John Scott Biddle

June 7, 1925 - October 1, 2008

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

As Ted Turner and I made our way from our crew house down to the docks to sail Courageous, a cameraman kept popping up from behind bushes in Newport, Rhode Island, to film our ritual. Ted was curious about the filming and when he recognized the cameraman, Ted shouted, “Hey, diddle, there’s John Biddle.” We all had a good laugh.

Biddle was a genius at anticipating an interesting moment for his annual lecture film program. He made over 3000 presentations between 1956 and 1997. Biddle’s audiences provided him with the ultimate focus group on what sailing enthusiasts wanted to see. Biddle had a unique dry humor, a pleasant voice and interesting facts to share with his admiring fans. If you wanted to see what had happened in the America’s Cup the previous summer, Biddle’s presentation brought the drama to life. He filmed 10 Cup summers between 1958 and 1987, a period that spanned the entire 12 Metre America’s Cup era.

Biddle’s iconic images, filmed with a steady hand using a 16mm camera, included: an amazing pass when Gretel surfed a huge wave to pass Weatherly in the 1962 Cup; a fatal crash when a press helicopter fell into Rhode Island Sound; Baron Marcel Bich taking over the helm during the 1970 Cup trials; Alan Bond unveiling his secret wing keel in 1983; and spending time with Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy when they watched the Cup in person. He also shot exclusive on-board footage of the great sailors of the era, including Ted Turner, Ted Hood, Dennis Conner, Bus Mosbacher, Bill Ficker, and Bob Bavier. Now Biddle joins these sailing superstars in the National Sailing Hall of Fame.

Biddle was a descendant of two important Philadelphia Main Line families. His father was a general in the Army, and his maternal great-grandfather, Joseph Wharton, founded the Wharton School as part of the University of Pennsylvania. He attended Trinity College before starting his career as an engineer. His real passion was photography and filming. In 1956, he joined the crew of the cutter Souvenir on the Newport to Bermuda Race and filmed the voyage. That winter, he showed the film to several yacht clubs narrating the images live. The production was a hit and Biddle would spend the next 41 summers filming four or more sailing events and then editing them into a 90-minute show for the winter lecture circuit.

Biddle’s extensive film library is currently housed at Mystic Seaport Museum. During his years of production, his films included Tall Ship races, exotic cruising destinations, small boat racing, classic yachts, underwater sequences and a wide variety of promotional films for commercial interests. John Biddle loved the sport of sailing, and sailors around America loved him for his masterful performances.

— Gary Jobson

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