Winks Rampant : the development of modern tiddlywinks


The New Year, 1958, came in full of promise, and the promise was amply justified by the events of the next twelve months. The year began modestly enough with a Club meeting on January 15th. One of the problems in arranging the Goons match was the need for Harry Secombe to be at Coventry at 1.45 p.m., straight after the match, to appear in a matinee pantomime. R. Howland now came forward with the brilliant suggestion that Fison's Pest Control should be asked to provide a helicopter to transfer Secombe from Cambridge to Coventry. The suggestion was duly acted upon; within a fortnight Fison's had agreed to the plan, and the police had accepted a flight path whereby the helicopter took off from St. John's playing fields.

Steen and Howells announced that they had sent off invitations to the First Tiddlywinks World Congress, to be held on June 11th & 12th. "You are no doubt aware that Tiddlywinks is becoming a world-wide sport", read the invitation, "and naturally as in any growing and virile activity there are several minor differences regarding the mode of play. If this promising pastime is to progress to its rightful position as one of the world's greatest games we must reconcile these minor differences and formulate a standard set of rules." Among the other things to be considered at the Congress were the advisability of approaching the Olympic Committee, and the design of a suitable stadium!

With the real prospect of a major game at last, the Club was able to arrange a couple of 'training' games. The first of these was against girl radiographers from Addenbrooke's Hospital, on 21st January. It began at 8.15 p.m.; John Furlonger and Peter Taylor scored 31 points out of a possible 32 (the scoring system at that time was 5,3,2 and 1 for 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th places).

Cambridge took the game 107-69, and the evening finished socially over coffee. The second game was played a week later, against Foxton Hall, the Joint Services School of Languages near Cambridge. Lawford Howells achieved a personal maximum, coming first in each of his games. The Club won all 16 games and took the match 109.5 - 66.5. [Ed. I am unclear how the half point occurred in those days of double-pot!] "There was a record crowd of spectators- 5" and the meeting carried on almost till midnight.

C.U.Tw.C. was searching for sponsors and advertisers to help finance the Goons match. Keith Piper wrote to Whitbread on January 25th inviting them to take advertising space in the programme; the reply was no, but Whitbread offered to supply a pint tankard to the winning team. Peter Downes wrote to Showerings suggesting that they might supply Cambridge with Babycham as a training diet because the bottle tops were light blue. Showerings' area manager, accompanied by a Babycham sales representative, visited Downes in Christ's. They were slightly sceptical and wanted to know what was involved in the game. A mat was unrolled, a pot placed in the middle, and a wink in the corner. With Downes' very first squidge the wink flew straight into the pot. The Showerings men were astounded, and from that moment the Babycham supply was won. It materialised without delay, taking the form of 14 dozen bottles! Babycham models, notepads, pencils and brooches were also supplied. Varsity, after reporting that the opposing teams were training on Babycham and Guinness, commented "A tight match is expected."

There were manoeuvres in January to obtain permission to use the Duke of Edinburgh's crest on the programme; this failed because use of the crest is only authorised when the Duke attends in person. By the end of January the probably Royal Champions' team was: Spike Milligan & Harry Secombe; Peter Sellers & Wallace Greenslade; Max Geldray & Ray Ellington; Alan Simpson & Ray Galton. Ray Ellington was later unable to play, and in February Graham Stark took his place. About 600 seats were being provided for the match, including matside seats at 5/-; they were all sold out by February 9th.

Arrangements were made for the event to be filmed by Pathe News and British Movietone. Brian Johnston was to provide matside commentary for the BBC's "Saturday Night On The Light", including interviews with members of both teams, to make a recording lasting about five minutes. A "Sportsview" preview of the match was organised for the Wednesday beforehand, February 26th; two members from each side were to appear: Arundale and Downes, and Milligan and Greenslade. News of the match was kept in the newspapers through November, December and January, but in February and March the publicity built up to a crescendo.

Two more 'training' matches were arranged for mid-February. A team representing R.A.F. Oakington were encountered on their home ground on February 10th, in No. 2 Officers' Mess. It was a most enjoyable game, in luxurious surroundings, and was won by Cambridge 112.5-63.5. This was followed on February 18th by a game against Homerton Teachers' Training College. C.U.Tw.C. suffered one or two early setbacks, but (refreshed by Babycham) eventually won 101-75.

John Snagge wrote to Cambridge on February 21st: "I am happy to tell you that I have had a message from the Duke of Edinburgh which will be read out before the match begins, and which I may say is not only in keeping with the occasion, but is brilliant in its own wording. I asked him personally whether he had written it himself, and he told me that not only had he done that, but he had a great deal of fun in writing it."

It was now getting very close to the match. On the Monday beforehand a meeting was held in Cambridge Guildhall, where the match was to be played, for seating arrangements to be completed. Low tables had been specially made for the occasion, 1 foot 4 inches from the floor, to render play more visible to the expected concourse of spectators. The players adapted themselves to playing at this unaccustomed height with a little practice.

The following day a meeting was held to discuss final plans. Light blue and red kneepads were prepared, while Norman Riley of the Daily Telegraph was an interested observer. The minutes relate that "D.H.Mellor (Pembroke) arrived with the disturbing news that forged complimentary tickets had been sent to many 'top people' of the University. Plans were made to strengthen the security check on the Guildhall and also to obviate the danger that the Goons might be kidnapped."

The interviews and demonstration game for "Sportsview" went forward as scheduled on the 26th. The fees for appearing were waived, with the request that the N.P.F.A. should be given the money- 25 guineas.

The last three days were incredibly hectic. What had started out as an amusing stunt seemed to be taking on national proportions. Elaborate security precautions to safeguard the Goons had to be taken, the police were worried about how many men would be needed on extra duty, and newspapers were ringing up non-stop.

On the eve of the match Showerings sent a brief telegram to the Cambridge side: "Wishing you the best of luck in your match". Earlier Showerings had paid for the printing of copies of the new Tiddlywinks Anthem which had been written by a life-long apostle of tiddlywinks, the Rev. E.A.Willis. Each member of the Goons team had been asked to write a brief life history of himself, with particular reference to his past winking career. These entertaining histories were published in the official match programme. A proposal to produce Goons winks, and collect royalties from their sale, had encountered difficulties and was abandoned.

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