Roy Fransen

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Royston Albert Fransen (born 4 January 1916 in Tottenham, north London, England died 5 July 1985) was a British High Diver and Stuntman. He was best known for his public displays of high and acrobatic diving, usually into shallow depth tanks and pools; these high dives were often performed with both diver and water surface being set ablaze with burning petrol. Roy Fransen's professional high and fire diving career lasted over 40 years - until his accident and death in 1985 during a performance, when aged 69.

His 1948 record high-dive, from a height of 110 feet into a depth of 8 feet, remained unbroken Worldwide for 49 years; this acrobatic diving record was in the category of highest into shallow. Whilst not including fire, incorporated a full somersault followed by a head first entry into a 16 ft diameter (above ground) diving tank. During his lifetime Roy Fransen remained unchallenged - European High and Fire Diving Champion.

As a youth and during the 1930s, to improve his athletic hobby and sporting skills. regular daily practice was conducted dry and without water at home in suburban Pinner. This gave him a time saving on travelling to and from swimming pools. Here the disciplines of swallow and pike diving were practiced and perfected without interruption - from a spring board in to safety-netting set up in his parent's back garden.

In the late 1940s together with his elder brothers and friends, including stuntman/diver George Baines and Vera Beaumont, diving beauty, a high dive stunt and show was created - simply to generate an income; this it did, and within two seasons had grown into a full-scale water show production called Aqua-revue. Enjoying popularity at open air lidos and indoor swimming pools, a troupe of 20 to 30 performed a mix of acrobatic water skills, beauty, comedy and danger. Roy Fransen's Aqua Show, plus Aqua-Belles and Aqua-Zanies toured many UK holiday resorts well in to the mid-1950s.

By 1960 a more compact arena show was performed; this was billed as The Dive of Death, and as a spectacle attracted large audiences. Circus and Trade Fairs throughout the capital cities of the World were regularly visited. Many European and UK television broadcasts were transmitted. Timex, of wrist watch fame, ran a TV ad campaign praising their product's longevity - successfully enduring several 'On Fire Into Fire' high dives, whilst strapped upon Roy's wrist.

Although a regular swallow dive, from a height of 75 feet is twice the average of Olympic diving, the water was less than half as deep ! Also, the small surface area of the water tank hardly compared to any swimming pool.

However the Dive of Death, as posters announced, including its On Fire Into Fire sub-title, left little to the imagination exactly what the purpose of the equipment was for; the tank and tower both extreme in their respective small and high proportions.

As a sensational spectacle, at whatever venue it was performed, the 'Dive of Death' was usually saved until after dark - allowing the flames to add greater drama. Whereas in daytime, Roy, wearing only swimming trunks, would dive into burning petrol spread upon the water surface; this was not without danger. Severe burns to bare legs and feet resulted from diving through an excessive column of flame. Likewise, thick dense smoke rising from the tank surface, could linger and so obscure Roy's targeting aim.

Otherwise the 'On Fire, Into Fire' dive was performed - on occasions thrice daily. Then Roy would wear a full body costume - a silver painted cotton boiler-suit - when diving; however here, doused with petrol himself, a moment was selected to set alight both tank and diver. Then, as a blazing torch, Roy's only sanctuary was the water 70 ft below - beneath its burning surface.

Every dive, even without fire, required precision alignment and split-second reactions. Head first (swallow dive) entry into the tank itself - a mere 16 feet diameter - needed a perfect aim and secure footing launch from the diving platform above. Whilst, of course, a degree of showmanship was included, there was no trickery involved; every high dive was, without question, a very dangerous daredevil feat.

Sadly, on 5 July 1985, during a public performance in South West London, Roy Fransen died whilst attempting his Dive of Death for the final time, he was then aged 69, and remained a very fit man for his years.

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