A retrospective review by Mat Coward (c. 1983)
Has darts changed all that much in the past 45 years? Perhaps not says MAT COWARD, who recently made a surprising discovery…
Darts has swept the country from end to end, from top to bottom, side to side and even diagonally … the man who cannot speak the lingo of the dart is nowadays an outcast. The girls can’t stand him and the men never do, not even half a pint. You may be head man in your business, but in the bars of England the only thing that counts is whether you can score a double quickly.
The above paragraph reads like any one of a hundred recent newspaper articles about the post-TV boom in our sport, doesn’t it? But in fact it comes from the “Foreword or Something” to a book called DARTS WITH THE LID OFF by Alan and Geoffrey D’Egville – published, amazingly, in 1938!
Even more surprising than the early publication date is the fact that the book is a comedy, a humourous guide to the niceties of the game – something that modern darters have yet to come up with. It is written in a light, jaunty style very similar to that classic text-book (containing all the history you could remember, as it claimed) 1066 And All That, which prompts me to wonder if A & G D’Egville might be pseudonyms for Seller and Yeatman, the authors of 1066. Certainly the cartoons used to illustrate the finer points of the game are rather familiar.
What this book – which I picked up for ten bob the other day in a local second-hand shop – really shows the modern darter, is how little the game has changed, for all the big money, sequined shirts and throw-by-throw broadcast coverage.
On the subject of gamesmanship, for instance, we find that the subtle art of barracking an adversary is no recent invention. The author’s introduce us to Bill Snoot of the Pin & Winkle, who “chews tobacco, and makes clucking noises continuously. He wears a crimson choker whose dazzling brilliance renders all doubles invisible to all other players.” And then there’s Bert Sparkes, turning out for the Dartsman’s Arms, who is “a trifle asthmatic, and exploits this to the full when playing darts by wheezing in his opponents’ ear when he looks like being dangerous.”
The D’Egvilles put particular emphasis on the importance to the well kitted-out player of a good understanding of the language of the sport, and one of the most useful, as well as amusing, parts of the book is the Glossary. The section is semi-serious and it’s interesting to note that the expression ‘Bed and Breakfast’ for a 20, a 5 and a 1 was as out of date then as it is now: “It’s origin”, according to the Glossary, “dates back to the good old pre-war days when the price of bed & breakfast at the average hostelrie was two and sixpence”.
Some of the entries in this list are mischievously obscure, such as “Euston Road – Two Fours. We know why, but you must ask someone else”, and others give good examples of the British talent for understatement, for instance “Father’s Boots! – A reminder that the player’s shoes are over the line, and a gentle request to move back a bit”!
This vocabulary also includes some strange advice to the society-conscious darter, as in the entry for the shout of ‘Game!’. “To say ‘Game’ at darts is considered most frightfully bourgeois; always say ‘Office’ or ‘Hops’ or the more picturesque ‘Cats on the counter’”.
There is also a streak of purism showing through, as in their remarks on the game of Golf – “Like Cricket, another tiresome and unnecessary variation on the dartboard”. Some things have changed, however, as evidenced by the Glossary entry headed “Never Won A Game”. We’ve all heard this phrase used when the number left on the board is 123, but, strangely, in this book the number to which the superstition is attached is 99. What’s wrong with 19, treble 16, double it? It’s interesting to speculate, indeed, on how either of these ideas could have become established so widely, since, as the D’Egvilles put it, a player leaving such a number is “expected to lose for no logical reason that the authors can see.”
If, however, you still feel unsure of being able to hold your end up in a conversation about the technicalities of this complicated sport, an advert in the back of the book may help you. “You can learn to talk darts in three months with the aid of the Dartophone”, the ‘advert’ claims, “Do you know the meaning of such common phrases as: ‘You’ve Bin’, ‘Five to muck’, ‘Father’s boots’, and ‘Lodger’s Bed’? No? Then you need Dartophone. Ability to talk darts is now essential for the Diplomatic Services and the Matric.”
