For many years the News of the World Individual Darts Championship was the one competition that every dart player wanted to win.
They say that ‘from little acorns mighty oaks do grow’ and that was never more true than for the News of the World. However, whereas an acorn can grow into an oak more or less on its own once it has taken root, the News of the World needed nurturing.
This was achieved via the Herculian efforts of the staff on the newspaper and the hundreds of unpaid organisers and helpers who co-ordinated the contest, dealt with the incredible logistics and basically held the thing together.
From its small beginnings in the 1927/28 season with a mere 1,000 or so entries drawn from the Metropolitan Area of London, enthusiasm for the game grew incredibly throughout the 1930s. The London competition was enlarged and additional regions were added until, by the 1938/39 season, there were six, namely London and the South of England, Wales, Lancashire and Cheshire, Yorkshire, the North of England and the Midland Counties. But there would be no overall national champion, although this issue would be addressed after 1945. In 1939 enormous interest was created by the London and South of England championship, so much so that a record crowd of 14,534 spectators filled the Royal Agricultural Hall, London in May to witness the final between Jim Pike (representing the Windmill Club, Southwark) and Marmaduke Brecon (Jolly Sailor, Hanworth, Middlesex). Against the odds, Brecon ran out the winner by two games to one.
When war broke out in September 1939 both the News of the World individual championship and the recently established team championship organised by The People newspaper were suspended. However, the News of the World maintained its high profile of darts during the war years by setting up and publicising the exploits of the News of the World Team of Dart Champions. The team played throughout the war – and for some time afterwards – raising money for charities, particularly the Red Cross. The Team comprised Jim Pike (Captain), John Ross, Harry Head and Leo Newstead although other darters would act as substitutes on the occasions when the ‘regulars’ were unable to appear.
Throughout most of the war years, darts provided through the NAAFI sports packs or ‘manufactured’ by the servicemen themselves were played in army camps, on board ship and in prisoner of war camps, all to the News of the World rules. After the war the Allies, servicemen and women from New Zealand, Australia and the USA, took the game back home thus sowing the darts seed worldwide – all playing to News of the World rules. Ex-patriots, settling in Europe and elsewhere assisted the process.
The News of the World reappeared after the war in the 1947/48 season and 289,866 entrants. Despite the growth of other competitions from 1945 onwards it continued to be the News of the World all dart-players wanted to win. The 1950s was a relatively quiet period for darts but the News of the World continued unaffected. It was during this time that Unicorn Products Ltd., began to produce replica darts as thrown by each News of the World champion.
Tom Barrett once wrote that the News of the World was ‘the highlight of each darts season’ – and no one knew that better than Tom. He had been entering the News of the World competition for years and had reached the area finals on three occasions during the 1950s. In 1961 and 1963 he made the London finals and in 1962 he had reached the Grand Finals. In 1964-65, representing the Odco Social Club, Tom made the Grand Finals again, this time winning the championship, beating Ray Hatton of the Flower of the Valley, Rochford 2-0. He then promptly returned the next year and won it again, this time defeating Norman Fielding of the Station Inn, Swannington, Leicestershire by two games to one. Tom’s attempt at a hat-trick the following year ended five matches short when Bill Harding, a former Welsh Champion, beat him 2-0 in the London and Home Counties Divisional Final at Battersea Town Hall.
It would be nearly another decade later before Tom Barrett’s feat was repeated Eric Bristow (1983 and 1984) and later still by Mike Gregory (1987 and 1988). Five other darters have in fact won the championship twice but not in consecutive years. These are Tommy Gibbons (1952 and 1958), Tom Reddington (1955 and 1960), Stefan Lord (1978 and 1980) and Bobby George (1979 and 1986).
After Barry Twomlow had won the News of the World in 1969, has was almost immediately joined Unicorn Products Ltd., and became a darts representative for the company and has been latterly described as a ‘darts ambassador. I am not alone when I say that Barry Twomlow has played a key role in the development of the popularity of the game since the late 1960s. John Ross was of the opinion that Barry was ‘one of the greatest dart players that have ever lived’ and had nothing but praise for his work for darts in all corners of our planet.
The 1970s saw the beginning of the darts ‘boom’ and the establishment of the famous names in the game of darts, the first darts ‘stars’, of sponsorship and prize money. But by the end of the 1980s the TV darts bubble had burst. The television companies abandoned darts because the viewing figures were falling. The sponsors withdrew their support but the News of the World carried on regardless. In fact it simply took the News of the World a little longer to cool to darts and in 1990 the competition ceased. It was ironic that that was the first year in which the newspaper had run separate competitions for both men and women players. No reason was given and, sadly, there was no hue and cry from darters.
Pressure from dart-players might well have saved the day but the truth was that very few letters of objection or complaint were received by the newspaper and the News of the World was allowed to slip quietly away.
There was a temporary blip in 1996/97 when the competition was surprisingly resurrected. However, the response was disappointing and thus the News of the World decided not to run it again. The competition was closed down, this time, it seems, for good. Thus champions Phil Taylor and Linda Jones have now gone down in history as the last winners of the News of the World competition.
Despite this, the place of the News of the World in the history of darts is assured. It stands up there as the individual darts tournament, the championship of the people, the one major darts contest that the ‘ordinary man’ – or woman – could win. There were no restrictions in terms of which association or club you belonged to. You entered via your own pub, played all matches within a short travelling distance of your local and could eventually find yourself on the stage in London fighting for glory, for your pub or club, in front of an audience of thousands of darts enthusiasts.
I personally prefer to think of the News of the World Individual Darts Championship as ‘suspended’ rather than resting. But will we ever see the like of it again?
©2007 Patrick Chaplin
Ireland had their own News of the World Champions –
Click on logo to the left
There must be thousands of darters out there who remember the News of the World and regret its passing. All that are left now are the memories, memories that I would like to hear about. Why not drop me a line (see the ‘Links’ page) and tell me of your memories of the News of the World Individual Darts Championship? Perhaps you know or even are a previous area or divisional winner or even a past champion? I’d love to hear from you and record your experiences for posterity. In addition, if you have any newspaper cuttings of your success, I’d like to ask you for copies so that I can place them in my darts archive.
This article is dedicated to all those volunteers who helped the competition thrive over six decades.
Further reading: For those who would like to know more about the history of the News of the World Individual Darts Championship I recommend the News of the World Darts Annual 1988/89, edited by John Morris and published by Invincible Press of London in 1988. Derek Brown’s Guinness Books of Darts (Guinness Superlatives Ltd (1981) is also worth consulting as is Chapter 5 of Tom Barrett’s book Darts (Pan Books, 1973). Although all are long out of print they should be obtainable on loan [in the UK] through your local library.
What better way to remember the competition than including here a roll call of all the winners and runners up. Champions all! Click here to review.
© Patrick Chaplin 2007