GRAHAM FRITH -THE PHANTOM ARROW

In the Summer of 1967, Ted Cain, the owner of a country club at Kirklinton, near Carlisle, was looking for a different stage attraction to entertain his patrons.

He came up with the idea of booking a darts champion who would take on ten challengers each night on stage and, based on the theory that the darter was unbeatable, Ted offered £10 to anyone who could take a game off of his man. Ted felt that as this would be an unlikely event, his money was quite safe.

The name chosen for Ted’s champion was ‘THE PHANTOM ARROW’.

It was pure showmanship of course, the darter wearing a tight black full-face mask to ensure anonymity. In addition, he never spoke. The Phantom was considered to be so good that he agreed to play in gloves to give the punters a chance. The mystery darter was booked for one night per week for the summer. The chance of winning £10 (a sum which equated to £190 in 2020) meant there was no shortage of challengers who thronged to the club much as Ted had hoped.

However, things did not quite go according to plan, ‘The Phantom’ catching the imagination of the nation when the Daily Mirror of 4th July that year ran the headline ‘PHANTOM ARROW’S DEADLY DARTS HIT TED’S POCKET’.

The Phantom had been beaten four times in one night, costing Ted £40 in the process. “This could cost me a fortune”, said Ted. “Even a local farmer I can beat myself picked up a tenner. And I’m no darts expert!”

The Phantom’s identity had been kept a closely guarded secret. After that first night, and his wallet £40 lighter, Ted quipped, “Now he is even less likely to want anyone to know who he is!”

But Ted’s fears of The Phantom Arrow burning a large hole in his pocket were totally unfounded. Four days later, the Daily Mirror on 8th July reported

At last he’s done it! The Phantom Arrow, the top darts player who is masked in mystery, has found his form. He wiped the board with ten challengers last night after costing club owner Ted Cain £40 in five days ago…

Indeed, ‘The ‘Phantom’ played a total of 146 games at Kirklinton Hall during the summer and won 137 of them, costing Ted Cain a mere £90 over fifteen weeks.

But who was The Phantom Arrow?

1967 was a particularly good year for Graham Frith, a darts player from Carlisle. In addition to numerous local successes, Graham reached the finals of the News of the World Individual Darts Championship of England and Wales having won the North of England Divisional title. The Grand Finals were held at the Alexandra Palace, London N. 22 on Saturday 22nd April.

The News of the World programme that year stated

Carlisle’s Graham Frith has been in bad health for the past nine months. It took a lot of courage even to enter for these championships, and it took courage plus ability to get to these finals.

With this kind of determination – and with the ability he showed in his Divisional win at Tynemouth – who’s to say that Graham won’t complete a remarkable recovery by taking the title back to the North of England?

In the North of England Divisional Finals at the Plaza Ballroom, Tynemouth, North Shields on the evening of Tuesday 14th March 1967, Graham had swept all before him without dropping a match. First to fall was Brian Howe of the Welsh Harp, Trimdon Grange (The Hartlepools Area) (2-0) then, in the semi-finals, Frith beat Jim Graham of the Senhouse Working Men’s Club, (the Workington Area champion) (2-0). He retained a third clean sheet in the final, beating Bob Hunter of the Corporation Social Club, Gateshead (the Sunderland Area champion) 2-0. Graham Frith is pictured here (on the right of the photograph) being presented with the North of England Divisional trophy by Mr. E. Davis, Sales Manager of the Scottish-Newcastle Breweries. (Photograph © News of the World. Used with permission.)

With such a performance at the Divisional finals, it seemed that everything was set for a great run in the Grand Finals for Graham, playing out of the Cumberland Inn, Carlisle. But it was not to be. Graham fell in the quarter-finals to Terry Pickard, the Lancashire and Cheshire Divisional champion (playing out of the Mitre Sports and Social Club, Burnley, Lancs). Pickard, a 29-year-old miner, took the match 2-1.

Graham had previously made it to the North of England Divisional Finals of the News of the World, back in 1961. Those finals were held on 7th March at the Milvain Hall, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. On that occasion, having beaten Sid Ternett, the Sunderland Area champion 2-1 in the quarter-final, then Fred Nicholson, the Kendal Area champion, in the semi-final, Graham then fell in the Divisional Final to Alec Adamson (Durham Area champion). Graham Frith could take some solace though from that Adamson, the man who beat him that night, went on to lift the News of the World title at the Alexandra Palace on 22nd April.

Given such credentials, it was not surprising that Graham was asked to star in the Kirklinton Hall cabaret as ‘The Phantom Arrow’.

As Graham was a well-known darter in the area, further measures had to be taken to convince those who thought he was ‘The Phantom’ that it was not the case. Thus, during his albeit short cabaret career, Graham was seen around Carlisle sporting a plaster cast on his right arm. (The cast was especially made for him and had a zip fastener on the inside of the arm!)

Because of his ‘broken arm’, Graham was unable to play his regular pub darts and for this reason the ruse was even more convincing. How could he possibly be The Phantom? Still, many remained convinced thought Graham to be the mysterious, masked darter but that plaster cast kept the doubt remaining.

In discussion in 1990 Graham said

“Today I play darts only once a week on average. But I look back at the time I was The Phantom Arrow and smile. After all, how many darts players can claim to have been top of the bill with Rue and The Rockets as the supporting act?”

© Patrick Chaplin 2021

(The original version of ‘The Phantom Arrow’ was published in Darts World, Issue 217, December 1990.)

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