THE DEVELOPMENT OF MODERN TIDDLYWINKS
1957 – 1958
by GUY CONSTERDINE
Honorary Vice-President, English Tiddlywinks Association
The academic session 1957-58 was a great year for tiddlywinks, in which the game was transformed from a one-club pastime to a sport with a rapidly-increasing following exhibiting boundless enthusiasm.
This little volume traces the story of those twelve months, and continues where a previous volume, “On The Mat“, left off.
Events built up to a climax towards the end of the academic year, but their roots can be found at the beginning of the session.
Michaelmas Term activities at Cambridge University began with a meeting of the Tiddlywinks Club (C.U.Tw.C.) on Monday October 14th 1957. Besides discussing prospective future opponents, members heard further details of the Howell-Steen plan for a World Congress. “It was decided” say the Minutes “that the subscription rates would be reviewed in the light of the cost of this immense project.” The following week members were no doubt rather relieved to learn that this “vast undertaking … could be carried out at the cost of about £3”. At this second meeting, on October 21st, the evening’s play produced a tricky situation concerning squapping (note the spelling used by C.U.Tw.C. at this time) “and after a long discussion of this controversial issue, it was agreed that the whole system of squapping and desquapping should be reconsidered at the next meeting.” However, there is no record of this debate taking place, and the archives are full of another matter.
The Spectator published an article by `Strix’ which was intended as a skit on all those fearless, readily marketable articles attacking the Royal Family. `Strix’ called the article “Does Prince Philip Cheat At Billiard Fives?” At the printer’s this title was found to be too long to fit the space available, and “Billiard Fives” was changed to “Tiddlywinks”.
Whenever a reference to tiddlywinks appeared in a newspaper, it was C.U.Tw.C. policy to write a letter, generally to the paper concerned. Thus on October 20th Peter Downes, C.U.Tw.C. Secretary, wrote to the Duke of Edinburgh pointing out the headline’s reflection on his integrity, and inviting him to prove his honour at tiddlywinks by raising a team to play Cambridge. The Duke declined the challenge himself, but appointed the Goons as his Royal Champions, and the great match was duly played at the Cambridge Guildhall in March 1958. “Thus we are reminded of the curious ways in which history is made”, wrote `Strix’, “and of the powerful and beneficient influence which the Spectator exerts upon the affairs of the nation.”
It is worth tracing in some detail the sequence of events which led up to this Royal Tournament. After the Spectator article and Peter Downes’ letter, the next event was the very encouraging letter from James Orr, the Duke’s Private Secretary:
Dear Mr. Downes,
The Duke of Edinburgh has asked me to thank you for your letter of the 20th October, which he has read with great interest.
If you think it would be possible for you to arrange such a match in aid of the National Playing Fields Association, His Royal Highness would in the first
Prince Philip greatly regrets that he cannot find the time to participate himself.
The club held an Extraordinary Committee Meeting on Tuesday 29th October to discuss what action to take. It was agreed that the Goons should be proposed as the Duke’s Royal Champions – partly because the C.U.Tw.C. had always wanted to play the Goons, and partly because they had refused a direct challenge from Cambridge previously; thus the Goons were to find themselves in the position of being commanded by Royalty to do something they had refused to do of their own accord! A letter proposing the Goons was despatched to James Orr that day.
Orr quickly replied that “His Royal Highness thinks that your suggestion … is a good one and has proposed that we should find out the Goons’ reaction to the idea. I am asking Captain R. C. Harry, the Appeals Secretary of the N.P.F.A., to take this up with their manager and I expect that you will be hearing from him in due course. If the Goons are enthusiastic about this idea it should prove a most memorable afternoon!”
The Club’s next meeting was on November 4th, when the Royal Tournament correspondence was read to members (though Orr’s second letter had not yet arrived). Ironically, members heard that the Goons and Lady Docker had declined an invitation to a match in aid of the University Poppy Day.
Over a week elapsed before the Club heard from Roy Harry of the N.P.F.A. In his letter, dated November 13th, Harry explained that he had just contacted Spike Milligan, who would write to C.U.Tw.C. direct. Arrangements for the match were to be made by C.U.Tw.C. and Milligan, who would keep the Duke and the N.P.F.A. informed.
There was great excitement at Cambridge when a real hide lefthand gauntlet arrived by registered post, accompanied by a note written in Milligan’s
Hear Ye Varlet.
Be It Known
To Your Sword Do Take ‘pon
The Day To Be Fix-ed
Sir Spike the Milligan
Formalities were discarded at the Club’s next meeting, on 18th November: “in view of the extraordinary situation of having to discuss a match, it was decided to dispense with minutes and come directly to the main business.” Responsibility was allocated for various aspects of the arrangements for the match: programmes, advertising, organisation of rooms, and so on. It was decided that the correct mode of reply to Milligan was a scroll. Accordingly a parchment scroll, supplied and inscribed at his own expense by a non-member, John Keily, tied with a light blue ribbon and sealed with a light blue wink, was sent by registered post on Wednesday 20th. The scroll was headed with the Club’s coat of arms, “a light blue pot with wink
rampant”, and read:
Hear Ye, Sir Spike the Milligan,
Be It Known, Mate, that ye Cambridge University
Tiddlywinks Club taketh up ye gauntlet and will
join battle with ye Royal Champion Goons early
in ye New Year.
