of good wine led him onto the committee of management of the International Wine Society and was at one time chairman of the Wine Society Dining Club. This interest encouraged his collecting of corkscrews and at Park Royal, in 1974, he founded the I.C.C.A. (International Correspondence of Corkscrew Addicts) with a select band of collectors including a Californian monk, an Italian engineer, a Swedish designer, an American Harvard professor and an English publican. Bernard wrote in his preface to the Christie’s catalogue when he sold his collection in 1997 “Corkscrews cry out to be collected. Distributed world wide, the multiplicity of designs, mechanisms and materials, the name of makers and the details of patents, are all aspects that can stimulate and reward the acquisitive and analytical part of our nature”. This was an auction sale, which he really enjoyed as a finale to a great collecting period. When he started in the 1960s there were few collectors and no research. Bernard applied himself to this with his usual diligence which included the necessity to invent a nomenclature and with his friend, Homer Babbidge, wrote Corkscrews for Collectors (1981 – several reprints and translations). It used the illustration of a page from Matthew Boulton’s 1795 note book, showing the Rev. Henshall’s worm -the first ever patented corkscrew. Every collector will understand the excitement at such a discovery.
With the l.C.C.A., he led us on numerous trips abroad – the wines, the corkscrews, the hospitality, his inquisitiveness, witty speeches and sense of humour will always remain with me. His was a rich and generous life.
Extracted from the “Obituary of Bernard Martyn Watney, MA., MB., MRCS., FSA.” by: Richard Dennis, SPEND-RIGHT
Here are some comments excerpted from the obituaries written by those who knew Bernard well and shared his passion for corkscrews.
By: Joe Paradi
Bernard was a true “character”, he was colourful, had a quick wit that ranged from very subtle to very blunt. He never held back anything and was always ready to give an opinion on any subject he was asked about – and on occasion even when he was not. But whenever he had something to say, it was worth while listening to, whether you agreed with him or not. He loved corkscrews and anything he could find written about them. He was a true Addict to corkscrew collecting!
In 1987 when we attended our first AGM, Bernard and his dear wife Mavis was introduced to us for the first time. I must admit that Bernard struck me as a very eccentric English gentleman – you know, people judge others by the clothes they wear. He had on black “blue jeans” with a very large picture equipped black tee-shirt (one of what must have been hundreds he owned) and his straw hat – at least I think it was straw. Mavis, on the other hand, gave the impression of a fine English lady who somehow managed to put up with Bernard’s antics.
It was clear to us immediately, that this man was larger than life. And he was: he co-authored the “Bible” in corkscrew collecting “Corkscrews for Collectors”; he had almost all the Portobello corkscrew dealers keeping corkscrews for him; his word was highly respected by the “pros” Christie’s and Sotheby’s and frequently consulted by them; he was the embodiment of corkscrew collecting – radio stations, writers and TV people all sought him out for comments; he was referred to by everyone when authority on the subject of corkscrews was needed. But corkscrews were not his only passion, he was a world expert in blue and white English china, he wrote books and gave lectures everywhere. He had the collecting gene, which the English are so well known for, very well developed!
by: Brother Timothy Diener, JUST-RIGHT
While I was in Sweden to meet and visit with Jan Ekman for the first time, in 1974, Jan asked me if I knew Bernard Watney. I said “no”. So, he urged me to phone Watney when I got to London. A few days later I reached Watney on the phone; he said you must come out to our home for dinner – how about tonight? So, that evening I became acquainted with Bernard and his dear wife, Mavis. The dinner was excellent, but the corkscrew viewing was even better.
During the after dinner conversation, Bernard asked my opinion about the idea of starting a club of corkscrew collectors to exchange information, photos, research sources, etc. I said it was a good idea, but it would be a lot of work, and I was not the one to take on extra work, apart from our wine making activities. Bernard also asked me for the names and addresses of corkscrew collectors I knew. All this was early in June. Later that Summer, Bernard invited all collectors, of whom he had addresses, to gather and consider a corkscrew aficionado society. The first meeting was on October 1, 1974 at the Guinness Brewery in London, where Bernard was the chief medical officer, in charge of all employees. Guinness provided the meeting room in addition to a gourmet luncheon for this fledgling group. As the founder of the group it was natural for Bernard to originate such a name as the International Correspondence of Corkscrew Addicts (I.C.C.A.).
