Oliver Kite – Frank Sawyer Protege or Plagiarist?

Introduction: Simon Cooper of the UK writes of two notable UK fly fishing figures. One was Frank Sawyer famous as being a towering figure in nymph fishing for trout. Yet Frank Sawyer was humble and never sought the limelight.
In contrast Oliver Kite seemed an extrovert in the extreme. The two ended up living “cross the road from each other. An interesting story unfolds of their relationship. as told by Simon Cooper

Last month marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Oliver Kite, he of Kite’s Imperial fame. I marked the occasion by writing of his life in the December edition for my Trout & Salmon column.

Kite, who took to fly fishing on the southern chalkstreams as he morphed from soldier to retired solider, achieved national fame in the 1960’s in his Ollie Kite persona presenting a run of TV series that focussed on fishing, rivers, the people who lived beside them and, importantly, what we now like to call the environment. Back then it was just plain old Mother Nature, a favourite phrase of Kite’s who delivered it in his mellifluous Welsh tones. However, Kite is not without controversy.
Oliver Kite
Kite was no chalkstream expert when he arrived to live in Wiltshire in 1958 on the banks of the River Avon but as an Army officer he had the run of the extensive waters which were under the care of one Frank Sawyer. They became, at least to start with, friends living in cottages opposite each other on Netheravon High Street. But was Kite a protégé or plagiarist? Subsequent to the Trout & Salmon column I received a letter from a man, now in his eighties, who had been an under keeper to Sawyer and knew both men.

He writes: “I have read Kite’s book [Nymph Fishing in Practice] and it is obvious to me that he methodically picked Frank’s brain and used this information for his book. I remember trying to get Frank to criticise him but he never would; he just smiled and changed the subject!”

You could argue that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery but there is no doubt that there was some kind of falling out, at least on the basis of the story related to me by writer and journalist, Brian Clarke. Kite made a healthy living from his TV work, so much so that he bought himself a shiny new Jaguar car. History does not relate whether it was a E or S type, but it was enough to enrage Mrs Sawyer as, each morning, she stood at her kitchen sink to look across the road to see the Jaguar parked in front of the Kite’s Owl Cottage whilst she and Frank eked out his meagre river keeper wage which would have been under £10 a week.
My kind of fishing brake …….
I’m not sure my correspondent much cared for Kite; he describes his manner with people as ‘offhand’ but he clearly had huge regard for Sawyer. He writes of grayling trips:

“Sometimes we would go grayling fishing with one of his [Sawyer’s] Pheasant Tail Nymphs. Frank would look for a couple of shoals of grayling. He would then torment one shoal and catch about 13 out of 15 fish and I was expected to do the same. I think my best effort was about 5 or 6. In those days Frank used to consider grayling a pest which had no place in a chalkstream.”

With over fifty years of distance since Kite died of a heart attack on the banks of the River Test at Polhampton aged just 48 it is impossible to really know the truth of what passed between the two men. But they should both rest easy in their respective graves in the Netheravon churchyard knowing that one way or another, they both made important contributions to our sport though, for me at least, Kite will always be the apprentice to Sawyer the master.
Kite's Imperial
The Kite’s Imperial



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2 Responses to Oliver Kite – Frank Sawyer Protege or Plagiarist?

  1. Tim+Neville says:

    The last sentence best sums up the dilemma.
    Tim Neville

  2. Ben Hope says:

    Yes regarded Oliver Kite as piggy-backing on Frank Sawyer. Frank Sawyer’s book “Nymphs and the Trout” is a master-piece

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