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Throwback Thursday: preparing for Wimbledon in the 50s and 60s

by Leigh Walsh
Thursday 5 June 2014

With just 18 days to go until the 128th edition of The Championships, preparations around The All England Club are nearing their conclusion.

The grass on the 17 tournament courts are player-ready after 11 months of meticulous attention, the temporary seating has been put in place, the benches are out and the ball boys and girls are being drilled in the art of catching, throwing and towel fetching.

While methods have advanced – nowadays millions of followers around the world are kept up-to-date on the year-round developments to the Grounds – the process, for the most part, has remained the same since The Championships first moved from the old site at Worple Road to its new home on Church Road in 1922.

While our Throwback Thursday feature has focused on former champions up until now, this week we highlight the excellent footage recently released by British Pathé that showcases the measures taken to prepare for the tournament in the 1950s and 60s.  

“Men and women from two score* countries staking their claims”

From 1:12, the below clip offers some fascinating insight into how the players were chosen to play in 1954. Nowadays, it’s a simple ranking cut-off but back then there was no recognised ranking system. Applications were sent in and the tournament referee put together a list of recommendations. Those amateurs around the world hoping to make the cut-off for the elimination trials were then sent a letter which would either make or break their dreams.

*score was an old English way of saying 20: Two score = 40. 

“Somewhere here there may be a future Fred Perry" 

Just like in recent weeks, back in 1966 youngsters gathered for trials in the hope of being chosen to ball boy at The Championships (girls didn't feature until 1977). That year the hopefuls assembled in Hertfordshire to learn how to pick up balls quickly “without fear of dropping them” and the narrator mused about a future Fred Perry emerging from the group. If they’d known then what we know now.

“Perfection is the prerequisite here”

This clip from 1961 highlights how the grass was “clipped and rolled” more than half a century ago. It also goes into detail on how the 16,000 balls were made for The Championships that year.

“The draw is news, transmitted to every continent”

This three-minute video puts the spotlight on the week leading up to Wimbledon in 1954: qualifying, the draw and the fascination with queuing for tickets.

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