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 6.
“The first spectator to reach Wimbledon to-day was a man, and he got there at 5.30am.” This is a sentence from the London Evening News on June 20, 1927 – the very first day that newspaper cuttings started to be preserved in what is now a unique collection held by the Kenneth Ritchie Wimbledon Library. Since that year, reports covering every day of The Championships from all major UK national newspapers have been diligently cut out and preserved. There are more than 100 bound collations of these cuttings, which are still excised manually with scissors and stuck in with glue. On the eve of The Championships Librarian Robert McNicol ordered two boxes of 24 Pritt sticks to get through the marathon job undertaken each day of the tournament by library assistants Janet Baylis and Annabelle Ng.
One should clarify that the sentence quoted above from 90 years ago comes from a paragraph sub-headed “The First Spectator” which establishes the baseline facts, as it were, in the interests of scene-setting. Another key sentence in painting the picture for readers runs, “It was noticeable that it was only the men who were carrying mackintoshes, coats and umbrellas. The majority of girls were wearing light summer dresses.” The tennis reports, however, are nuanced and fun to read for the contemporary phraseology and sense of the provenance of the field of competitors: for example, “G.P. Hughes, the young Essex player who first came to the front in the Evening News competition, and Nicholas Mishu, the Rumanian diplomat, had a great set-to on court 4.”
Another item in the same round-up is called “The German Player”: “Meanwhile on Court No.1 – the second show court – Germany re-entered Wimbledon after a long ‘war interval’ in the person of Otto Froitzheim, perhaps the greatest player produced in Germany and, in post-war days, amongst the world’s first ten.” A report from the Blackburn Telegraph on the same day heralds the German favourite: “A stout German and his wife naturally were chiefly concerned with the reappearance of Friotzheim, their champion, and the advent of the young German girl, Fraulein Aussem. ‘She is a fine kiddie,’ said the man to a Press representative, ‘and it would be grand to see her against little Betty Nuthall’”. One suspects the press representative added the British colloquialisms.
G.P. Hughes, the young Essex player who first came to the front in the Evening News competition, and Nicholas Mishu, the Rumanian diplomat, had a great set-to on court 4
“The cuttings are a valuable contemporary source of information on the history of The Championships which are still widely used by visitors to the Library,” says Robert. “What many researchers find especially valuable is the ability to see all stories from a particular day, from several papers, side by side.” When David Attenborough opened the current Museum exhibition - On Air: Wimbledon and the BBC, 1927-2017 – he popped in to look at newspaper stories reporting the first colour broadcast at the time. “He was Controller of BBC2 and it was his decision to make Wimbledon the first colour television broadcast in Europe.”
Dipping into the cuttings shows how the best tennis writing has always captured the emotional excitement of the occasion. Take July 7, 1934, and the report in the Daily Telegraph by A. Wallis Myers on Fred Perry’s first Wimbledon title. “From wandering on a foreign strand’ the lawn tennis championship has come back to England, its native place, after twenty-five years,” he wrote. “Yesterday, at Wimbledon, before an expectant throng, hoping, but not quite sure until the end, F.J. Perry defeated J.H. Crawford, the holder, in the final, and became the first home-grown champion since 1909.” We are so used to looking back at Perry’s achievement that we tend to forget his wins here were as longed for as those of Andy Murray.
The 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.