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Basic gear from mid-twentieth-century Britain: Typhoon (E. T. Skinner)

Discussion in 'History of Diving Gear' started by David Wilson, Apr 2, 2018.

  1. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

    Easter Monday is a public holiday in the UK and I thought I'd use some of it to launch a new thread about the diving equipment manufacturers who were in business in my home country during the period between the late forties and the mid seventies. The first specimen to go under the microscope is a British company now known as Typhoon International, whose website can be found at Typhoon International - Home. Its "About Us" page reduces the early history of the enterprise to a couple of sentences: "Typhoon was founded 70 years ago by Oscar Gugen. After the second world war Oscar came to England and started up E.T. Skinner and also a club for divers which became the British Sub Aqua Club, this grew to become the largest diving club in the world."

    The role of Oscar Gugen (above) in the creation of the BSAC will be further examined in a forthcoming thread in the SB "History of Scuba Diving: Tales from the Abyss" forum. According to his Wikipedia article at Oscar Gugen - Wikipedia, "He was born in 1910 of an Austrian father and French mother. He started as a hotel kitchen hand in Austria, peeling carrots. By the age of 21 he was a hotel director in the south of France. When World War II started, he joined the French Army. After the Germans broke through into France, he destroyed his papers and reached and boarded the last British destroyer which was evacuating British troops. As he had no papers, he was interned on the Isle of Man, and released at the end of the war. He became a swimming pool attendant, and then managed an American Army Officers' Club. After those Americans left, he became a partner of Eric Skinner, who was selling jigsaw puzzles. He imported swimming goggles and swimfins from France, as the Dunlop Rubber company, who had made wartime frogmen's fins, had decided that there would be no market for them in peace time. Soon Oscar was selling 300 pairs of fins a week, mainly to Gamages (a long-gone but successful London department store and mail-order business) and to Colin McLeod at Lillywhites (London's premier sporting goods store)."

    E. T. Skinner and Company Ltd., which began trading in 1948, operated from 400 Harrow Road, London W. 9 in the early 1950s, before moving during 1955 to 2 Lochaline Street in Hammersmith, London W. 6. Here is one of the firm's advertisements from 1954:
    E. T. Skinner & Co. branded its output as "Typhoon" products using the logo illustrated above. As far as I am aware, the company issued two catalogues, dated 1956 and 1966, during its first twenty years in business. They can be found online at https://drive.google.com/open?id=0Bw7z_4bLjOOEcmt6eVBRbjBBMU0 and at https://drive.google.com/open?id=0Bw7z_4bLjOOEZVpYY3c0cUhOdFE respectively. Both catalogues were entitled "Skinner's handbook for skin divers" (pun probably intended!), containing as they did not only descriptions of the underwater swimming equipment on sale but also advice about how it should be used in the pool and in open water.

    I'll pause there. My next posting will provide a closer look at the fins illustrated in the 1954 ad.
  2. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

    On now to Typhoon's flagship open-heel fin, the Surfmaster, which appeared in both 1956 and 1966 "Skinner's handbooks for skin divers".

    Surfmaster fins
    $_57a.JPG s-l1600d.jpg
    Here is the catalogue description of this fin: "Surfmaster. The most powerful sports fin with the miracle blade. For foot sizes 4-6, 7-10 and over 10".

    A footnote reads: "The Fluted Typhoon Swimfin is covered by British Patent No. 746764." The patent abstract at GB746764A - Improvements in or relating to swim-fins - Google Patents reads as follows: "746,764. Swimming appliances. SKINNER & CO., Ltd., E. T., and SUPPANCIC, G. O. March 8, 1954 [March 23, 1953] No. 7958/53. Class 77 A swim-fin of resilient material comprises an envelope 10 for the wearer's foot and a paddle portion 12 extending beyond the said envelope, each side-edge of the fin being provided with an upstanding flange 15, 16, extending over the length of said paddle portion and at least partly over the length of said envelope, the paddle portion being formed with a plurality of furrows or corrugations 14 extending in an approximately longitudinal direction substantially from end to end thereof. The fin is completed by the provision of a heel strap 11. Although the fin shown is symmetrical in shape one side may be longer than the other the longer side being arranged on the outer side of the foot when the fin is in use. A hole is provided in the bottom of the envelope for drainage purposes." Drawings below:
    In the case of the Surfmaster, it is remarkable how closely the final product resembles the prototype, which is not always evident in swim fin patents.