After scarcely a mention of tiddlywinks in even the local press in nearly three years, the national press now burst forth with the story. William Hickey of the Daily Express was one of the first, on November 16th, and his report was followed by stories in the Sunday Dispatch, Daily Mirror, and others. On November 22nd the Daily Express was reporting that Arthur Guinness, Son & Company had offered the Goons Guinness for training.
The Lloyd Room, Christ’s College, was the scene of the next Club meeting, on November 27th. it began with a 90-minute session of posing for a photographer from the Keystone Press Agency of Fleet Street; the agency then donated 5 guineas for the N.P.F.A. “Under the metaphorical glare of publicity”, the Minutes mused, “some members found that their standard of play was even lower than normal… Two highlights of the session were a learned lecture by Brian Tyler on the technical problems involved in squidging a wink, and then later Robert Howland executed a
perfect down-the-tie shot.”
It was at this meeting that members had news that at last Oxford possessed a tiddlywinks club. Tim Durbridge, Secretary of the new club, wrote to “inform you of the revival of our long-established Oxford University Tiddlywinks Society, founded by Alfred the Great… the O.U.T.S. hereby challenges you to a grand intervarsity match.” The match eventually took place the following summer.
The day after this meeting Milligan disclosed his provisional team of eight Goons, adding that John Snagge had offered his services as umpire; Milligan put forward a Saturday at the end of February as the date for the match. Cambridge replied by suggesting March 1st, to which Spike Milligan agreed. Thus the great day was fix-ed.
The last meeting of the term was held on Friday December 6th, in the morning. It included the reading of a letter from Rowntrees, who were unable to make “Guinness-insoluble non-alcoholic light blue Smarties for the Club to train on.”
A few days later another sporting personality agreed to help umpire the game against the Goons – Chris Brasher, the Olympic Gold Medalist.
To usher the year out in grand style, tiddlywinks was the subject of the fourth leader in The Times on December 17th. The leader included these observations: “The heathen, lesser breeds without the tiddlywinks law may make the mistake of classing it with, for instance, snakes-and-ladders. No mistake could be more crass and unforgivable.” Snakes-and-ladders “is a pure matter of chance… How different from the subtle art of tiddlywinks. Here all depends upon the steady hand, the strong nerve, the experience eye… Tempers are never lost”(!)
The New Year, 1958, came in full of promise, and the promise was amply justified by the events of the next twelve months. The year began modestly enough with a Club meeting on January 15th. One of the problems in arranging the Goons match was the need for Harry Secombe to be at Coventry at 1.45 p.m., straight after the match, to appear in a matinee pantomime. R. Howland now came forward with the brilliant suggestion that Fison’s Pest Control should be asked to provide a helicopter to transfer Secombe from Cambridge to Coventry. The suggestion was duly acted upon; within a fortnight Fison’s had agreed to the plan, and the police had accepted a flight path whereby the helicopter took off from St. John’s playing fields.
Steen and Howells announced that they had sent off invitations to the First World Tiddlywinks Congress, to be held on June 11th & 12th. “You are no doubt aware that Tiddlywinks is becoming a world-wide sport,” read the invitation, “and naturally as in any growing and virile activity there are several minor differences regarding the mode of play. If this promising pastime is to progress to its rightful position as one of the world’s great games we must reconcile these minor differences and formulate a standard set of rules.” Among the other things to be considered at the Congress were the advisability of approaching the Olympic Committee, and the design of a suitable stadium!
With the real prospect of a major game at last, the Club was able to arrange a couple of `training’ games. The first of these was against girl radiographers from Addenbrooke’s Hospital, on 21st January. It began at 8.15 p.m.; John Furlonger and Peter Taylor scored 31 points out of a possible 32 (the scoring system at that time was 5, 3, 2 and 1 for 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th places). Cambridge took the game 107-69, and the evening finished socially over coffee.
The second game was played a week later, against Foxton Hall, the Joint Services School of Languages near Cambridge. Lawford Howells achieved a personal maximum, coming first in each of his games. The Club won all 16 games and took the match 109 1/2 – 66 1/2. “There was a record crowd of spectators: 5” and the meeting carried on almost till midnight.
C.U.Tw.C. was searching for sponsors and advertisers to help finance the Goons match. Keith Piper wrote to Whitbread on January 25th inviting them to take advertising space in the programme; the reply was no, but Whitbread offered to supply a pint tankard to the winning team. Peter Downes wrote to Showerings suggesting that they might supply Cambridge with Babycham as a training diet because the bottle tops were light blue. Showerings’ area manager, accompanied by a Babycham sales representative, visited Downes in Christ’s. They were slightly sceptical and wanted to know what was involved in the game. A mat was unrolled, a pot placed in the middle, and a wink in the corner. With Downes’ very first squidge the wink flew straight into the pot. The Showerings men were astounded, and from that moment the Babycham supply was won. It materialised without delay, taking the form of 14 dozen bottles! Babycham models, notepads, pencils and brooches were also supplied. Varsity, after reporting that opposing teams were training on Babycham and Guinness, commented “A tight match is expected”.