Bernard was a scholarly researcher of the history and diversity as well as rarity and value of corkscrews. I believe he was the most respected corkscrew expert called on by Christie’s auctioneers to advise them about antique corkscrews. When on the prowl hunting for corkscrews he might be in Bermondsey Square or on Portobello Road before dawn, with his flashlight and magnifying glass, hoping to be ahead of any other collector who might show up. Bernard was often in a dark, old overcoat or raincoat, avoiding any appearance of prosperity.
by: Donald A. Morway, MOR-RIGHT
On one occasion when Bernard showed up in Bordeaux for our 1984 AGM he was wearing an old fashioned French beret. The attending members, unbeknownst to Bernard, procured a like beret and at that evening’s dinner they all assembled for a group photograph. At the moment the photo was to be taken everyone donned their beret mimicking Bernard’s chapeau much to his surprise. This was but one example of the humorous playful side of Bernard. On the other hand, his serious academic side showed a substantial knowledge about the history and technology of the corkscrew. Much could be learned from both his formal and informal discourses on the subject.
by: Dr. David Bradshaw, TRY-RIGHT
His interests covered many fields, including porcelain and ceramics. He wrote numerous books on these subjects, including ‘Longton Hall Porcelain’ (l957) and ‘English Blue and White Porcelain of the Eighteenth Century’ (1973). But for Addicts his crowning achievement must be the first definitive reference book on corkscrews and related items, ‘Corkscrews for Collectors’, jointly with Homer Babbidge, published in 1981.
Bernard was unique in many ways. He was a walking encyclopaedia on corkscrews, and was ever willing and happy to share his knowledge with others. He guided the ICCA through many years of fruitful activity, and sadly had been less active in recent times because of his many other commitments and indifferent health.
He had an endearing nature, and a shrewd sense of humour not always immediately apparent but always there. There will be a large void in the life of the Correspondence, and of course a well-known face missing from the Saturday Portobello Market. Did anyone manage to get there before Bernard?
by: Don Minzenmayer, HOUS-RIGHT
Bernard truly loved corkscrews. He was a relentless hunter of corkscrews and information about corkscrews. His before daylight ventures into the London markets most every week of the year produced many great corkscrew finds. He amassed a vast volume of documented history and mentions of corkscrews in publications. Dr. Watney’s interest in corkscrews was so strong that he located several other individuals who had similar interests in corkscrews and organised the International Correspondence of Corkscrew Addicts. Their first meeting was held at the Guinness Brewery in 1974. In 1976 Dr. Watney became the Right of the ICCA. In 1979 he stepped down as Right and assumed the honorary title of Start-Right in recognition of being the founder of the ICCA. He rejected the suggestion that since he was no longer Right he must be Wrong or Left.
by: Don Bull, MIRTH-RIGHT and Bonnie Bull
His accomplishments in the corkscrew field are well known.
- His articles on corkscrews were published in several early journals including.
- 1974 “Corkscrews for Collectors” in The Antique Collector.
- 1977 “Corkscrews” in Christie’s Wine Review.
- 1977 “Corkscrews Rare and Strange” in the Antique Finder.
- 1974, he organised and hosted the first meeting of the ICCA held at the Guinness Brewery, London, England. At this meeting the positions of Right and Chief Correspondent were established and Bernard became the first Chief Correspondent.
- 1976, Bernard was elected to the position of Right (the leader would “rather be Right than President”) at a meeting hosted by Brother Timothy in Napa.
- 1981, he co-authored Corkscrews for Collectors with Homer Babbidge. This book became the Bible for all corkscrew collectors in the ensuing years.