    The Surfmaster was a very popular fin in UK diving during the 1950s and 1960s. Contemporary photographs frequently show British divers with Surfmaster fins on their feet:
    Title: Scuba Lessons. Caption: 28th April 1954: Pauline Ady, a tutor at an under water swimming school in Cobham, Kent, explaining the importance and use of fins to her pupils (left to right) Dorethea Martin, Pat Palmer, Michael Cameron and Diana Martin. (Photo by Reg Speller/Fox Photos/Getty Images)

    Title: Flipping Heck. Caption: 27th July 1956: A group of holidaymakers in fins and snorkels on the beach at Torquay. Original Publication: Picture Post - 8618 - Flippin For Fun - pub. 1956 (Photo by Alex Dellow/Picture Post/Getty Images)

    Title: Snorkling Woman. Caption: 11th August 1956: Two women sitting on deckchairs on the beach. One of them is wearing a swimming costume and fins and by her side rests a snorkel, mask and a towel. (Photo by Alex Dellow/Picture Post/Getty Images)

    Caption: Walt (with Seibe Gorman dry suit) and Jean Deas (with Heinke dry suit and Typhoon fins) at Rescobie Loch, Angus, Scotland, 1956. Walt is holding a 16mm Kodak camera in 'home built' housing with gas fitting used for controls. Location: Photo Contributions - From Vintage Scuba Diving Enthusiasts.

    Caption: Bill Hall in Siebe Gorman dry suit, Alec Black with Heinke dry suit and ex-Navy rebreather, Walt Deas with Heinke dry suit and Seibe Gorman Aqualung, and David Dye in Dunlop dry suit. Photo taken at Ardmair Bay, west cost of Scotland, 1956 by Jean Deas. Location: Photo Contributions - From Vintage Scuba Diving Enthusiasts.

    Illustration from Peter Small's 1957 gem of a diving book "Your Guide to Underwater Adventure" (London: Lutterworth Press). The caption "If underwater swimming is not fun, it is not anything" sums up the author's admirable philosophy of diving. Small co-founded the British Sub-Aqua Club and died in a tragic diving accident during the early 1960s.

    Illustration from Barry J. Kimmins' 1956 diving title "Underwater Sport on a Small Income" (London: Hutchinson). Surfmasters were the author's own choice of fins and appear in many other photographs within this volume.

    C0RcOUpWgAACcio.jpg large.jpeg
    The image above may show a drysuited Oscar Gugen, a partner in E. T. Skinner & Co. and a co-founder of the British Sub-Aqua Club, wearing his company's Surfmasters while preparing for an ice-dive.

    That's it for today. I shall continue with the topic of early Typhoon fins in the next few days.
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2018
  3. regulator bj

    regulator bj Barracuda

    # of Dives:
    Location: devon u.k.
    Nice one David
    Great images from the 1950's, ref the kids in that dive school in Kent, where they are now? purchased my "Surfmasters from a shop in Croydon Surrey "London Rubber Company" who carried the complete range of "E.T.Skinner" products. Being on the school swimming team at the time we bought a few pairs for training, the shop manager gave us a discount and attended one of our school galas.

  4. Sam Miller III

    Sam Miller III Scuba Legend Scuba Legend

    # of Dives: 5,000 - ∞
    Location: CALIFORNIA: Where recreational diving began!
    Very well researched and presented..
    Re; Walt Deas
    He was a very visible giant in the formative years of diving in UK/Scotland and then he migrated to Australia.

    I have only corresponded with Walt Deas since he migrated to Australia -- Which was some years ago.
    Do you know if he is above the turf or diving on that big reef in the sky?

    RE Peter Small
    I was an observer on the Keller - Catalina dive in early 1960 when both Peter Small and Chris Whittaker lost their lives. There is considerable discussion about the event previously posted on this board.

