Interview by Kevin Berlyn
Dart Players Australia - visit the site
What follows is an interview undertaken in 2001 via e-mail with one of the premier Australian darts organisers and promoters Kevin Berlyn. Although over a decade old, this article represents my first major interview for Australia; my first opportunity to tell darts fans there of my work and enthusiasm for one of the greatest recreations in the world.
Dr Darts in Australia
Today the Doctor made a house call and we discussed his diagnosis of my obsessive disease called DARTS.
Patrick Chaplin AKA Dr Darts is doing his Doctorate (PhD) in The Social History of Darts in the 20th Century at the Anglia Polytechnic University (APU) in Cambridge, England and he recently visited us for a chat.
You started studying the history of Darts about 15 years ago, what made you decide to do this?
I’ve played darts since I was a young lad. I had a Scott’s compressed paper dartboard up in my bedroom. I then progressed to playing in pubs. Never anything special – only pub league level but always great fun. When I joined the Blue Boar Darts Club in my hometown of Maldon, Essex in the late 1970s I used to compile a club newsletter. It was called ‘Out of the Blue’ but became commonly known as ‘The Bullsheet’.
[Patrick's comment: The building shown here is from an image downloaded by Kevin and originally captioned 'The Millhouse Hotel, Maldon.' This is actually incorrect but spookily it is The Mill House Hotel, Langford, Essex; the village in which I was brought up and for which I am currently (2012) the Local Historical Recorder.]
From that I compiled a book about darts, looking at the lighter side of the game and called it ‘Arrows by any Other Name’. I completed it in 1985 but it was never published. However, it led to me becoming interested in the history of darts. I looked for books on the subject and all were sadly lacking in this respect, especially regarding darts before the Second World War. So I embarked on some casual research; research which became a ‘monster’.
In the mid-1990s I was boring a friend of mine to death in a pub talking about what I’d discovered and he suggested that I should try and get something out of it for myself, perhaps even a PhD. I approached the Anglia Polytechnic University and, somewhat surprisingly, they agreed to consider my proposal. I began my part-time PhD in March 1996.
You must have received some funny stares when you told people of your ambition. What was the common reaction you received?
The academics at the APU were OK and saw my research as ground-breaking stuff, you know, part of the history of everyday life. My supervisors are very supportive indeed. It was once the press got hold of it that the difficulties occurred – although I have to admit to absolutely enjoying every moment of media 'fame’. National and local radio and TV could sense a qwerky story. I was described by The Guardian as ‘eccentric’ and by The Sun as an ‘arrers nut’. I was interviewed on BBC Radio and appeared on the popular ‘Big Breakfast’ TV show on Channel 4. None of them took me seriously – and I never really expected them to. One newspaper pundit suggested that, as I was doing what he saw to be a full-time degree in darts at APU, the Department for Education should withdraw funding from the University! Fortunately the record was set straight. (All my studies are part-time and self-funded.) I would have told that Newspaper Pundit where to stick his darts!
How has the Darts Fraternity taken to your studies? Have you had the support and help from Players and Officials that you need?
In the fifteen or more years that I’ve been researching the sport I’ve always found the darts fraternity immensely supportive especially as regards the willingness to be interviewed and share their experiences. I was fortunate enough to spend some real time with John Ross before he died. ‘Tiny’ Goodair, one of the last Chairmen of the National Darts Association of Great Britain (NDAGB), agreed to be interviewed for my research and Frank Wolfe, the editor of a darts newspaper in the 1940s was an invaluable contact.
As my research progresses I will catch up with some of the more familiar personalities of our game. I’ve met Eric Bristow a couple of times, even appeared with him on TV and have spoken with most of today’s stars at one time or another, but their memories, in terms of my programmed research, will have to be recorded another time.
With all the information you have gathered, do you know when and where darts was first played?
As far as I can tell, darts, in one form or another, has been played in England at least as far back as the 15th century. The game as we know it today is less than one hundred years old – a fact which might surprise a few people. It’s practically impossible to say when the first game of darts was played.
Joe Hitchcock, Nail thrower
Dogger Bank Darts Team 1896
I am not up with the education system, and don’t quite understand what a PhD will give you but once you have completed it will you then be writing books and also examination sheets so as other people can go for the doctorate as well? Is that how it works?
A PhD is in fact a Doctor of Philosophy, an original, supervised course of post-graduate study. My field is social history and my subject area darts. I’m hoping that, once the PhD is complete, two books will follow; firstly a formal, academic social history of the sport and then a ‘peoples’ history of the game – a readable, complete history for everyone.
In the 15 years of Study what has been the most unusual story you have come across?
Some of the more unusual and amusing stuff has already appeared on my website but I suppose one of the most surprising was discovering that King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (now the Queen Mother) played darts in a Social Centre in Slough, Berkshire in the late 1930s. I’m currently writing a chapter on this momentous event and its implications on class and gender issues and the development of darts during that decade for my PhD.
When did you turn to the Internet to publish your Studies? And was it a surprise to you that there is so many darts site on the net?
Last November (2000). Before that I was aware that there were a lot of darts-related web sites out there but none specific to darts history. I would have launched it earlier but I decided against it as I thought it might ‘interrupt’ my PhD studies. In the event I went ahead and I was right! With in excess of 3,000 hits since then, it is to an extent disruptive but I have been overwhelmed by the response to the site from darts fans from all over the planet. Disruptive it may be but disruptive in a very positive way. After all that’s how you found out about my work and here we are! I think my site is now linked to in excess of 100 other darts sites, Logan City being one of my most recent editions.
After Darts what’s next for Dr Darts? Will we see you complete a PhD in Snooker?
No, no, no! It isn’t until you embark on a PhD that you learn just how committed you have to be –and how close you come to actually being committed at some stages. It’s very time consuming but will – I keep assuring myself – be worth all the heartache in the end. I do play snooker occasionally but I’ll leave that research to someone else. Who knows? Someone might well be encouraged by the work I’m doing to undertake that task. No, the books will come next and then back to casual research and the simple joy of playing darts at my local pub – and oh yes of spending some quality time with my wife Maureen.
Thanks for calling by Doc and I will keep taking the Pills. (Pilsner that is.)
Kevin. I believe it’s your shout mate!
Above Stephen Hendry Snooker Champ
© 2001 Kevin Berlyn
Writing now in 2012 I was right. The books did come and my reputation within the darts world has grown. Thanks to people like Kevin people in other countries have also become familiar with my work.
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