- He amassed one of the greatest collections of corkscrews most of which he put up for sale at Christie’s, South Kensington, London in May of 1997.
When I first met Bernard in 1981, I felt that I had been introduced to the screwiest corkscrew collector of all. First of all, he was quite outrageously dressed and his hair looked like a firecracker had exploded in it. I learned that this was all quite normal for Bernard and with every meeting I grew to appreciate him more and more. I loved his outrageous neckties and tee-shirts (sometimes worn together). I understood his lust for corkscrews. And I learned to understand his tremendous wit. The often overused expression “when they made him, they threw away the mould” applies to Bernard more than anyone else. He was truly unique.
Several years ago, Bonnie and I had the great pleasure of receiving an invitation for dinner and collection viewing at the Watney home. Bernard brought out his best wine and after a wonderful dinner, we retreated to the living room. First we looked at Bernard’s marvellous postcard collection. Then Bernard announced that it was time to look at corkscrews. We were told to wait on the couch. Bernard quickly disappeared and we heard some banging and rattling in an adjacent room. Then he appeared with a tray of silver corkscrews. We digested those, he took the tray back to the room and returned with one filled with more silver. We sat there for several hours while Bernard fed us tray after tray. We were practically speechless. We were looking at Bernard’s lifetime passion and he was like an excited young boy opening presents of first trains and BB guns on Christmas morning. It was a spectacle.
by: Ron MacLean, CAN(e)-RIGHT
My first encounter with the inimitable Bernard Watney, occurred when he was wearing one of his other hats, so to speak, and I was well out of my depth! The event was a lecture on British blue & white porcelain, the venue The Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto on Sunday March 4, 1984. Bernard was in town for the opening of the prestigious George R. Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art and I, a neophyte corkscrew collector, thought that this Bernard Watney might be the Bernard Watney of “Corkscrews for Collectors” fame. Sure enough, after enduring a long and scholarly presentation on the aforementioned subject, the word “corkscrew” suddenly plummeted into the dissertation! I must say hearing that magic word certainly shifted my attention into high gear! After the lecture I joined the long line of devotees waiting to speak to Bernard, with my copy of “The Bible” clutched firmly in my hand. When I reached the head of the line Bernard’s comment was “Thank God, a corkscrew collector”! My autographed copy is a treasured memento. Little did I guess that my relationship with Bernard would be continued over the next fourteen years.
by: Jack Bandy
The one, most personal memory of Bernard which I will always hold dear, occurred on a rainy Saturday morning at Portobello Road many years ago. I had just arrived, but, of course, Bernard had already been there for an hour. When he saw me at a distance, he yelled and came over to me and asked excitedly, “Jack, did you see that very nice bar screw that lady had down the street?” “No”, I said, “where?”. “That lady in the station wagon down at the next corner has a very nice one, and I know you like them so I told her to set it aside, that a friend of mine would be by to look at it”. Not only did the lady have it set aside, but it has been proudly displayed on my mantle for these many years. And, every time I look at it, I think of Bernard and that rainy Saturday morning at Portobello Road. Of course – I also think – it’s a good thing Bernard didn’t collect bar screws!
by: Dr. Ing. Paolo de Sanctis, Founding Member
II met Dr. Watney in London more than a quarter of a century ago. It was autumn 1972. Some dealers in London told him that a strange Italian corkscrew collector was coming in England just on purpose to buy old corkscrews. At that time this was unusual. Dr. Watney got my address and wrote to me in Milan for a date in London. Next stop he invited me at his home for a dinner. I will never forget that event: his very informal and eccentric dress, white tennis shoes, pink shirt, pouring to me in an ancient crystal glass some port wine while showing the most interesting old English patented corkscrews. When he took me to the underground, before leaving his house, he lent to me a walking stick and told me: now you have to learn how a gentleman in London is using it. So from now, Paul, call me Bernard he told me.
He knew his wines
He talked a lot with everyone
And….this is really good!!
The “formal” Bernard
Our “Start Right” with the Right’s medal
And, he could cook too!!