Originally published on: 14/06/13 00:00
The story about the need to raise funds to buy a new pony roller, essential for the upkeep of the lawns at Nursery Lane Wimbledon, which led to the All England Croquet Club holding a tennis tournament in 1887, is the stuff of legends.
The fact that the entrance fee was £1 1s is perhaps less well known, but is just an example of the wealth of facts inside John Barrett’s ‘Wimbledon, the Official History.’ A legend himself, Barrett oozes tennis magic and, at 82 years old, having been retired from broadcasting since 2006, says his heart is still at Wimbledon.
Of all the books he has written this, he says, has been the most satisfying. The only way to describe these two volumes is by using the word ‘beautiful’. The 2012 edition splits history from results. In the green-bound volume of 552 pages, the chapters chronologically break out the evolution of the Championships, and for the first time make reference to the growth of the Club and its relationship with the Lawn Tennis Association. Page 424 captures by year, the annual surplus which in 1868 was £37,310 and which, by 2012, had risen to £37.7 million, 90 per cent of which goes to the LTA to be ploughed back into the growth of British tennis.
With 13 chapters dedicated to the history of the Championships – and set against a backdrop of world events – the book is more than a historical documentary. It is astonishing in the breadth of content, for example it profi les each of the 64 men and 44 women champions since 1877. Newly added ‘spotlight’ sections bring into focus themes like royal visitors to SW19, the ball boys and girls, and the trophies.
“These were done by Ian Hewitt with whom I collaborated on the Centre Court book and who was photo editor of this book,” says Barrett. Added to the narrative are the glorious pictures, mostly taken by photographer Michael Cole, who has an unrivalled collection of images from the post-war period, taken by he and his father Arthur. It’s what print is meant to do. Deliver glorious moments for the reader to savour. “Photographically, I think this book is absolutely stunning which the previous ones never attempted, because we did not have the space,” explains Barrett.
With ten years of history added to the most recent edition, a decision was taken to separate out the draws which are published in a complementary purple covered book. All the results will also be published on wimbledon.com/archives, but there will still be readers out there who want to pore over the statistics.
“I think it is all of us who love tennis, love Wimbledon. When you start browsing through the statistics and results, you do suddenly say, ‘Oh, I remember that one, that was fantastic!’ Barrett thinks this innovation will not just appeal to the ‘buffs’ but will help settle many a tennis argument.
For those with a real sense of Wimbledon magic and a coffee table on which to display it, there’s an opportunity to own one of 500 limited edition leather bound volumes. These are being offered exclusively to All England Club members, debenture holders and British Tennis members.
The players may also want a copy, a souvenir to better the slightly surprising gift competitors received at the 1953 Championships – an ashtray, another unique Wimbledon moment this book captures so well. Having taken the best part of two years to update, next Barrett would like to see the database of results that the All England Club has made available to everyone come to life through the internet.
“It will come and I would like to see them linking that with some of the fabulous archive footage we have – interaction with the database so you could click on the fi le and see the last game played. It would be special.”
In the foreword, having generously credited all those who helped produce the book – including his wife and 1961 Wimbledon champion Angela Mortimer – Barrett humbly admits: “Any factual errors, and I am sure that in a wide-ranging publication of this sort our observant readers will find some, are entirely my own!”
If that is the case, one suspects that readers will forgive him, for the legendary broadcaster and writer who still annually compiles a Wimbledon-themed crossword for the Financial Times newspaper, is still one of the most recognisable media personalities at the Championships. He is a cherished part of the history that he so lovingly and painstakingly brings to life in the newest edition of this book.
Wimbledon The Official History 3rd edition, Vision Sports Publishing Ltd, £30
Wimbledon The Singles Draws 1877-2012, £20