Darts fans all over the world marvel at today’s supreme digital technology which brings every throw of a dart and captures every expression on the faces of the ‘gladiators’ in major televised darts events into your front room and, when shown in 3D, more or less into your lap. But what of that time pre-television? Did darts ever feature on the radio?
In this article I take a step or three back in time.
Darts has come a very long way since the first major darts tournament was broadcast in England. It occured on Thursday 28th May 1936 at 8.15 p.m. on the British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC) Regional Service; a ‘descriptive commentary’ broadcast from The Horns public house, Kennington, London, on the occasion of the finals of the ‘Team Championship of London’. The match was played between eight-a-side teams from the Duke of Gloucester pub (Croydon) and The York, Battersea, which the Duke won by two legs to nil. The commentary was given by Charles Garner, the Honorary Secretary of the National Darts Association (NDA).
The reason darts was first broadcast at all was all to do with class. The 1930s was the period of the first darts ‘craze’ amongst the middle and upper classes. From small beginnings in the 1920s, darts leagues flourished and the popularity of the game spread rapidly from circa 1930 onwards, eventually being picked up by the English elite as a ‘novelty’.
Later the King and Queen played darts at a community centre in Slough in December 1937 which further popularised the game and raised the profile of darts even higher. Darts was played in Mayfair – the very smartest part of London – and invitations to ‘Darts and Dancing’ was a sign that the host of the party was ‘a modern.’
The 1930s was also a time by which all families – rich and poor – either owned, or had access to, a wireless and would gather around it – rather they had done in previous decades around the piano in the ‘front room’ – to be entertained.
The BBC was keen to promote all sports of all kinds and broadcast and, after the commentary on the first broadcast darts was well received, darts featured regularly on the wireless during the late 1930s and throughout the Second World War. Often the darts broadcasts were featured on regional programmes and reflected the areas (like London) where the popularity of darts was greatest.
As one journalist wrote:
“The BBC is determined to make us play games of one sort or another. Now they want us to play darts, not merely to listen to a commentary on someone else playing, but they are going to put one man in the studio to play against you!”
In November 1938 F. H. Wallis, winner of the 1936/37 News of the World London and Home Counties Individual Darts Championship, played ‘All Listeners’ in a novel (some might say ‘ingenious’ or maybe even ‘eccentric’) broadcast from the Alexander Arms, Eastbourne, Sussex. The champion threw three darts, the score was announced and then he paused while the listeners threw their three darts at their dartboard at home, registering their score against Wallis the champion. A regulation game of 301 was played, the task for the listener being to finish his or her game before Wallis had shot out or they finished the game before him. (And no cheating!)
The journalist who had brought this unique programme to the notice of his readers commented
“If you find that you reach points before the champion you can pat yourself on the back and tell the story to the fellows at the office in the morning.”
The scribe then revealed his own ignorance of the game of darts by adding
“By the way, the games start and end on a double. I have a faint idea what that means, but if you propose to take this seriously you had better look up the rules.”
After 1945 the broadcasting of darts matches on the wireless (later the ‘radio’) became few and far between until it vanished from the schedules completely.
Although darts was first broadcast on television at 9.25 p.m. on Saturday 29th May 1937 by BBC ‘London Television’ from Alexandra Palace incidences of darts on TV were scarce until the 1970s when technical progress within television led to split-screen technology and, with the active assistance of the British Darts Organisation (BDO) the game entered its next ‘boom’ era.
©2001 Patrick Chaplin (Amended, corrected and updated 2019)