TELLING IT LIKE IT WAS
I am always on the lookout for new books about darts especially biographies of famous (and not so famous) darts players and so it was with great interest that I read in the October 2019 issue of Darts World that darts player Shane Burgess had published his biography Everyone Gets Fifteen Quid.
I must admit that I nearly stopped reading it after a few pages. The language used was very ‘colourful’ (perhaps too colourful for a sensitive soul like me) and I thought there was no need at all to call literary giant George Orwell a c***.
But I persevered and actually enjoyed this raw, ‘in your face’ personal exposé of life on the road in professional darts. I loved his players’ view of being part of the BDO tournament trail (some super insights there) and his irritation at how, once he had joined the PDC, there was little either he or anyone else could do about the juggernaut that was Phil Taylor. (At least Phil inspired him to buy a campervan!)
Shane’s book made me think about biographies of top players that have been published in the past. (Modesty forbids me from mentioning my involvement with John Lowe’s biography Old Stoneface (2005) and Trina Gulliver’s Golden Girl (2008).) How far back could I go?
Which player published the first darts players’ biography/autobiography?
Surprisingly no one has recorded the life of any pre- or early post-war darts heroes. No biography exists of either Jim Pike or Joe Hitchcock, both legends of the game. East Anglian darts star George Caley published a book titled How to Improve Your Darts in 1950 which included a couple of pages of biographical notes, mainly about his astonishing record, but the rest, as the title suggests, was instructional.
During the period 1950 until the early 1970s no biographies of darts players or indeed any darts books at all were published except for Noel E. Williamson’s work simply titled Darts which appeared in 1968. Noel mentioned Joe and Jim but only in passing.
In fact darts fans had to wait until 1973 to read about the life of a top darts player and who better to kick things off – AT LAST! – than Tom Barrett the only man, up until then, to have won the prestigious News of the World title two years in succession and one, if not the, most well-known names in darts at that time.
Ghosted by journalist Harry Weaver and cleverly titled Darts, Tom’s biography not only gave us a superb insight into his early life and life as a professional darts player but it also provided readers with fascinating information about his travels around the globe, as an ambassador for Unicorn Products, how the first super leagues were formed, a brief history of the National Darts Association of Great Britain (NDAGB) and his predictions for the future.
The chapter ‘Where do we go from here?’ began
‘The most dynamic figure in British darts today is Olly Croft….He brings to darts the same energy and enthusiasm that made him a success in business. While the ordinary club secretary is concentrating, quite naturally, on next season’s fixtures in his local league, Olly is thinking about an inter-city league covering the whole of Britain, and how he can go about arranging the first international between Britain and the United States.’
Shortly after Tom’s book was published Olly, and colleagues, launched the British Darts Organisation (BDO) and we all know what happened after that.
While numerous top professional darts players have published auto/biographies since then (including Eric Bristow (twice), Bobby George, Andy Fordham and Phil Taylor (twice)) no one from inside darts has ever had a go.
Back in 2011 I suggested to Olly Croft OBE that he should write a book about his life and indeed we spent many hours together chatting about the BDO and all things darts and, subsequently, I spent a lot of time writing up my notes and preparing a synopsis to be sent to potential publishers. We tentatively titled the book The Godfather of Darts.
Sadly, despite our synopsis being praised by a number of publishers, all of them stated that – Can you believe it? – the subject matter was too niche! TOO NICHE! It was there that, what could have become one of books (if not THE most important) ever written about darts, faltered and the project was shelved: turned down by the publishing world. What a book that would have been! The history of darts through the eyes of the man responsible for dragging the game from the pub into the international arena and, of course, the history of the BDO in Olly’s own words: from ‘The Godfather’s point of view…
So, as many of the original members of the BDO organisation fade into history, the sports historian, or anyone researching the development of darts from the 1960s onwards, will have to rely for their information on the fragments of experience reported via the oral testimony of darts players who were there (or thereabouts) during those formative years of the BDO which were reported in scattered national and provincial newspapers, watching usually biased TV programmes produced following ‘The Split’ or, like Shane Burgess, players publishing their auto/biographies and record their experiences (as they remember them) for posterity.
So who is left to tell it like it really was?
© 2019 Patrick Chaplin.
Photos: PC Darts Archive and PC/DW Archive
The original version of this article was first published in Darts World #563, November 2019.