There were manoevres in January to obtain permission to use the Duke of Edinburgh’s crest on the programme; this failed because use of the crest is only authorised when the Duke attends in person. By the end of January the probable Royal Champions’ team was: Spike Milligan & Harry Secombe; Peter Sellers & Wallace Greenslade; Max Geldray & Ray Ellington; Alan Simpson & Ray Galton. Ray Ellington was later unable to play, and in February Graham Stark took his place. About 600 seats were being provided for the match, including matside seats at 5/-; they were all sold out by February 9th.
Arrangements were made for the event to be filmed by Pathe News and British Movietone. Brian Johnston was to provide matside commentary for the BBC’s “Saturday Night On The Light”, including interviews with members of both teams, to make a recording lasting about 5 minutes. A “Sportsview” preview of the match was organised for the Wednesday beforehand, February 26th; two members from each side were to appear: Arundale and Downes, and Milligan and Greenslade. News of the match was kept in the newspapers through November, December, and January, but in February and March the publicity built up to a crescendo.
Two more `training’ matches were arranged for mid-February. A team representing R.A.F. Oakington were encountered on their home ground on February 10th, in No. 2 Officers’ Mess. It was a most enjoyable game, in luxurious surroundings, and was won by Cambridge 112 1/2 – 63 1/2. This was followed on February 18th by a game against Homerton Teachers’ Training College. C.U.Tw.C. suffered one or two early setbacks, but (refreshed by Babycham) eventually won 101-75.
John Snagge wrote to Cambridge on February 21st: “I am happy to tell you that I have a message from the Duke of Edinburgh which will be read out before the match begins, and which I may say is not only in keeping with the occasion, but is brilliant in its own wording. I asked him personally whether he had written it himself, and he told me that not only had he done that, but he had had a great deal of fun in writing it.”
It was now getting very close to the match. On the Monday beforehand a meeting was held in the Cambridge Guildhall, where the match was to be played, for seating arrangements to be completed. Low tables had been specially made for the occasion, 1 foot 4 inches from the floor, to render play more visible to the expected concourse of spectators. The players adapted themselves to playing at this unaccustomed height with a little practice.
The following day a meeting was held to discuss final plans. Light blue and red kneepads were prepared, while Norman Riley of the Daily Telegraph was an interested observer. The Minutes relate that “D. H. Mellor (Pembroke) arrived with the disturbing news that forged complimentary tickets had been sent to many `top people’ of the University. Plans were made to strengthen the security check on the Guildhall and also to obviate the danger that the Goons might be kidnapped.”
The interviews and demonstration game on “Sportsview” went forward as scheduled on the 26th. The fees for appearing were waived, with the request that the N.P.F.A. should be given the money – 25 guineas.
The last three days were incredibly hectic. What had started out as an amusing stunt seemed to be taking on national proportions. Elaborate security precautions to safeguard the Goons had to be taken, the police were worried about how manymen would be needed on extra duty, and newspapers were ringing up non-stop.
On the eve of the match Showerings sent a brief telegram to the Cambridge side: “Wishing you the best of luck in your match”. Earlier Showerings had paid for the printing of copies of the new Tiddlywinks Anthem which had been written by a life-long apostle of tiddlywinks, the Rev. E. A. Willis.
Each member of the Goons team had been asked to write a brief life history of himself, with particular reference to his past winking career. These entertaining histories were published in the official match programme. A proposal to produce Goons winks, and collect royalties from their sale, had encountered difficulties and was abandoned.
My men are fit,” proclaimed David Arundale shortly before the match. “Whatever form of goonsmanship we have to face, we have our own secret weapon.These are tactics based roughly on the thesis that in squidging a wink into the pot, R = P cos A + S; R being the normal reaction of the isotropic compressible medium, or carpet, on which the game is played; P being the applied force; A the angle between the wink and the squidger, and S the Steen factor.”
These tactics seemed to have the desired effect, as the C.U.Tw.C. Minutes relate. “Soon after 9 a.m. members of the Club who were to act as stewards for the Goons match arrived at the Guildhall to help in arranging of the seats and equipment for the match. After considerable chaos, caused mainly by the presence of camera crews from the Columbia Broadcasting System, BBC TV, ITV, Pathe News and British Movietone, everything was finally ready and at 10.30 the doors were opened and 600 people filled the Guildhall to capacity. Meanwhile, backstage, the two teams were receiving their last-minute instructions. Members of the Cambridge team had met the Goons outside Cambridge at the Leys School, and safely escorted them into the basement of the Guildhall via a secret subterranean passage through the Public Library.
“At 11.03 the teams emerged on to the platform to a very enthusiastic reception and after John Snagge had read out Prince Philip’s message and announced the names of the teams, Chris Brasher started the first round by firing a cap gun.”
