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The Frying Scot went in search of glory at Aberdeen’s first-ever pancake race

The 1972 pancake race was won by Irene Harper in an exciting finish.
The 1972 pancake race was won by Irene Harper in an exciting finish.

It was the Aberdeen pancake race which called for steady grips and featured a 75-year-old competitor nicknamed The Frying Scot.

Pancake flipping prowess was to the fore during the Shrove Tuesday race which took place in Aberdeen for the first time in 1972 at Union Terrace Gardens.

The original mediaeval pancake was made up of all the food in the house going into one pan for an almighty blow-out on Shrove Tuesday.

The first known appearance of pancake racing was in the Buckinghamshire village of Olney in the 15th century.

The 500-year-old tradition never really caught on in Scotland before a successful event was held in Glasgow in 1971.

Aberdonians got their chance to take part in 1972 which became one of 16 places in the UK which hosted the National Pancake Racing Championships.

Organiser Janice Caie promotes the first-ever pancake race back in February 1972.

Competitors were asked to cover a 100-yard course while flipping their pancakes out of the pan, and back into it again, at least three times.

An inscribed copper frying pan, a hamper of food and £5 was the prize for the winner as well as the chance for a free weekend for two in Paris.

That was the prize for the overall fastest time at any of the 16 venues with organisers Jif also offering an added £100 if the 13.6-second record was broken.

The oldest competitor was Jean Stephen who was 75 and nicknamed The Frying Scot.

She signed up after reading in the Evening Express that only three women – two Italians and an Englishwoman – had entered the contest with a week to go.

“I was so ashamed when I read the paper,” she said.

“I just couldn’t believe that not one Scotswoman was going to take part.

“If I fail it won’t be for lack of trying.”

The pancake race hit the headlines in Aberdeen in 1972.

Mrs Stephen explained she was no stranger to pancakes.

“I make them about every second day,” she said.

Most of them were distributed among her “family” of 54 which was the number of neighbouring children she would babysit for during the week.

She first came to Aberdeen in 1915 from Wick and got married after falling in love with the best man at her sister’s wedding.

Mrs Stephen was busy looking for another Evening Express article before the race.

“It told how to combat stiffness in the joints,” she said.

“I’ll have to consult it before next Tuesday.”

Eight determined women took part in the city’s first-ever pancake race although Mrs Stephen’s chances of success bit the dust almost immediately.

Her pancake failed to reach the safety of the pan after being flipped into orbit.

She retrieved the pancake but the rest of the field was already out of sight, having reached the halfway mark where they had to turn for home.

Jean Stephen makes it to the finish line after competing in the city’s first-ever pancake race.

The Evening Express described the finish as “neck and neck”.

The report read: “One of the leaders put just a little too much enthusiasm into the turn and came to an abrupt halt on the grass, frying pan and all.

“But soon she picked herself up and joined the frantic dash for the tape.

“At the finish it was neck and neck between 36-year-old Mrs Robina Ingram, 48 Abbey Square, Torry, and 31-year-old Mrs Irene Harper, 54 Kings Crescent.

“Mrs Ingram, however, stopped just ahead of the tape…and Mrs Harper tossed her way to victory. Her winning time of 19.3 seconds will now be compared with the times in the 15 other races in Britain organised by Jif Lemon, and the winner will be treated to a weekend for two in Paris.

“In the meantime, Mrs Harper is contented with her prize of an engraved copper frying pan, which was presented by Grampian Television announcer Miss Ann MacDonald.”

Mrs Irene Harper (left), wins by a short-head from Mrs Robina Ingram, in an exciting finish.

It was not until after the race that Mrs Harper revealed she had used a borrowed frying pan and pancake!

“I had no idea about the rules of bringing your own pancake and pan, so I had to borrow them from the organisers when I got here,” she said.

There was no Stewards Enquiry though and Irene was the worthy winner!

The pancake race would return in 1973.

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