Joe Hitchcock was born in North London in early 1915, shortly after the outbreak of the First World War.
For almost a quarter of a century after the Second World War the former toolmaker had a professional contract with the Watneys Brewery, the first for a darts player and performed many exhibitions with both his darts and nails.
He plied his trade in these exhibitions but also led the St Dunstan’s Four Charity team which comprised Syd Howes, Bill Jacobs and Johnny Bartlett.
That team was responsible for raising over £70,000 for charity in three years, the equivalent of over £2,000,000 in today’s money!
At the height of his fame he could boast of being on the books of the same agent as such luminaries as Tommy Cooper and Bruce Forsyth.
Nicknames were fashionable even then, and Joe was dubbed “The Marathon Marvel”, “The Demon of the Dartboard” and the “Treble Twenty Wizard”.
He may not have won much in the way of major titles but that was down to the fact that during his prime, his professional status prevented him from taking part in the only event of note, the “News of the World” Championship.
He met the other great name of the time Jim Pike three times and was victorious on each occasion. Long before the famed Wembley clash between Taylor and van Barneveld their first match up was dubbed “The Match of the Century”.
Almost a thousand people crowded into Acton Town Hall in September 1946 paying anything from five shillings up to two guineas, or over a third of their week’s wages for the privilege.
Millions listened in to a radio commentary. Pike took the first, but missed doubles in both the second and third leg cost him dearly as Hitchcock cleaned up.
A rematch the following September at Westminster’s Horticultural Hall also went to Hitchcock, by 2-0. Again, missed doubles in both legs by Pike were punished. The same 2-0 result was recorded in their final meeting at Caledonian Road Baths in November 1948 thus giving Hitchcock the edge over Pike in the history books.
Few records of his achievements survive but many of his 3001 exhibition matches were polished off in 40 throws or fewer, his best being 93 darts against Tommy Fox at The Dolphin in Lydd.
There was also a 1001 leg of 31 darts against Jimmy Clow at the Clinton Arms in Northampton in which he scored 100, 120, 180, 60, 60, 60, 60, 180, 100, 41 and double top.
Both matches were a 97 average which is still a world class performance even today and a third of his darts in exhibition matches were reputed to hit the treble twenty.
Don’t forget that all of this was from a nine foot throw, on a wooden board, using brass darts and wearing a jacket and tie. Lighting conditions were also far inferior and his feats are probably not something we are likely to see many of today’s stars try!
His nail-throwing skill was equally legendary and in exhibition recorded a 130 finish of treble 20, 20 and bull at the Black Boy at Saltash and a 72 finish at the Hare and Hounds, Holloway using double top and double sixteen.
Many trick shots involving matchsticks, florins and buttons were also included in his repertoire and even newsreel evidence of these remains. See below.
The first Embassy World Professional Championship Programme in 1978 featured a full page article on his career and a few years earlier Noel E Williamson, the famed darting poet even immortalised the great man in verse.
Wherever dartsmen congregate,
Whenever darts teams meet,
The conversation always turns
Towards the game’s elite!
The ones who are outstanding,
Consistently the best,
And of these, there’s one whom I
Must rate above the rest!
If you’ve seen his exhibitions,
Then you must agree with me,
He’s in a class all of his own,
Superlative is he!
Let it be known to one and all
For whom darts is the game,
There is a Master Dartsman,
Joe Hitchcock is his name!
© 1975 Noel E. Williamson
(Reproduced with permission)
Joe died at the age of 67 in late 1982 shortly after giving up the tenancy of the White Horse off the Caledonian Road, North London.
© 2009 Kendo Nagasaki (‘Superstars of Darts’ forum member).
Comment from the Historian (Posted 26th May 2009)
The Joe Hitchcock article is very good indeed. My compliments to ‘Kendo’. I guess Tom Barrett’s book gave Kendo some key information. I say this because, apart from articles I wrote for Darts World magazine years ago and for the programme of the 1999 Taylor/Barneveld ‘head-to-head’, there is very little accurate material out there about the great man. Tom played Joe a number of times post-WW2.
After one of the Hitchcock/Pike matches, Joe was declared ‘Darts Champion of the World’ by at least one fan. The fan sent a postcard to ‘Joe Hitchcock, ‘c/o News of the World, London’. Unfortunately, the News of the World was not Hitchcock’s sponsors; they sponsored Pike; as he was captain of the NoW Team of Darts Champions! Fortunately the postcard eventually reached Joe. It was forwarded on to Frank Wolfe (then editor of The Dart magazine/newspaper) by someone at the NoW. This wonderful piece of darts history – I am very pleased to say – has been in my possession since the 1980s.
It’s always good news when someone else delves into the history of our great sport and produces articles of this quality. If any visitor(s) to this website have any memories of playing against Hitchcock or Pike or simply watching these great stars of the past playing darts please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or via my Guest Book and I will endeavor to include them here.
Thanks again to Kendo.
Additional material ©2009 Patrick Chaplin
More about Joe Hitchcock Click here
© Patrick Chaplin 2009 and 2012