Les D'Arcy in a scene from the film Ping Pong
The retired schoolteacher may be in his tenth decade but still the sporting achievements come. He’s a veteran weightlifting champion, currently holds the British Record in all the Athletic throwing events in his age group and holds many table tennis titles. It’s this latter achievement that has turned him into a film star, in the excellent British documentary Ping Pong.
“They say those that can, do. Those that can’t, talk about it or read about it.” It’s a charming soundbite from Les D’Arcy but one can’t help thinking it’s not entirely accurate. He may declare that “I’m now 91 so I talk about things a lot more than I do them,” but he’s still probably achieving more in his tenth decade than most of us have achieved in half that time, from British athletic records to table tennis titles.
It’s the latter that has led to Les’ latest career of movie star, as he and fellow British veterans’ table tennis champion Terry Donlon are the main focus of the charming documentary Ping Pong. “It is a little bit overwhelming,” he reveals. “Terry and I tend to be unobtrusive and go in a corner and not say too much.” Les does admit, with a chuckle, that it’s been fun. “I think most people like to have a little attention from time to time.”
The film (click right to view the trailer) documents several players on this circuit, particularly the two Brits who, as it happens, founded the championships just a few years ago. The number of participants has risen from a few hundred to several thousand, and Les thinks the film does his sport justice.
“It’s a great reflection of how it is. There’s great camaraderie but there’s a great sense of rivalry when it gets closer to the gold medal. That’s when it becomes important to most people. I think it’s well documented.” So much so, in fact, that Les explains one of his sons has said he’ll adopt the makers, Hugh and Anson Hartford.
As well as the film, Les has a couple of other things to worry about. He shrugs off a recurring cancer scare – “once I’m back from Sweden they can decide what course of extermination they can use” – to discuss this year’s World Table Tennis Championships and, perhaps more excitingly, his chance to carry the Olympic flame. “I’m very fortunate,” says Les, with admirable humility.
“I think one needs targets at any time in life. It’s more difficult when you’re in your ninth and tenth decade, because so few targets are accessible. It’s no good wanting to be the world boxing champion,” he laughs, although you sense if anyone could do it…
“They have to be achievable targets,” continues Les. “One moves away from the physical to the mental and then,” he adds with a grin, “when you’re approaching the winning post, the spiritual because you want to have an insurance.”
Les is moving towards the mental – “I’ve started trying to promote chess at the youth club, because it takes mental energy rather than physical” – but he’s not putting his feet up just yet. “The doctor said to me to stop the weightlifting and warned me not to do ‘explosive’ events, like the hammer and such like so I’ve started swimming…
“One begins to think, when you’re occupying this planet, am I paying my rent for being here? What have I achieved? Then when you see a project like [the Table Tennis Championships] escalate, that you’ve got other elderly people doing something and getting a better quality of life, I can feel content for my part in that.” Les beams. “To be a part of that is nice.”
Ping Pong is on general release from July 6, 2012 and is being screened as part of the East end film festival. See www.pingpongfilm.co.uk for details.