Prince Philip’s message ran as follows: “Please give my best wishes to the two teams taking part in the great contest but try, if you can, to do it in such a way that you convey that I wish the Cambridge team to lose and my incomparable champions to win a resounding and stereophonic victory. At one time I had hoped to join my champions but, unfortunately, while practising secretly I pulled an important muscle in the second or tiddly joint of my winking finger. This is naturally very disappointing but at least it gives my side a very much better chance to win. Wink up, fiddle the game and may the Goons’ side win. – Philip.”
The Minutes carry on: “Play continued for the next hour and 20 minutes. The audience were extremely lively in the participation and the Goons revelled in the spontaneity of the response, giving a great deal of amusement to players and spectators alike. After two rounds had been played, half-time was taken, when both teams drank Babycham, and the Goons were also provided with rhubarb, of which they demonstrated the full comic potential.
“At the end of the match, the two teams came back onto the platform, and after a minor diversion when Harry Secombe tried to auction a leek with which he had been presented, John Snagge announced the result as a win for Cambridge by 120 1/2 points to 55 1/2, 16 games to nil. The Cambridge President then was presented with a tankard by the Lady Mayoress, and then the Goons were presented with losers’ awards – a mounted Babycham plastic model. The two umpires, John Snagge and Chris Brasher, also received a similar award. Then Harry Secombe came forward and sang the Tiddlywinks Anthem specially composed for the occasion by the Rev. E. A. Willis, and accompanied on the organ by Michael Marshall (of Christ’s); this was received with tumultuous applause and then all the audience joined in, as Harry Secombe led them in magnificent, operatic fashion. David Arundale came forward to ask for three cheers for “the person who started all this, that great sportsman and President of the National Playing Fields Association, His Royal Highness, the Duke of Edinburgh”.
After the Goons had been interviewed for sound radio and TV, and after Harry Secombe had been taken out to St John’s playing field to depart to Coventry in a Fison’s Pest Control helicopter, both teams had lunch together in the Lion Hotel, Petty Curry. The lunch was held quite informally, but the Cambridge President took that opportunity of thanking the Goons, and the Cambridge stewards, for making the event a resounding success, and Spike Milligan replied that the Goons had all enjoyed taking part and hoped the event would become an annual fixture. During the course of the lunch, Spike Milligan decided to send a telegram to Prince Philip, bearing the simple message – `Prepare to abandon ship, (signed) Royal Champion'”
Other nations are before us With their `Sputniks’ and `Explorers’,
This sport which needs such grit and concentration,
Through this game of skill and power
England knows her finest hour,
And her stronghold, shield and tower
MUST BE TIDDLYWINKS !!
The Sunday press were full of accounts of the match. The popular papers tended to stress the more frivolous side of the day’s activities. In the Sunday Dispatch: “Two girl programme sellers were set upon – tied up and gagged – and their programmes sold pound_sterling!1 apiece in aid of the N.P.F.A.” In the Sunday Express: “Secombe and Milligan were clearly shaken by posters carried by pyjama-clad undergraduates saying `Eccles Must Go’.” Reynolds News said “Afterwards the Goons protested that the umpire, Chris Brasher, had ignored a royal command to twist the game in their favour… The Mayor of Cambridge sat with the Mayoress in a matside seat. The Proctor stood, arms folded, looking down from the high balcony, his bulldogs by his side.” The People described the Goons’ defeat as “one of the most dramatic sporting upsets for years”!
The Sunday Times carried this report: “As the Royal colours, the Goons wore curious long yellow cotton garments (`the traditional Goons sheets’) with orange, yellow and black school caps, and ties embroidered with the initials of the Royals Tiddlywinks Club 1958… Cambridge were immaculate in dinner jackets and bow-ties bearing a wink rampant… The Goons’ play was conscientious, but lacked finesse. At one point Mr Harry Secombe squopt his own captain, who observed irritably that he was a Charlie.”
A considerable sum of money was raised for the N.P.F.A. at the match, plus some beforehand. Then came a second telegram from Showerings, dated March 3rd: “Heartiest congratulations to you and your team on outstanding victory at Cambridge Guildhall Stop In effort to soften blow which his Royal Highness suffered by defeat of his Champions we are sending you one hundred guineas cheque for his Playing Fields Fund Stop The Directors of Showerings Ltd.”
Receipts from the match eventually came to £225.
|Receipts at Goons Match
Donation from Showerings
BBC, for Sportsview appearance
On March 4th a letter was sent from Michael Ramsey, then Archbishop of York, now Archbishop of Canterbury. He conveyed his “congratulations and his humourous pleasure at the success of the efforts of your Club in Cambridge for the N.P.F.A.” The Archbishop added that “in the rapid development of the technological age, when civilisation is becoming industrialised, the choice of your particular game is a wholesome reminder that the truest satisfaction is often to be found in simplicity, and it is the hallmark of a mature mind to preserve the enduring values of a childlike response to life.”
