Few hockey clubs can regard themselves as fortunate as us to have included in its membership one so influential and generous as Peter Boizot MBE, for whom hockey remained his prime sporting love.
Peter was born and educated in Peterborough. When he was 18, he went on a three-month foreign exchange programme to experience life with an Italian family where he first encountered pizza. As a vegetarian for Peter, “to eat a pizza with mozzarella with tomato on a pastry base with an olive or two” was ideal.
After national service with the Royal Artillery and the Royal Army Service Corps in Egypt, Peter enrolled at Cambridge University with a Choral Exhibition and was awarded an honours degree in History from St Catharine's College, in 1953.
He later became a salesman for Tiger Toys, selling wooden animals and later the captain of the MV Yarvic. Voyages to Paris led him to jazz at cafés and restaurants: it was the first place where he found pizza readily available and where pizza restaurants were commonplace.
For 10 years, Peter then spent time in Europe, for Nestlé's publicity department in Switzerland and in the news photo department of Associated Press in Rome, combining work as a journalist with selling souvenirs and postcards in the evenings to tourists from a barrow in St Peter's in Vincoli Square. He then worked for Associated Book Distributors, based in Chicago but working from Frankfurt, selling and distributing encyclopaedias and knowledge books to forces personnel in US Army bases.
After a business trip to the headquarters in Chicago, Peter concluded that he could use to better effect the skills he had worked upon in these various jobs and venture out on his own. He was advised that it was impossible to cook a decent pizza in England without a special oven. In Rome he bought one for £600 and shipped it to England, along with an Italian chef to work it.
This led to the acquisition of PizzaExpress Limited, including the name for £10 and burden of repaying £14,000 to creditors. On 29 March 1965, PizzaExpress was born. In addition, Peter approached the manufacturer of Peroni beers in Naples and asked them to allow him to sell Nastro Azzurro in his restaurant.
Expansion followed steadily and then rapidly throughout the '70s, '80s and early '90s through traditional roll-out and, briefly, a franchising model, as the country quickly developed a hunger for pizza.
Peter invented the Pizza Veneziana, which was introduced into the pizza menu with a surcharge for the Venice in Peril Fund. This has contributed over £1 million to the fund. The initiative has been recognised by the Italian Government, which awarded Peter the Cavaliere Ufficiale and Al Merito della Republicana Italiana awards. In Britain, it was also recognised by the Bolla Award for the Briton considered to have done most for Venice.
By 1992, when there was more competition and in a tough economic climate, with the company short of cash, Peter decided to sell up. He continued his other business interests under the flag of the Peter Boizot Group. These included the Great Northern Hotel in Peterborough, Kettner’s restaurant in Soho and the well-known jazz venue, Pizza on the Park, in Knightsbridge.
As a jazz devotee, Peter set up the Soho Jazz Festival and brought music into the Pizza Express network. This tradition spawned the Pizza Express Jazz Club that produced its own newsletter and music listings. His other achievements include founding the Soho Jazz Festival, becoming chairman of the Westminster Chamber of Commerce and being appointed as Deputy Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire.
Peter was twice an unsuccessful parliamentary candidate for the Liberal party in Peterborough.
Alongside his business ventures, Peter donated substantial sums of money to a range of good causes. In 1992, he formed the Peter Boizot Foundation to benefit charitable purposes, institutions and foundations.
Peter’s association with Hampstead Hockey Club followed his election as a member on 3 March 1967. Two years later he was nominated to serve on the Club’s Committee. He played for the Veterans XI and captained the side. He also took on responsibility for clubhouse facilities and organisation of social functions and the like. On more than one occasion he met the cost of improving the showers and changing accommodation.
Peter was also allowed the Selection Committee to meet at Pizza Express in Wardour Street and its facilities to send bulletins and team sheets. In 1975 he donated his first prize in a 200 Draw back to the Club in the name of the Boizot Fund, set aside for sponsoring players from Hampstead who took part in foreign competition.
He supported the hosting of Veterans’ hockey events at Hornsey at the time of the 1986 Hockey World Cup in London and contributed financially in many ways to minor improvements to the pavilion and the Club for that event.
Peter also played a significant part in the decision to move to Paddington Recreation Ground, given his knowledge and experience of dealings with Westminster City Council.
He continued his role as President and sat on the General Committee. He promoted an extension of club Vice Presidents. He supported the call for a paid Administrator to run club affairs and continued to strive for the supply of hockey to ordinary members who might not attain the heights of the Club’s top-ranking teams.
After several years of disappointing results in the lower reaches of the London League, Peter made a somewhat startling suggestion to an Annual General Meeting in 1987 that the Club ought to aim to win the London League in its centenary year. In the next season it finished in 11th place. The National League was formed in 1988 and Hampstead’s attempt to be included in the top ten places to qualify had just fallen short after a promising start. Peter therefore sought the appointment of a discrete coach for the Men’s 1st XI.
This led to the retention of Greg Carr from New South Wales, who arrived in London in 1988 with his wife Tracy, who became an equally important player in the progression of the Women’s section then in its relative infancy. Greg Carr was a player coach who had an enormous impact on the Men’s 1st XI that quickly rose to the higher levels of the South League, the successor to the London League at first team level. The quantum leap taken then that undoubtedly led to the Club’s participation on National League hockey is regarded in no small part to the contribution by Greg. Much of this would not have been possible without Peter’s support.
Peter was instrumental in persuading Westminster City Council to install a second artificial playing surface at Paddington Recreation Ground in place of a grassed football pitch and later contributed through his Foundation in excess of £118,000 to ensure that a water based pitch was laid, given that the Council’s budget then only permitted a renewal of the sand-based surface.
He later encouraged debate with the City of Westminster for the illumination of the second pitch at Paddington Recreation Ground. This was opposed by local residents and seen as virtually unachievable. But Peter was able to persuade local Councillors to obtain fuller use of its facilities and to emphasise the significant improvement in lighting design that had led to more intensity and focus and less waste of flooded light that might affect surrounding housing.
Peter was also a benefactor to both Cambridge and Oxford Universities and, in particular, to his own college, St Catherine’s Cambridge. He provided sponsorship through PizzaExpress of the London League at all its levels for many seasons. He later extended it through Peroni in sponsoring the South League.
As a restaurateur, Peter was eager for the Club to obtain its own clubhouse and to offer facilities to match those of other clubs with their own clubhouses and those of the area surrounding the Recreation Ground. He later acquired the lease of the Carlton Tavern on the northern edge of the Recreation Ground that became the Club’s home until 2014. It was initially run and managed as part of Peter’s business group but later acquired by three members of the club.
In his later years, Peter moved away from his flat in Lowndes Square and removed to his favoured Peterborough, when his business activities began to diminish in retirement. He was appointed the Club’s Emeritus President in recognition of his huge contribution, to add to his retention of the Sam Taylor Award for outstanding service to the Club.
The Club understands that there is likely to be a private committal and that there is a likelihood of a memorial service, early in the new year. At present there are no further details, but we will let you know as soon as we know anything.
Words by Ian Smith