PETER CHAPMAN, NEWS OF THE WORLD CHAMPION 1973/74
Darts World magazine was only a few issues old when it proclaimed Peter Chapman, a private gardener from Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, winner of the 1973/74 News of the World Individual Darts Championship.
‘PETER THE GREAT!’ screamed the front page of issue number 19 which bore a photograph of Peter receiving his trophy from the glamorous Diana Dors and her husband Alan Lake. Inside the report and pictures covered more than three pages.
Peter was 47 when he won the News of the World on 27th April 1974 which prompted the Editor of Darts World to state in his Editorial that Peter’s win ‘must have inspired many lapsed darts players to dust off their discarded darts and start practising.’ It had certainly been a fairly long trek for Peter to finally make it to the Grand Finals in London. He had made the London and Home Counties Divisional Finals twice before but had never gone any further. However, in his third appearance in the Divisional Finals in the 1973/74 competition Peter, representing the Bird-in-Hand, Henley-on-Thames, went one better, beating his friend Alan Glazier of the New Inn, Long Ditton by two games to one.
The Grand Finals were held at the Alexandra Palace on Saturday 27th April 1974 and there were shocks aplenty. Leighton Rees was strongly fancied to win but fell at the first hurdle to American champion Al Lippman. The youngest competitor, Bill Bryson – no not that Bill Bryson – representing the North of England could not reproduce the form he showed at Divisional level and went out 2-0 to Lancashire and Cheshire champion Joe Givnan.
In the first Quarter Final Peter found himself facing the 1962 News of the World champion, Suffolk’s Eddie Brown. Eddie had also been runner-up in 1960/61 and showed he was still at the top of his game 12 years on with a 100 out-shot to win the first game. Undeterred Peter came back to win the second game with a 115 out-shot (T19, S20, D19). Even when Eddie launched into the deciding leg with a score of 140, Peter followed suit. Eddie made better progress but then missed two chances to take the match. Peter managed to come down from 171 in seven darts to win. Then, in the first semi-final, Peter played Jim McQuillan, Ireland’s first ever NoW Divisional Champion, playing out of the Vine Inn, Dundalk. It was a close game but in the decider, as Darts World reported at the time, Jim ‘never recovered from two poor initial throws.’
Meanwhile the Western Counties Divisional Champion Paul Gosling (Portscatho Club, Truro) was making good headway. Paul was no stranger to the Grand Final. He had been runner-up to the great Barry Twomlow in the competition in 1968/69 and was now facing his second Grand Final but this time against Peter. The match had to be delayed because of a strict television timetable but the tension was broken as the 12,000-strong audience roared with laughter as a man tried to ‘streak’ through the auditorium and up on to the stage. He was unceremoniously ‘bundled out by ushers.’
Once everyone had settled down and the cameras were rolling, Paul won the toss and threw first and immediately took control of the match, shooting out in 19 darts. Unperturbed, in the next game, Peter hit three tons and a 95 to win the game – although Paul had missed a shot at double 12 to wrap up the championship.
In the third and final game, Paul once again won the toss but Peter had made up his mind to win and quickly caught up with his opponent ‘with a total of 400 in only four throws’ and shot out in 16 darts to win the championship.
Of that Final match Peter told me recently that it was “a very nice match.” He added, “The atmosphere was marvellous. The crowd were climbing up about all over the place. Before play could start we had to wait for the TV to show a major horse race. Lights above the stage (one red, one green) showed us when to start throwing. As soon as the green light came on, off we went.” Of Diana Dors, Peter commented “She was lovely. Perfect.”
Peter told me that, in his opinion – and one shared by many who have been part of the News of the World – that the competition was “a man’s game.” He said, “At 501, best of three games, you have to be on top form from the very start.”
After winning the title Peter was very busy for ‘a couple of months’ playing matches and doing exhibitions, but he kept his gardening job going. He won the Swedish Open that same year and also the Pairs with Kim Brown. The following year Peter won the Pairs again, this time with Chalky White as his partner but lost to Bill Perry in the Singles final. Peter also partnered Alan Glazier for two years in the Watneys MY darts tournament. They came runners-up on both occasions. Alan’s brother Ronnie, who Peter says was “a great dart player” in his own right, used to drive Peter around the country to competitions.
In 1975/76 Peter again made it to the News of the World Grand Finals and tried for a second win but was beaten in the Second Round by George Champion, the Western Counties champion. Peter’s simple explanation for his defeat was, “I missed my doubles.” The winner that year was in fact “Mr. Consistency” Bill Lennard.
Peter, now 77 years of age, is a widower having lost his beloved wife Margaret six years ago. He still lives in Henley-on-Thames and still finds time for his garden. He has four children plus eleven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren to keep him occupied. And darts?
Oh yes. Peter told me that he is “Still playing and still trying. I keep going.” He plays in a local league at the Bird-in-Hand, Henley-on-Thames (the very same pub he represented when he won the News of the World over thirty years ago) where he sometimes plays as a reserve if he fancies a game. However, he admits, “I go to watch them nowadays rather than play. I’d sooner sit and watch it.” Peter’s son David plays darts for the same league.
Of the game today Peter says “Money has killed it. We only used to play for trophies.” Or in the case of Peter’s 1974 News of the World triumph, in addition to the huge trophy, Peter received a 22-inch colour television set and a two-week continental holiday for two.
Peter died of cancer on Friday 12th June 2009.
© Patrick Chaplin 2005 (Updated August 2019)