The Goons match is a great watershed in the story of tiddlywinks. Preceding it were three years of little-publicised existence and very few matches. During this period progress was made by a series of discrete leaps with long uneventful patches in between. Now with the Goons match winks began to catch the public’s imagination. The publicity triggered off the formation of a number of new clubs, and a stream of letters, enquiries and requests for information was soon flowing towards Cambridge. In the short term much of the immediate upsurge of interest by the public at large waned after a few months, yet in the long run the match had a profound effect on tiddlywinks. The game took deep and permanent roots in a small number of universities, colleges and schools, and it is from this solid core of a few earnest clubs that the future expansion of the game developed. In short, the Goons match, the publicity surrounding it, and the lasting enthusiasm it aroused in various quarters, galvanised tiddlywinks into a new tempo of life.
After the excitement of the Goons match the Club might easily have sunk into an anticlimax, but things were kept on the boil. The Lent term still had a week or two of its courses to run. The Club held a well-attended meeting (17 members present) on March 10th at Christ’s College. The entire Goons team, plus the two umpires and Capt. R. C. Harry, were elected Honorary Members “for services to tiddlywinks”. But the main business of the evening was a most amusing and entertaining talk by the Rev. E. A. Willis, author of the Tiddlywinks Anthem. “Mr. Willis, a life-long tiddlywinker, and himself genuinely convinced of the skill and beneficient value of tiddlywinks, gave many examples from his own experience of how tiddlywinks can intoxicate even the most temperamental of men, and render the strong into nervous wrecks when faced with a vital tiddle shot. Mr. Willis gave a demonstration of some of his own variations on the game, including the `four pot relay’, and the meeting closed with the singing of the Tiddlywinks Anthem, to the accompaniment of Mr. H. W. C. Henderson, a friend of Mr. Willis and also a devotee of tiddlywinks.”
Many were Willis’s visits to winks clubs in the next few years, infusing his zeal for the game into his audiences. One of his stories was how in air raid shelters during the Second World War he endeavoured to get young people to play Queensberry tiddlywinks (racing for the pot) as a sort of shock therapy. His dictum was that tiddlywinks was only worth playing if it was made enjoyable and played in a gentlemanly spirit.
In a period when every player was wont to extol the game in golden phrases [footnote: A good example of the `ecstatic’ note in early winks writing is this extract from a letter from Peter Downes to Altrincham Grammar School in 1958: “TIDDLYWINKS could become a tremendous power for good throughout the country. It can give back health and mental ability to those who are ravaged by the complexity and over-mechanisation of modern life. Through its low cost and the universality of its appeal,TIDDLYWINKS can enter smoothly and naturally into family life, restoring balance to the brain distorted by the incessant watching of the inanity of television. Just as TIDDLYWINKS will bring a new unity to family life, so may it exert an equally beneficial influence on international relations.”] Willis’s were perhaps the greatest eulogies. Almost every thought he pronounced on the subject was a hymn of praise. The Tiddlywinks Anthem, which seems to be the game’s first piece of poetry, was very much in the `heroic’ vein (as was the early poetry of cricket, another game which in its infancy was held in low esteem by the general ranks of the population). Willis had the happy knack of coining eminently quotable sentences. “Life takes on a new prospect when one holds a squidger in one’s hand” he said on one occasion in London. In a letter dated 30th January 1958 he wrote “The progress of Civilisation will depend in no small measure upon the spread of this most noble sport.” He portrayed tiddlywinks as the last wholesome force which was capable of ultimately overcoming the soul-destroying march of industrialisation. “We look to tiddlywinks to get us back to the primeval simplicity of life”, he once remarked; this became one of The Observer’s Sayings of the Year. On 24th April 1958: C.U.Tw.C., “alone of all Societies in the British Isles, stands between Civilisation and the threat of Atomic Destruction.” (To complete the story, Willis was a graduate of London University and the Champion’s Cup in the London Tiddlywinks League, donated by Clive Wolfe and Doug Smith, was named after Willis. He died in 1963.)
At Cambridge the last meeting of the Lent term was held on Wednesday 12th March. By now a match against Oxford had at last been arranged, after three years’ endeavour. The meeting largely consisted of trials for team selection, the test being to pot 8 small and 4 large winks from 4 feet; Peter Downes reduced the Club record to 30 shots.
During the Easter vacation the Northern branch of CUTwC played a 4-a-side match against Manchester University Technical Faculty. The Cambridge team was Downes, Taylor and Mellor plus a guest player, Ravenscroft (Christ’s College). Cambridge won 26-18.
It is impossible to be sure how many permanent winks clubs were in existence at this time, but there is evidence of at least seven. Cambridge and Oxford head the list. The Willis Hall Tw Club was formed at a Bristol University hall of residence sometime in 1957; during the summer term of 1958 the club was granted the title of University of Bristol Tw Club. A letter in “Sennet” during March 1958 shows that a group of students, including one Philip Bryan, had formed a club at the London School of Economics. Manchester University Technical Faculty possessed a club by February 1958. In May 1958 Altrincham Grammar School (AGS) was organising a contest which attracted 64 entries, including 10 masters and most of the prefects; Nick Ludlow and Ken Veitch were the founders of the AGS Tw Foundation, which was soon experimenting with spin shots et al. There was also a club at Kings School, Peterborough. This list is probably incomplete. In addition there were a number of bodies which had no permanent club but could sometimes find 8 people willing to play in a match.
