CLIMAX 78 – THE FORK TRUCK DRIVERS’ DARTS TOURNAMENT

In the late 1970s, sponsors were queueing up at the office of the British Darts Organisation (BDO) in London to put their money down to support the numerous televised darts tournaments that formed the BDO darts yearly programme. These were primarily companies that sold cigarette and drink but also included those that sold paint, promoted football pools (such as Vernons) and, of course, darts and dartboard manufacturers.

Naturally, these major tournaments attracted the very best the game had to offer or they had simply been invited to participate because of their standing in the darts world: the players the darts fans and TV viewers wanted to see.

But occasionally, such in the case of Climax 78, a company approached the BDO and asked them to organise a tournament for them. John Buckeridge, the Sales Promotion Manager for Coventry Climax, explained

The whole question of sports sponsorship arose about a year ago when we were examining ways of bringing Coventry Climax closer to the fork truck driver – ways of pointing out that a big company could be more friendly and less impersonal. Various sports were discussed, but darts was clearly the leading light. That’s why we embarked on this tournament, but we little realised just how popular it would prove to be.

Subsequently, applications were mailed to 26,000 companies who used Climax fork lifts and one major advertisement was place in the popular Sunday press. John Buckeridge was stunned by the response: 4,500 entries were received over fifteen days! Then the hard work began of allocating those entries to the relevant county play-offs.  The company engaged the services of the BDO to administer all the qualifying heats and local finals and these produced forty-eight county winners who would play the finals proper in London at the Mayfair Suite on the afternoon of Sunday 17th December 1978.

Patrick Dee (aka ‘The Curator of Darts’) clearly recalled taking part in the initial phase of the competition, playing at Haverhill, Suffolk. He enjoyed the experience but, sadly, was not one of the county winners. 

Each of those county winners had already received a prize of a quartz analogue clock plus a cheque for £15. In the finals the champion would win a yellow Mini (the colour of Climax fork lift trucks), together with the Winner’s Cup; the runner-up to win a music system and a shield; the third, a portable colour television and the fourth a SLR camera. Shields would also be awarded to the losing semi-finalists and any finalists achieving 180 with three darts in a single throw would receive ‘a special prize’. In addition, a commemorative wall shield was to be awarded to the company where the champion worked.

All of the finalists were named in the programme with short biographies. A number of them were shown to be excellent dart players and worth keeping an eye on, such as Michael Merrick (West Midlands), a winner in the C.I.U (Clubs, Institutes Union) All England Championship, David Porter (Glamorgan) ‘a winner of the Welsh Unicorn’, David Pryke (Cambridgeshire),William Stevenson (Tyne & Wear), winner of the South Tyneside Premier League, Paul Wright (Essex) a winner of the 1977/78 Dagenham & Rainham League Singles, Raymond Venn (Berkshire), an LLKA Triples Champion, and, of note, was Robert Tinkler (Wiltshire) who ‘achieved the magic 180’ in one of his games earlier in the Climax tournament.   

The format for Climax 78 was best of three legs, 501 up, straight start, finish on a double. The length of the oche was not shown in the programme and, given that this event was not reported in Darts World, one has to assume it was 7feet 9inches. (The photograph above shows the tournament under way.)

Unfortunately, one of the 48 finalists was unable to take part. The North Yorkshire finalist Geoffrey Schofield, was incredibly unlucky when the coach he and his supporters were travelling in broke down, so he failed to make the event on time. Thus, his planned opponent, Vincent Barden (Bedford), was awarded a bye to the next round.

The tournament was witnessed by 700 spectators and supporters. The standard of play was high with maximums being hit no less than nine times during the afternoon. The eventually winner was Bob Tilbury, the Middlesex County finalist, pictured below celebrating here with David Fenner, Managing Director of Climax International Sales. Notes from the programme informed us that Bob was 29 years old, married, lived in Hayes and that he had recently changed his job and was then working for Ripolin, a paint factory, in Southall.

The runner-up was Bill Stevenson (Tyne & Wear), previously mentioned above. See Bill (below) with his runners-up prize: a music centre.

Third place went to Roger Derham from Taunton, Somerset. Ray Venn (Berkshire), who had played consistently throughout the afternoon and had hit two 180s, came fourth.

There had been nine maximums during the tournament, two to Venn (as mentioned) and one by Bill Stevenson (the runner-up), one by Derham (the third placed player) and one each by John Tolhurst (Sussex), Tony Dillane (London), Philip Cookson (South Lancashire) and Alfred Macklin (Humberside). Each of these players won the aforementioned ‘special prize’; an engraved tankard. Macklin also achieved the best outshot of the day with a 13-dart finish.

Having won the Climax trophy, Bob Tilbury had one more challenge. His win had earned him a friendly match against the then current WINMAU World Master champion, Newcastle-upon-Tyne’s Ronnie Davis who had recently beaten England’s Tony Brown at the Royal Horticultural Hall, London. In this photograph (below) the new World Master looks on as a finger-biting Bob Tilbury is interviewed by the ATV sports presenter, Gary Newbon, who was the M.C. for the afternoon.

The Climax 78 champion rounded off his day by beating Ronnie four legs to three in a seven-leg match. The Climax reporter wrote “Our thanks to Ronnie Davis for such a sporting gesture.”

Gary Newbon declared

“I am staggered at the standard of play; it wouldn’t disgrace television. I didn’t think fork truck drivers were as accurate with their darts as with their trucks but I have been proved wrong!” 

Interviewed after his tournament win, Bob Tilbury said

“Fantastic – nothing else to say – a great climax! I try to finish on a bull as often as possible and spend a lot of time practising at home as I think it’s important – it’s the difference between winning and losing.”

Caller/referee Tony Green (pictured below calling Ronnie Davis’ win in the 1978 WINMAU World Masters) enthused

“Fantastic darts – I was not expecting the quality we have seen here today. The sportsmanship in this tournament has been great – this is what the sport is all about.”

Both the organisers and the Climax company were pleased with the way the tournament had gone.

Olly Croft, the Honorary General Secretary of the BDO

“I wish more companies would offer sponsorships such as Coventry Climax Ltd has done. On behalf of the B.D.O. may I say how pleased we were to be appointed to run the competition for Climax.”

Ken Osborne, the BDO Vice-Chairman for Lancashire, commented

“One of the best competitions for the amateurs who normally wouldn’t enter a competition where the big names were involved.”

David Fenner, Managing Director of Climax International Sales said

“I was delighted to see so many people at the tournament – I hope we have converted all fork lift truck drivers to Climax!”

Shropshire Branch Darts Secretary, Roy Evans, enjoyed the day so much that he adjudged it ‘the best event ever for the working man to participate in’ (I am sure fans of the News of the World championship might well disagree with him.) and hoped to see it as an annual event.

Despite the fact that Climax 78 was a success, and Roy Evans hoping for it to become an annual tournament, I cannot find any record of this particular tournament being held again. (Please let me know if I am mistaken.)

(Special thanks to DDN subscriber Cyril Evans for providing me with a copy of ‘A Climax News Special Report’ which enabled me to compile this article.)

(c) 2021 Patrick Chaplin. Copyright secured permission on all images.

(This article first appeared in my global Dr. Darts’ Newsletter (DDN), #138 – September 2021.)

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