    Re Fins
    Interesting at that junction in dive history that the fins were non- adjustable ( Oh! the horror of it all )

    Keep up the good work-- It is needed and appreciated

    John C. Ratliff and David Wilson like this.
  5. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

    Thank you for the additional information about these personalities, Sam. According to Walt Deas's bio at Walt Deas: Underwater Cameraman & Producer of Early Reef Documentaries, he died on May 28, 2008. "He had several documentaries in the making and had already won several awards, honored for the work he so enjoyed. Shortly before Walt passed away, the book he co-authored with his beloved partner, Jean, was completed. Coral Reefs: Nature's Wonders is a fitting tribute to the underwater world which this tireless couple devoted their lives to help preserve."
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2018
  6. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

    Thanks for this, John. I really value this kind of detail. I recall my parents buying my brother a pair of Surfmasters from the sole local stockist, a Boy Scout outfitters, located in the centre of my home town of Newcastle upon Tyne in the late 1960s. The store, which sold all kinds of outdoor apparel and equipment, sadly vanished long ago. I too had bought a pair of Typhoon fins by then, in my case British-made replicas of full-foot Cressi Rondines recommended by my university sub-aqua club.

    John C. Ratliff likes this.
  7. Sam Miller III

    Sam Miller III Scuba Legend Scuba Legend

    # of Dives: 5,000 - ∞
    Location: CALIFORNIA: Where recreational diving began!
    Thank you for the update on Walt..So Sad that he has passed on -- but what a full adventuresome life he lived.

    Like Walt I also began with a rebreather - See Selfmade FFM (FullFaceMask) reworked from Gasmask
    That was recently posted by little ole me

    FYI I was one of the co-founders of the of Legends of diving. All started with a conversation about the passing parade and the need to document their stories.

    I was the very first to be identified as a "legend"--

    The sun is up and so is dog Lucky so it is beach time!

    Keep up the great work -- remember me for a inscribed copy of your book

    Sam Miller,111
    John C. Ratliff and David Wilson like this.
  8. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

    In the early years, E. T. Skinner (Typhoon) carried French and Italian fins, seldom exporting models of the company's own making. There was at least one exception, however. The image above from the International Divers catalogue of 1957 confirms that Typhoon Surfmaster fins were imported by the Canadian manufacturing and distribution company founded by Martin Scholler in the early fifties in Montreal. The accompanying caption read: "A low priced fin of excellent performance and comfortable fit." Only medium size (6-10) was available, however, priced $5.95.

    Sam has drawn attention to the non-adjustability of the Surfmaster with its fixed open-heel. The fin came in three sizes, 4-6, 7-10 and over 10, which was supposed to address the foot-fitting problem as long as Typhoon dealers stocked the full range of sizes, which was not always the case if the International Divers catalogue is anything to go by. Enter "Skinner's handbook for skin divers" of 1956, which offered a simple but ingenious solution for the bargain price of five shillings and six pence:
    Surfmaster_Strap_link_1956.png So the Surfmaster could be converted to adjustability with just a pair of scissors and a short length of rubber strapping with buckles on either end. The same device was sold by International Divers for $1.50 Canadian.

    As I mentioned in my earlier posting, the Surfmaster closely resembled the prototype in the E. T. Skinner British Patent No. 746764, drawings below:
    According to the 1956 version of "Skinner's handbook", the "fluted Typhoon swimfin" was "covered by British Patent No. 746764." The Surfmaster was the first model in this range of "fluted swimfins". In my next posts I will review two later models in this family of fins.
  9. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

    Next up is the Typhoon Clubmaster fin. According to the 1956 catalogue, this model offered not only a "non-slip adjustable heelstrap" but also a "heel platform" fully covering, and therefore protecting, the sole of the foot from heel to toe.

    Clubmaster fins
    The image above appeared in Lillywhites' (London's premier sporting goods store) underwater catalogue, where the Clubmaster was launched in 1955. One of the fin's selling points here was its incorporation of "the same powerful blade as the Surfmaster" as well as rectifying the latter's shortcomings of non-adjustability and heel exposure. Two fittings were available, up to and over size 6. Skinner's 1956 handbook described the Clubmaster as a "DeLuxe model for the experienced underwater swimmer" and priced it accordingly at 45 shillings for the adult size, while the equivalent sized Surfmasters cost 29s 11d, one-third less. According to London underwater stockist Cogswell & Harrison, the Clubmaster was also available in luxury blue, the latter costing 6 shillings more than the black version.