One newcomer to these ranks in April was the Telcon Works, Manor Royal, Crawley. J. Mason, from the Marbles Section of the Telcon Social & Athletic Club, wrote to Cambridge on 18th April:
“After reading your artical (spelling!) in the daily papers, we feel that we are in the same position as yourselves. We are both trying to prove that Tiddlywinks and Marbles are both games of skill, and I feel sure that we could help each other a great deal.
“We have been the British Marbles Champions for two successive years, and we are trying to revive a game which is very popular down here in Sussex.
“If we could arrange to play each other at our own games for any charity you mention, I am sure it would popularise both games very much.”
Cambridge took up this suggestion, and arranged a marbles-and-winks match on Tinsley Green, Crawley, for Friday 13th June, the day after the First World Tiddlywinks Congress.
By now a number of replies to Congress invitations had arrived, but the great majority of those invited did not reply. One who did was the editor of “Honi Soit”, a student journal at Sydney University; he wrote on March 19th, saying that “the playing of this magnificent sport has been preserved in Australia by way of a series of quadrennial contests conducted in highly secret catacombes under the sewage outlet on Bondi Beach.” He went on to say that a representative would actually be at the Congress; in the event the representative made no appearance.
Five days later Moscow University sent a reply, written entirely in Russian! Part of the letter was translated as saying “As the game has so far not been cultivated with us we abstain from taking part in this Congress.” Copenhagen University was another to reply, declining the invitation. “In fact, we are not really sure what a tiddlywinks club is supposed to occupy itself with.”
A terse reply came from the House of Commons on May 6th: “Dear Sir, In reply to your letter received today I am to say that there is no Tiddlywinks Club in the House of Commons. Yours faithfully, Speaker’s Secretary.” How disillusioning it must have been to learn that in between division bells or while waiting for constituents MPs didn’t unfurl a mat and snatch a quick bit of potting practice.
Two other letters which Cambridge received in May were on a different subject. The Sports Editor of the New York Herald Tribune (European Edition) wrote to say that Webster’s Dictionary “gives the following first definition of the word tiddlywink: `an unlicensed public house’.” In the same month the Secretary of the King’s School Tw Society, Peterborough, mentioned the same definition of tiddlywink, and added “it would be interesting to find the connection (if any) between the most honourable of sports and the most vital of institutions.”
On May 17th `Everybodys’ published a letter from Peter Downes asking for any information on tiddlywinks. There were not many replies, but a few interesting items came up. One reader was fond of playing Obstacle Tiddlywinks, in which tumblers, clocks, etc were placed in front of the cup. A woman, E. J. Goodman, wrote “In 1907 I won a work basket for playing tiddlywinks at a Womens’ and Girls’ club. I still have this in use; what happy memories it always recalls.” A copy of the rules from a set of tiddlywinks which had been in the family for years was enclosed, but has since
disappeared. Unless the letter is a hoax it is perhaps the earliest reference to an organised tiddlywinks event. (Another reference to early tiddlywinks came as a result of an item by the present author in Woman’s Own in November 1964: a Mr. Graham from north London, a sexagenarian, seeing the item in his wife’s copy of Woman’s Own, told of a social club to which he belonged in 1921-22, in which a form of tiddlywinks was one of the activities.)
CUTwC’s first meeting of the summer term was held on Monday 21st April. In the absence of a reply to a letter sent to Oxford previously it was assumed that an intervarsity match would not take place during the term. On a brighter note, a tour of the West of England, sponsored by Showerings, was discussed. Next “it was decided that in spite of numerous fan letters, a CUTwC fan club should not be formed”! A fourth item concerned the name for the Club’s 2nd VIII: popular choices were Cuckoos, Chameleons, and Kippers (Kippers was eventually chosen, at the AGM).
“At the end of the meeting the Club listened with great pleasure to a tape-recording of the Goons match. This was made by David Evans (Christ’s) and consisted of recordings taken from the BBC” (including tape which the BBC had thrown into a dustbin in Cambridge, and which a member of CUTwC came across entirely by accident) “some taken in the Hall during the match, others taken during the lunch, and various other interviews with officials of the CUTwC. It was decided that the recording, in itself a complete story of the Goons match, should be made into a
long-playing record, and a copy sent to the Duke of Edinburgh.” Finally Willis was unanimously elected an Honorary Member of CUTwC.
Two days later a visit was paid to the Social Club of St Columba’s Church, Cambridge, giving demonstrations and a potted history of the game to an audience of 40-50.
The following day “three members of the Oxford Club came to Cambridge to discuss the intervarsity match with the Cambridge Committee. The discussion was prolonged and there was a clear clash of ideas. The Cambridge view was, essentially, that a small, hastily-prepared match this term would come as an unsuitable anticlimax to the Goons match, and that, accordingly, the first intervarsity match should be left till next year. The Oxford view was that everybody at Oxford had been anticipating a match for this term, and if this match did not take place, the Oxford Club would probably pass out of existence. In spite of keen disapproval by L. C. M. Howells and W. M. Steen, the President and Secretary agreed to compromise with Oxford, and play an experimental match, each half under a different set of rules, at Oxford on May 9th.”
