In the late 1970s, as darts was emerging as a serious spectator sport and before the politically correct brigade came along and spoiled things for everyone, there were the Halex Darts Dollies.
They were the brainchild of Judy Sharp, Marketing Manager for Halex Sports, the company selling dartboards, darts, shafts and flights. The Dollies were a tremendous success ‘live’ on stage at a time when darts was still very much part of a man’s world and the vast majority of spectators were men too.
“What better way” said Judy, “to attract the attention of darts players – potential customers for our products – than with some very attractive young ladies who also happened to be excellent darts players? Enter the Halex Darts Dollies. It was blatant sexist marketing – and it was very successful!”
The widely-publicised search for Dollies ended at Butlin’s at Clacton-on-Sea, Essex in early 1979. The original Dollies were Janis Gullaine (who at the time was ‘Miss Dishy Darts 1977’ and played in the Duxton Darts League in the Derbyshire Super League), Chrissy Smith (Chester Ladies’ League) Janette Sontag (cousin of England player Tony Sontag) and Sharon Vandenburgh (a London Super League player); all attractive ladies and, as can be seen, all good darts players.
The Dolly “uniform” comprised a silky green polo shirt and a very short dark green skirt (from the company’s schools’ sportswear range), frilly underwear, high-heeled silver strappy shoes and beauty-queen style silky sashes.
The Dollies were an instant hit. They supported the Embassy exhibition tours around huge beery, smoky clubs and always received a rapturous reception. Punters were invited on stage to ‘play with a Dolly’. Invariably, the Dolly would drop a dart and bend over to pick it up, always causing a cheer. If the Dolly won, the punter received a set of ‘Dolly’ flights and a large ‘HALEX DARTS DOLLIES PLAYED WITH ME’ badge. If a player won, his reward was a top of the range set of Halex darts – and a kiss from the Dolly!
The Halex Darts Dollies toured all over the UK, with the Embassy tour and in their own right, raising money for charity along the way.
Looking back at the Dollies in 2012 Judy Sharp told me
“They were hugely popular and may well have contributed to introducing the game to more ladies who had previously been intimidated by its masculine image. The girls loved the spotlight and the attention, and being Dollies helped their careers enormously. It was blatantly sexist, yes, but it was also brilliant marketing: harmless fun, not degrading in any way, and it was absolutely right for the time.”
But would such an idea work today?
Call the Politically Correct Police!
Text © 2012 Judy Sharp. Additional text and images © 2019 Patrick Chaplin