Charles Relle, our friend and longtime winker, died on 7 October 2015 of a heart attack whilst out and about with his rambler walking friends. He was 74. We convey our sincere condolences to his wife Eleanor, his son Benedict, his daughter Rosalind Dodd, and his grandchildren. Charles was a great man, educator, and winker. We have enjoyed his joy of life and irreverence alike.
Charles was born on 30 July 1941. His mother, Rosalind, died in 1961 when he was 19. His father, Vernon, died in 1982 when Charles was 40.
Charles began his long winking career in 1960, during his first year as a student at Cambridge University’s Trinity College in England, where he read (majored in) Classics of literature. I have distinct memories of Charles walking me through the backs and courtyard of Trinity just a few years ago. It was always such a pleasure to hear Charles talk about the history and evolution of the game of tiddlywinks. Winks meant so much to him, as it does to all of us.
A few years ago, Charles sent me a copy of what is now an iconic photograph of him winking on the famed River Cam in Cambridge, England with fellow CUTwC winkers. The Cam was frozen over, and he and others were absolutely delighted to be winking on the Cam.
Charles was a very engaging teacher of Latin and Greek. His last day of teaching was on 11 July 2001, and he officially retired from his teaching job on 31 August 2001, though he continued to review and rate student papers, as he would avidly tell me.
Charles played tiddlywinks for all but a few years of his adult life. He started winking in 1960 at the age of 19. He stopped playing tiddlywinks during the several years when he lived in Carlisle, and then resumed winking thereafter until his death in 2015. Charles played winks for far more years than any other winker across all of winkdom. As Charles told me in an email dated 7 June 1999: “I started playing at Cambridge in 1960, and represented Cambridge against Oxford four times. I also have seven international cups. I have won the English National Singles once, and the Pairs four times. I won the World Pairs championship in 1989 with Larry Kahn.” Well, all-in-all, Charles won the English Singles three times: 1981, 1987 (as top national, since an American, Dave Lockwood, won), and 1988 (also as top national). He competed in three World Singles matches but did not end up winning any.
Charles won the English Pairs six times: 1981 and 1982 with Nigel Knowles as partner, 1985 with Mike Surridge (as top nationals), 1986 again with Mike Surridge, 1989 with American Larry Kahn, and 2006 with Alan Dean (top nationals). He and Larry Kahn won the July 1989 World Pairs against Dave Lockwood and Jim Marlin and then immediately lost the subsequent World Pairs to the same pair as they applied their additional challenge. He and Alan Dean won the March 2007 World Pairs against Patrick Barrie and Andy Purvis, and the next month lost the title to Matt Fayers and Larry Kahn. They lost again to the same pair in the April 2013 World Pairs.
Charles won the North American Pairs in 2006 with American Bob Henninge.
The first time I (American winker Rick Tucker) interacted with Charles was by postal mail around 1978-1980 when I was initiating my research into the origins and history of the game of tiddlywinks with fellow American winker and historian, Fred Shapiro. Charles gladly provided me photocopies of all of the early English Tiddlywinks Association publications and Winking Worlds. I am now rediscovering and reading once again our letters over the many years, originally on paper and later by email and online posts.
I first met Charles in person during the 1985 NATwA visit to England, which was in fact my first of many winking visits to England.
Here are a few photographs of Charles at the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the Cambridge University Tiddlywinks Club in January 2005.
On 11 October 2009, I hosted the first ever tiddlywinks triples tournament in England. Triples is a tiddlywinks game with six colors, played by a partnership of three winkers against three winkers as opponents. It was held in Kensington in London. Here are a few photographs.
In 2010, there was another British tiddlywinks invasion of America. Charles was one of the eight winkers on ETwA’s all-star team. A photograph follows.
When he lived in London, Charles hosted his own Catford Invitation tiddlywinks tournament in his home, usually for eight players (two tables), though occasionally for twelve (three tables). Charles also very much enjoyed playing in other invitational tiddlywinks events. Here’s a photograph of Charles at an invitational at Alan Dean’s house in Sandy (11 October 2012), where I also had the pleasure to play.