The following Tuesday the rest of CUTwC was informed of the decision to play Oxford as an experiment. The match would provide information which would be helpful in drawing up a definitive set of rules at the forthcoming Congress. Tony Cooper of Oxford, speaking of the different sets of rules used by each club, had said “Ours is a game of manual skill and dexterity while theirs is more a game of tactics.” (Looking back on this quotation, it is ironic that it should be Oxford who, about 3 years later, introduced the most far-reaching tactical innovation of all – double squop.)
A short training session was held by CUTwC on May 5th, followed four days later by the match itself. The Minutes describe in some detail what happened.
“The Cambridge team travelled to Oxford in a Dormobile… we arrived at the Forum Ballroom just before the agreed time of 2 pm, and found, to our surprise it must be admitted, that a crowd of about 40 had gathered to see the event. More disconcerting however was the presence of the CBS with its cameras, reporters, etc. We discovered that the Rev E. A. Willis had been called upon at the last moment to act as referee, and we were quite agreeable to his being the ref. After Tony Cooper, Master of the Oxford Winks, had welcomed Cambridge and described the match as the first intervarsity match, the Cambridge Secretary, replying, pointed out that this was an experimental match, to provide information for the World Congress in Cambridge in June.
“The game was played on the Cambridge mats and with Cambridge winks and pots, as Oxford were not in a position to provide 4 sets of standard winks. However they were able to provide considerable opposition when play began. The Cambridge rules were used for the first half of the match and from the very first round Cambridge were behind. We pulled back in the second round, lost ground in the third, held our own in the fourth, but it was too late and Oxford won by 89 points to 87.
“During half-time a four-pot relay race was held between the two teams, which Oxford won by 19 winks to 15.
“Somewhat downhearted by the unexpected reverse in the first half, Cambridge set out on the second half, played under Oxford rules (Queensberry), with grim determination and a foreboding of crushing defeat. However by a curious reversal of fortune it was now Oxford’s turn to find themselves hard pressed. Now it was Cambridge’s turn to hold that lead and as the match drew to its close there seemed every possibility that Cambridge were to gain revenge by winning 25-23. But at the last moment, N. Maggs who was Oxford’s outstanding player, produced a phenomenal shot to level the scores 24 all.
“It was at this point that a reporter from the Oxford Mail, who had already been clearly informed that this was an unofficial and experimental game, deliberately brought up the issue of world championship titles. No amount of explanation would quieten this reporter’s provocative attitude… It should be recorded that the `dispute’ or `storm’ referred to in the cuttings, particularly the Manchester Guardian, never in fact took place. Without the action of this sensation-seeking reporter, the match would have ended in the same spirit which marked it throughout, one of keen rivalry and
“The Cambridge team retired home, arriving safely back at 9.45 pm as yet blissfully unaware that this match was to arouse interest, and somewhat anti-Cambridge interest, throughout the English-speaking world.”
The Manchester Guardian in fact said (May 18) “A storm broke out over who were world champions”.
The contest had lasted 3 1/4 hours. Willis produced this insight into the game of tiddlywinks: “Tiddlywinks develops delicacy of touch; corrects colour blindness; is a soothing influence on the nerves; and is conducive to restful sleep.”
The last full meeting of the academic year was the AGM. Peter Downes was elected President and J. Furlonger Secretary. Downes said in his report on the year 1957-58 that the Club now had 21 members, with 13 honorary members. There had been 21 meetings in the year, including 7 matches, with more matches to come during the West of England tour. 158 letters had been received since the previous AGM, and nearly 200 sent, plus about 100 others sent out about the Congress, 56 press cuttings had been collected for the Minute Book, and no doubt there were many others which had not been noticed.
The grand finale of the academic year was a hectic week in which the Club went on a tour of the West Country, acted as host to the world’s first Tiddlywinks Congress, and played winks and marbles matches in Crawley against the world marbles champions.
The West Country tour came about through an invitation from Showerings to visit them at Shepton Mallet, Somerset, where Babycham was made. The Club was able to arrange a couple of matches to be played in Bristol while the team was in the area. Accordingly the team set out for Bristol by car on the morning of Monday 9 June.
The first match was played in the afternoon at the Victoria Rooms, against Bristol University Tw Club, newly formed for the occasion. There was a crowd of about 200, together with television cameras and press photographers. The CUTwC achieved the expected victory, winning 14 of the 16 games, to earn a score of 107-69, but the Club’s 3-feet tall Babycham mascot was stolen!
For the next match, in the evening, the Club moved to a hotel near the Clifton Suspension Bridge, where Bristol Grammar School were the opponents. CUTwC notched up its second tour win. The night was spent at the hotel at Showerings’ expense. On Tuesday 10th the team toured Showerings’ factory at Shepton Mallet, and were driven back to Cambridge by two Babycham sales representatives. H. Beattie, Captain of the Bristol University club also travelled to Cambridge to attend the Congress.
