Friday, 7 July 2017 11:40 AM BST
Tales from the Library: Programmes

In celebration of the Kenneth Ritchie Wimbledon Library’s status in charting not only the history of The Championships but the history of lawn tennis, Librarian Robert McNicol has assembled a 13-day guide showcasing the stellar sources available. Here he explains which titles he has selected for Day 5

Librarian Robert McNicol

For many people, a visit to The Championships wouldn’t be complete without buying a copy of the official programme. Indeed, for some people, collecting Wimbledon programmes is something of a hobby. Nobody, however, has as comprehensive a collection as the Kenneth Ritchie Wimbledon Library.

“The Library holds complete sets of programmes from every day of play since 1925,” says Robert. “It also holds individual programmes from many earlier years, dating all the way back to the very first Championships in 1877. A copy of the programme from that first Championships is on display in the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum. The programme has changed a great deal over the past 140 years. The early ones were simple pieces of card, the size of a postcard, folded in half; they displayed the draw, the railway timetable and a plan of the courts.  By 1924 the programme had evolved into a magazine style and, over the subsequent decades, it has grown into a glossy magazine with articles and colour photographs.”

A programme from exactly 98 years ago today - July 7, 1919 - is titled “The Lawn Tennis Championships with which are combined the World’s Championships on Grass upon the lawns of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club”. The wording is not so very different from the styling today: the front of this year’s programme declares the 131st Championships Wimbledon 2017 upon the grounds of the All England Lawn Tennis Club”.

Adverts were included in the programme as early as 1903. In 1919 – the first event after the First World War - the programme includes nods to one official supplier familiar to visitors today - “The Balls, Posts, Nets &c., are supplied by SLAZENGER, Ltd., London” - and one rather homely thank you - “The clock in the Centre Court has been kindly lent by Messrs. BENETFINK & CO, Cheapside, London EC.”  Actual adverts are for associated products such as Elkington & Co silversmiths, who made the trophies, Challenge Cups and medals; Carters “Tested Grass Seeds, Wormkiller & Manure”, and the “En-Tout-Cas” Hard Lawn Tennis Court – “The hard court that carried on during the war”.

Thanks to the Library’s resources, Robert is able to ascertain that this is the 15th time in the history of The Championships that the tournament dates include a Friday, July 7: in 1905, 1911, 1922, 1933, 1939, 1950, 1961, 1967, 1972, 1978, 1989, 1995, 2000, 2006 as well as 2017.

The Topical Film Co. Ltd holds the exclusive rights for taking Cinematograph Pictures at the All England Lawn Tennis Club during the present season

- 1922 programme

A dip into the 7/7 programme from 1922 makes you realise how commercially on the ball, so to speak, the Championships organisers have always been. The programme states that “The Topical Film Co. Ltd holds the exclusive rights for taking Cinematograph Pictures at the All England Lawn Tennis Club during the present season”.

“In addition to its collection of Wimbledon programmes, the Library holds at least 5,000 programmes from other tournaments,” says Robert. “We make a particular point of collecting programmes from the other three Grand Slams, as well as the Davis Cup and Fed Cup. We’re always on the lookout to fill gaps in our collection from the early years of these tournaments. In addition to this, we try to collect a copy of the programme from every ATP and WTA Tour tournament throughout the year. Just this year we have collected programmes from a host of different tournaments - from Shenzhen to Surbiton and Houston to Halle.”

The Kenneth Ritchie Wimbledon Library, founded in 1976 by Alan Little, holds one of the largest and most diverse collections of tennis literature in the world. Dating from the birth of Lawn Tennis in the 1870s to the present day, the collection holds books, magazines, yearbooks, annuals, programmes and newspaper cuttings from more than 80 countries and continues to grow all the time. 

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