    In his "Collins Pocket Book to the Undersea World" (London: 1956), Ley Kenyon describes Clubmaster fins thus: "British. Has an extended foot plate and nonslip adjustable heel strap. It is a beautifully solid fin with the right amount of grip for those whose feet it fits. Only made in two sizes. About £2". His "Aqualung Diving: A Complete and Practical Guide to the Underwater World" co-authored with Werner de Haas and published by George Allen and Unwin of London in 1970 has the following description: "Rubber fins with open shoes, adjustable heel strap, heel protector and a medium-hard blade; for snorkel divers." While Kenyon's admiration for these fins was palpable in 1956, the matter-of-factness of his second fin review suggests waning enthusiasm fourteen years later. This said, a swim fin's shelf life is frequently much shorter than one-and-a-half decades.

    We'll move on in several days' time to review the Typhoon Speedmaster fin, which represented the next logical step in the development of the Typhoon family of fluted swimfins:
    1. Surfmaster: Introduced in or before 1954. Open-heel fin with non-adjustable heelstrap and optional "strap link" to provide heelstrap adjustability if desired. Three sizes.
    2. Clubmaster: Introduced in or before 1955. Semi-open-heel fin with adjustable heelstrap and extended footplate for heel protection. Two sizes.
    3. Speedmaster: Introduced in or before 1956. Closed-heel fin with full foot coverage, toe opening and inclined blade. One size.
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2018
    Sam Miller III likes this.
  10. David Wilson

    David Wilson Loggerhead Turtle

    The third member of the Typhoon fluted swimfin family was the Speedmaster, which came in one size with full foot coverage, toe opening and inclined blade.

    Speedmaster fins
    s-l1600a.jpg s-l1600j.jpg The rigid offset blade has a concave tip and four ribs on the upper surface radiating from the toe opening. Tall side rails provide further reinforcement. The top of each closed-heel foot pocket is marked with the name of the fin (Speedmaster), the brand (Typhoon), the country of origin (Made in England) and the size (Medium). The height of the foot pocket opening is greater than the norm on comparable full-foot fins of the period, covering more of the heel and therefore giving further security and underfoot protection for the wearer, who would also doubtless appreciate the comfortable soft-rubber material of the entire foot pocket.

    The model only appears in the 1956 edition of Skinner's handbook for skin divers, where the image below
    is captioned "Speedmaster. With beach shoe type foot pocket and toe opening available in one fitting only, size 7-9. " The term "beach shoe type" is consistently used throughout the Typhoon commercial literature of the period to designate full-foot or closed-heel fins.

    The Speedmaster is mentioned In Ley Kenyon's "Collins Pocket Book to the Undersea World" (London: 1956)), where the description reads: "British. This is a new fin on the market in 1955, based almost exactly on the Cressi Rondine principle. I imagine it will be effective—and it will be cheaper in Britain—under £2." His "Aqualung Diving: A Complete and Practical Guide to the Underwater World", co-authored with Werner de Haas and published by George Allen and Unwin of London in 1970, lumps the Speedmaster together with the Champion Hydromatic, Pirelli S.M.67, Cressi Rondine Extra, Mares Sea King and the Pirelli Alcione (below):

    Champion Hydromatic

    Pirelli S.M.67

    Cressi Rondine Extra

    Mares Sea King
    Pirelli Alcione

    Ley Kenyon and Werner de Haas describe these fins thus in their 1970 book: "Champion Hydromatic, Pirelli S.M.67, Cressi Rondine Extra, Mares Sea King, Pirelli Alcione, Typhoon Speedmaster. Rubber fins with closed shoes, a slit for the toes, and an angled medium-hard blade stiffened in various ways, depending on the model, with projecting longitudinal ribs; for snorkel and aqualung divers, suitable for both beginners and practised divers, some are available in children's sizes."

    In my next posting I will review the Typhoon Juniormaster fin, which as the name suggests was a child's fin. Unusually for a child's fin of the time, it had a closed heel. It also outlived other Typhoon fins, being available from the early 1950s to the 1970s.
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2018
    АлександрД likes this.

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