The First World Tiddlywinks Congress was held at Christ’s College, Cambridge, on Wednesday 11th and Thursday 12th June. A few days earlier Willis had heralded it saying “1958 – destined in future generations to be a date which will share with 1066 as one everybody remembers!” Nevertheless no-one saw fit to take Minutes at the Congress! It was attended principally by Cambridge and Oxford people, Willis (“I am at the Congress to represent the old and mainly arthritic”) and the press.
Congress’ major purpose was to thrash out the controversies surrounding the rules of the game. The main problem was that Cambridge and Oxford had been playing under different rules, as was vividly illustrated at the Oxford-Cambridge encounter a month before. In particular, Cambridge included squopping in their game while Oxford did not. Pressmen sat astonished through hours of detailed argument about squopping; the debate was long, complicated, and at times extremely amusing. In the end it was agreed to include squopping in the rules – a most fundamental decision, for squopping is the essential difference between modern winks and the nursery game. Without squopping, the game would have lost the greater part of its intellectual and tactical challenge and could hardly have attracted the support it currently enjoys.
The full rules were hammered out in great detail. In addition it had become clear that, as several clubs now existed and others would probably be formed in the near future, it was no longer appropriate for the Cambridge Club to handle the game’s wider affairs. Consequently Congress created the English Tiddlywinks Association, with an unwritten and rather vague brief, and a single officer, the Secretary-General. The man appointed to this post was the dominant personality of the Congress, the Rev. E. A.Willis.
Immediately after the Congress Peter Downes wrote to the KingsPatent Agency to see whether or not the new rules could be protected by registration or copyright. He was told in reply that “under the Copyright Act… the rules would be regarded as a literary work (!) and Copyright is obtained on publication.” Subsequently Showerings printed the new official rules without charge, instead inserting a
Babycham advertisement on the outside of the back cover.
The Wolfenden Committee on Sport, which was sitting at that time, was carefully kept informed of the progress at the Congress.
On Friday 13 June CUTwC played the marbles and winks matches which had been arranged against the marbles section of the Telcon Social and Athletics Club at Crawley. The event was in aid of the NPFA. On the way down to Crawley, the Cambridge team called in at Marchant Games to offer them the opportunity of becoming official manufacturers of tiddlywinks equipment to ETwA; Marchants agreed.
At Crawley, the `Telcon Terribles’ were captained by L. Roberts, and the team included J. Mason, Jim Langley the Fulham footballer, and Peter Butterworth, a television personality. The event attracted considerable publicity. Cambridge were massacred at marbles but triumphed at tiddlywinks.
One other development occurred before the momentous 1957-58 academic year can be considered to have ended. John Evans of Cambridge University returned to Wales for the summer, appointing himself Secretary-General. He invited the Prince of Wales to be Patron, but the invitation was declined on the grounds that the Prince was not yet old enough to accept any patronage. Evans replied by sending the Prince a box of winks. The episode aroused the interest of the press and television; in July Evans appeared on Television Wales & West, and subsequently enjoyed other television and press
appearances. (The rest of the Evans story can be summarised by recording that the first England-Wales international winks match took place a year later, on June 8th 1959 – the Welsh team included Roberts and Mason of the Telcon Terribles – resulting in an English victory. Two or three years later Evans emigrated to Surrey and the Welsh Tw Association went out of existence for the time being.)
Tiddlywinks had now found its feet. By the summer of 1958 the game had ceased to be virtually synonymous with the Cambridge Club. The first few of a new generation of clubs had come into existence, and in succeeding years others were to add to their members at an increasing rate. The game was well and truly rampant.
The author wishes to express his gratitude to the C.U.Tw.C. for making freely available to him the Club’s invaluable Minutes books, correspondence, press cuttings and other material without which this booklet would not have been possible, and for permission to take quotations from these sources. The author would also like to thank Peter Downes for supplying details of several events.
Published at Midelney, Fairfield Lane, West End, Woking, Surrey
|First World Tiddlywinks Congress|
You are no doubt aware that Tiddlywinks is becoming a world-wide sport, and naturally as in any growing and virile activity there are several minor differences regarding the mode of play.
If this promising pastime is to progress to its rightful position as one of the world’s great games we must reconcile these minor differences and formulate a standard set of rules.
As the World Champions we, at Cambridge, feel that we should give the lead, and so we cordially invite [crossed out: “a member of your Tiddllwinks [Editor’s note: as spelled in the letter] Club to represent your”] ……[written in: “you”]…… [crossed out: “at”] [written in: “to”] the First World Tiddlywinks Congress to be held here in Cambridge on June 11th and 12th, 1958.
We appreciate that in some cases the expense entailed in attending this conference may be sufficiently exorbitant to prevent your delegate from being present. If this is so we would be grateful for your Club’s views and comments on the following:
- The rules.
- Organisation of international tournaments.
- Advisability of approaching the Olympic Committee.
- Design of a suitable stadium (drawings would be appreciated).
- The frequency and rendezvous of future congresses.
- Any other comments.
Please find enclosed a copy of the rules used at Cambridge University.
We look forward to receiving your reply.
|L. C. M. HOWELLS, B.A||Joint chairmen of the|
|W. M. STEEN, B.A.||First World Tiddlywinks Congress|
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