In fact, Darts With The Lid Off is full of spoof adverts, press reviews of the book (“England is saved” – Evening Blues), lists of editions, and the like. For that reason it is difficult to know just how to take the ‘Dedication’: “To the Loyal Society of Dartsmen of 163 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London WC2”. Is this another joke, or has anyone ever heard of such a body?
The book was an unusual and welcome find, and makes a pleasant change from the more serious darts manuals which have appeared in such great numbers over the past few years. It seems odd that the publishers haven’t thought to reprint it, now that the potential market is so much greater. Surely it’s due for a reissue!
In the meantime, I leave you with another quote, this one attributed by the authors to Prof. Fie O. Wun, Shanghai University: “A dart in the hand is worth two in the wrong double”. Nothing changes in this game of ours, not even the frustrations!
(Darts With The Lid Off, by Alan and Geoffrey D’Egville, was published by Cassell in 1938)
© 1983 Mat Coward
Mat Coward was a member of the all-conquering, 1982-4 Coach and Horses team in the Hampstead Darts League in north London. Having failed to live up to that early promise, he has spent the last 20 years working as a freelance writer and now lives in Somerset where he polishes his trophies and dreams of what might have been. For more information about Mat’s work
Many thanks to Mat for allowing me to reproduce his review of Darts With the Lid Off on my website.
Mat asked if the name D’Egville was a pseudonym for Seller and Yeatman. It was not. During the 1920s, 30s and 40s, Alan D’Egville wrote books on a number of sports but particularly skiing, including Slalom; its organization and rules (1934) and The Game of Skiing: a book for beginners (1936). Geoffrey’s only literary work appears to have been working with his brother on Lid Off but he may also have been the illustrator as no one else is credited.
Much of the ‘lingo’ used by the D’Egvilles in Lid Off had been lifted from Rupert Croft-Cooke’s work Darts (London: Geoffrey Bles) published two years earlier in 1936, but some was new. Not even Croft-Cooke dared publish ‘Euston Road – Two Fours’. This was rhyming slang. In the 1930s, that road was famous for its ‘women of the night’, thus Euston Road = Two Whores = Two Fours. ‘Office’ and ‘Hops’ were both terms called at the end of a game and meant that the losers should pay up their half pint. (The serving area of some Victorian pubs was called the ‘office’.) ‘Cat’s on the counter’ meant the same thing; a ‘cat’ being a measure of beer in the ‘good old pre-war’ days.
The ‘Loyal Society’, or more accurately, the ‘£oyal Society of Dartsmen’ referred to in Mat’s article was indeed a real society and more information can be found about the ‘£.s.d.’ under the ‘History’ section of this website. Darts With The Lid Off was, in its way, the official manual of the charity which had its registered office at 163 Lincoln’s Inn Fields. All administration of the charity was undertaken from that office.
As Mat stated, Darts With The Lid Off was originally published in London by Cassell. It cost three shillings and sixpence (3s 6d) and was probably unaffordable by working-class darts players. I believe that, like Croft-Cooke’s book (which retailed at 2s 6d in hardback when published in 1936), Lid Off was designed to appeal to the middle and upper classes who had, in the late 1930s, recently taken to the game in droves, a craze that would only cease at the outbreak of war in September 1939.
Mat found his copy of Darts With The Lid Off in a second-hand shop and it cost him ‘ten bob’, about 50p. That was back in the early 1980s. That’s also where I found my first copy of that fascinating book. Nowadays Lid Off is very collectable but copies can still be found in second-hand bookshops and on the internet costing in the region of £8-£15, depending on condition. (I fear that the bookseller currently advertising Lid Off for £30 is likely to hold on to his copy for a quite a while yet!)
Thanks again to Mat Coward for reminding me of this unique humorous work on darts and allowing me to let the review see the light of day for the first time in 25 years!
© 2008 Patrick Chaplin