The last time I saw Charles in person was at CUTwC’s 60th anniversary events in January 2015, at Selwyn College. Here are some photographs from the various 60th events.
Charles would always announce the beginning of a tiddlywinks game by saying “middle for diddle”, as a reminder to us all that there is a celebration for the beginning of everything. He also told me that John Furlonger introduced that phrase to the game. But I always associate “middle for diddle” with Charles, along with “doubleton” and his many other interesting unique and intriguing utterances as he played the game of tiddlywinks with everlasting energy and fervor.
As a tiddlywinks player, Charles was quite aggressive in playing shots. Charles would try most any shot possible: long Bristols; complicated piddles; Goods that even John Good would never have imagined. He was well-known for taking risky shots, and often succeeding in making them, often to the surprise not only of the opponents, but also his partner in the game.
To celebrate his 40th anniversary of winking in 2000, and also for his 50th in 2010, Charles was jubilant in buying massive rounds of beer and imbibing them with all of his tiddlywinks friends.
Charles was an avid contributor in documenting the history of tiddlywinks. He enjoyed describing how the rules of tiddlywinks evolved over the many years since he first played, and proposing and debating ideas for revising and tuning the rules of tiddlywinks to be more effective. He was a prolific contributor of articles to both ETwA’s Winking World and NATwA’s Newswink.
After retirement, Charles and his wife Eleanor enjoyed the pleasure of living at various times throughout the year sometimes in their native England and otherwise in their pleasant house in the French countryside.
Charles frequently enjoyed walking and enjoying life and nature, and regularly took long walks across England. In September 2003, the Smithsonian magazine printed an article about a 190 mile walk across England, from coast to coast, during which the reporter encountered and followed Charles Relle and Alan Dean, who carried a tiddlywinks mat and set (and squidgers) and played periodically along the walk. Here are some excerpts from that article:
Not far from a monumental ruin of a smelting mill called Old Gang, about 15 miles from the city of Richmond, the fabled tiddlywinks champs turned up. They were Alan Dean, wiry and lean, and agile across the hilltops, and Charles Relle, tall and broad, and desperately afraid of heights. Alan and Charles were peculiar in the nicest sort of way. “All tiddlywinks players are odd,” Charles said when we had dinner with them a couple of days later. “You’re expected to be odd,” added Alan.
The notion of serious adult competition in the game of tiddlywinks, which involves flipping coin-size pieces of colored plastic into a small cup, was dreamed up in the mid-1950s by a group of students at Cambridge who wanted to hack into some of the respect given athletes. Now here were two champions from the 1970s tramping the Coast to Coast with a rolled-up tiddlywinks tablecloth, playing a match in a pub every night. We arranged to meet the pair in two days for a game, and with that in mind, Suzanne and I marched off into the longest—and according to A.W., the most boring—day. […]
That’s the kind of thing you think about when you’re walking 190 miles. You start off seeking a profound awareness of the complexity of life, and what you get is tiddlywinks and killer chickens.
Not that tiddlywinks is a frivolous thing. At least not the way Alan and Charles played it that night in the pub in Ingleby Cross. They spread their cloth on a table, cleared the area of customers and circled around the scattered winks, popping them at each other’s colors and finally at the cup in the table’s center. Alan was sardonic about what he considered to be his poor play, but Charles sighed deeply at the fate of each shot and agonized over any errors that he made. He won, 5-2.
Charles Relle has been a true treasure to the game of tiddlywinks and to the world. He has instilled dedication and a focused mindset in each of the students he taught. He has motivated winkers far and wide to excel in the game and to set and exceed their goals. We have always cherished Charles Relle. We will miss him. His heritage will endure forever.
[Please send me your additions, comments, and corrections to this article about our dear winker and friend, Charles Relle. In addition, I will continue to peruse my tiddlywinks archives and update this post in remembrance of Charles Relle. I would very much enjoy seeing and preserving photographs of Charles Relle and other winkers from the earliest days to the present that you may have and can digitize and send to me. My email address is RickTucker@alum.mit.edu. Plus, here’s how you can contact tiddlywinks.org!]