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UK diving pioneer Reg Vallintine dies

Reg Vallintine
Reg Vallintine (HDS)
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Reg Vallintine, a prime mover in the development of scuba diving in the UK during his almost 70-year career, has died at the age of 92.

Vallintine was a scuba instructor, a diving historian and an author. He became the British Sub Aqua Club’s first full-time director in 1969 and, in 1990, co-founded the Historical Diving Society (HDS).

He took up scuba as a young man in 1953, when Aqualungs first became available and affordable in the UK but divers were still “gazed at in awe and disbelief”, as he remembered in a speech celebrating BSAC’s 50th anniversary in 2003. 

“I remember staggering alone up from Durdle Door [Dorset] in the rain wearing all my diving gear, my face muffled with my hood. Beside the path ahead were two small boys in school caps, watching my approach with wide eyes,” he said.

“I couldn’t resist it! As I came up to them I said: “Take me to your leader!” in my best Dalek voice. They disappeared like greased lightning!”

Vallintyne had needed his keen sense of humour as he undertook his first dives under instruction from the British Underwater Centre, run by ex-RAF pilot Trevor Hampton from his cottage near Dartmouth in Devon. He was told to bring an old rugby shirt to wear for warmth during the three-day course which, including use of equipment, cost him £5.

“We dived alone, initially with a line to the surface, and those of us who survived the cold became ‘British Menfish’, ‘Mermaids’ or ‘Tadpoles’ according to sex and age,” he recalled.

Full-time director

BSAC was founded at the centre the same year, and Vallintine was soon involved in its activities and became an instructor. One of the club’s key moments came in 1969 when he was appointed its first full-time director, the aim being for him to provide the continuity required by the club as it grew. 

At the time membership stood at 13,000 and Vallintine held the position to oversee the club's continuing rapid expansion until 1980, when he left to set up his own dive school in London. 

In June 1972 he organised the first-ever club expedition to St Kilda, well beyond the Outer Hebrides. Eight divers from eight branches discovered “large Atlantic swells, blue water and some of the best diving in British waters”, reported BSAC. And in 1974 active diver the Prince of Wales was persuaded to take over the BSAC presidency, a major coup for the club. 

Vallintine’s engaging life story was told in his autobiography Deep In The Blue: A Life In Diving, published in 2007. From his early experiences in British waters the book follows his later moves to the Mediterranean where, following his fascination with islands, he set up diving schools where none had existed before and discovered one of the oldest wrecks in the world, dating from 700 BC. 

It also relates his dives from the newly created island of Surtsey off the Icelandic coast, and his participation in a dramatic search for a missing X-craft midget submarine in Arctic waters, as well as in the excavation of Henry VIII’s warship the Mary Rose in the Solent in the 1980s.

Keeper of records

Books written by Vallintine included Divers And Diving (1984), The Pocket Guide To Underwater Diving (1985) and the optimistically titled manual Learn Scuba Diving In A Weekend (1993). In 2003 he completed his definitive history of BSAC, The Club Book – 50 years of BSAC, based around his own archives of information, anecdotes and photographs. He was an inveterate keeper of records, not least the logs of all his dives.

In 1990 he co-founded and became first vice-president of the HDS, and remained an honorary vice-president until his death. 

Within a few years the HDS had honoured him by introducing the Reg Vallintine Award. The first recipient was scuba pioneer Professor Hans Hass, when he and his wife Lotte were guests of honour at the society’s annual conference in 1994. 

“Reg’s lifetime spent in the amateur diving field has made his name familiar worldwide and there are so many people who got to know as well as work with him in his 70-year career that a full obituary will take a while to prepare,” the HDS has stated, in what is in itself a tribute to the breadth of Vallintine's diving experiences.

To that end Peter Dick, the editor of the society’s journal RopeSignal, has requested contributions from friends and colleagues in “appreciation of a very full life well lived” – he can be contacted by email at hdtimes@thehds.com

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