Show Summary Details

Page of
PRINTED FROM Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. © Oxford University Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single article in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy).

Cooper [married name Badcock], (Margaret) Joycelocked

  • Peter Bilsborough

Cooper [married name Badcock], (Margaret) Joyce (1909–2002), swimmer, was born in Ceylon on 18 April 1909, the daughter of Arthur Murray Cooper. Her family returned to England from Ceylon after the First World War and settled on the south coast. She learned to swim in Ceylon. It helped to strengthen her legs as she had problems with them as a child and was required to wear leg-irons. Illness was never far away during most of her time as an international swimmer. Abdominal pains often caused her to collapse at the end of particularly demanding races but these were not diagnosed fully until the mid-1930s, at the end of her international career.

Cooper took up swimming seriously at the age of sixteen after a visit to Eastbourne where she watched Vera Tanner, a member of the 1924 Olympic team, swim front crawl. Initially, she trained in the sea at Seaford, trying to replicate Tanner's technique, and then went on to join the Mermaid swimming club, a rather exclusive club using London's Finchley Road baths. She was coached by Bill Howcroft, one of Britain's leading swimming experts, and one of the first to use scientific training methods. She became one of Britain's most successful swimmers in the late 1920s and early 1930s. This was a particularly challenging time for the country's leading swimmers, as national championship races were held annually at a handful of venues the length and breadth of the country and the number of international competitions was increasing beyond the four-year cycle of the Olympic games. Unemployment was high, leaving swimmers afraid to travel too much for fear of losing their jobs. Cooper fought to have national championship races brought together as one annual competition at one venue, but this was not introduced until 1936. Cooper was fortunate because her parents gave her an annual allowance of £75 to enable her to train and travel, but she was required to supplement this by working part-time as a seamstress and ballroom dancing teacher.

Cooper was a tall, long-limbed figure known for her grace and courage; she had excellent back crawl and front crawl techniques, and raced over any distance. She travelled all over England between 1927 and 1933 to win a remarkable nineteen Amateur Swimming Association championship races, in 100 yards, 220 yards, 440 yards freestyle, 150 yards back crawl, and ‘long distance’. The long distance championship normally took place on the same course as the Oxford–Cambridge university boat race but in reverse (from Kew Bridge to Putney Bridge), and she won this four years in succession, from 1930 to 1933. She also held all the British freestyle records from 100 yards to 500 yards during 1930–32.

Cooper's first international appearance was at the second European championships in Italy in 1927. She finished joint first in the final of the 100 metres freestyle with Maria Vierdag from the Netherlands. A swim-off was arranged, but she withdrew because of a pain in her abdomen; she nevertheless went on to win a gold medal in the 4 × 100 metres freestyle relay. Cooper also competed in the subsequent European championships in Paris in 1931. She was the reigning world record holder for 150 metres back crawl and European record holder for 100 metres and 300 metres freestyle going into the competition, but failed to win any gold medal owing to some superb swimming from Marie Braun from the Netherlands, a heavy competition schedule, and poor weather and cold water conditions. She gained three silver medals (400 metres freestyle, 4 × 100 metres freestyle, and 100 metres back crawl) and a bronze medal (100 metres freestyle), but she had set her sights on gold.

Cooper competed in two Olympic games, in Amsterdam in 1928 and Los Angeles in 1932, and in the inaugural British empire games in Canada in 1930. She won bronze medals in the 100 metres freestyle and 100 metres back crawl and a silver medal in the 4 × 100 metres freestyle relay in Amsterdam. She achieved her most successful medal haul at the British empire games in 1930. She emerged as a national hero, winning four of England's six gold medals for swimming, and winning all the women's events except one of the backstroke races. She competed with her sister Doreen Wright to win gold in the 4 × 100 metres freestyle relay. British swimmers had little success at Los Angeles in 1932 but she had an eventful time—not least because doctors wanted to remove her appendix during the Olympiad. She managed to win a bronze medal in the 4 × 100 metres freestyle relay, and finished sixth in the final of the 100 metres back crawl. She set an Olympic record in the first round of the 100 metres freestyle but missed her turn in the semi-final, finishing fourth. She was faster than the winner of the second semi-final, but she was eliminated because only three swimmers per heat progressed to the final.

Cooper gave up international swimming after her marriage on 17 July 1934 to John Charles Badcock (1902/3–1976), businessman, but she continued to swim for the Mermaid club. He was an Olympic rowing gold (1932) and silver (1928) medallist, and the son of Charles Alfred Badcock, company director. They had two sons, Felix (who rowed for England in the Commonwealth games in 1958) and David (who rowed for Oxford in the university boat race in the same year). John Badcock died on 29 May 1976. Joyce (who lived latterly in Bognor Regis, Sussex) died at St Richard's Hospital, Chichester, on 22 July 2002 of cancer. She was survived by her two sons.


  • Handbook [Amateur Swimming Association] (1927–33)
  • E. Bergvall, IX. Olympiaden: berättelse över Olympiska spelen i Amsterdam 1928 (Uppsala, 1928)
  • British Olympic Journal, 7/6 (1931), 112
  • British Olympic Journal, 7/12 (1932), 231
  • Swimming, 79/10 (2002), 48
  • ‘M. Joyce Cooper’, International Swimming Hall of Fame website,, accessed 1 Aug 2005
  • m. cert.
  • d. cert.


  • photograph, repro. in G. Collins, The new magic of swimming (1934), 133
  • portrait, repro. in The Times (26 July 2002)

Wealth at Death

£767,646: probate, 27 Jan 2003, CGPLA Eng. & Wales