Tuesday, 11 July 2017 10:57 AM BST
Tales from the Library: Alan Little's books

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 8.

Wimbledon Librarian Alan Little

As well as building the Wimbledon Library into the best collection of tennis literature in the world, Alan Little has been a prolific author over the past 40 years and written many fascinating books about various aspects of tennis – 20 different titles, in fact, or 117 books, if you’re counting editions. He is probably best known for the Wimbledon Compendium, currently in its 27th year of publication, and previously he has been responsible for the Wimbledon media guide and the This is Wimbledon booklet.

“My own personal favourite is St.Leger Goold: A Tale of Two Courts, which was published in 1984 as the fourth in a series of booklets. I was initially attracted by the pun – the best tennis book title ever – and discovered such an unusual story,” says Robert. “In 1879, Vere Thomas St. Leger Goold, an Irish champion, was runner-up in the All-Comers’ final at Wimbledon against J.T. Hartley. When his tennis days were over, he went to live in Monte Carlo where he and his wife gambled. Hard up, they resorted to murdering a wealthy bejewelled Danish woman. They cut up her body, stuffed it in a suitcase and, in a misjudged bid to get rid of the evidence, took it with them as luggage on the train to Marseilles.”

Alan’s booklet details how on Tuesday, August 6, 1907, the 5.38am train from Monte Carlo arrived in Marseilles. St. Leger Goold and his wife deposited the suitcase and a large handbag in the cloakroom, with a request for it to be forwarded to London. A porter, disturbed by the smell, called the police. In what is perhaps the tennis equivalent of the O.J. Simpson trial, St. Leger Goold was tried and sentenced to penal servitude for life and his wife condemned to death, though this was reduced on appeal to a life sentence. They never saw each other again: in 1909, he died in a convict settlement; in 1914, she died in prison.

Alan’s most recent, and biggest, project also focuses on the South of France. “The Golden Days of Tennis on the French Riviera 1874-1939 charts play at some 450 international tournaments spread across the shores of the Mediterranean, and it’s unique,” says Robert. “It’s a tremendous work of research. Alan tracked down the full results of tournaments that were held during a very interesting era when British players, attracted by the weather, used to head to the region. More and more tournaments were put on. Some great characters emerged in the heyday of the 1920s and early 1930s.”

One of the big names of this era is the subject of another of Alan’s books, Suzanne Lenglen: Tennis Idol of the Twenties. “Lenglen was the first female tennis superstar and, at her peak, was virtually unbeatable. Key moments explored in the book include Suzanne’s epic match against Helen Wills at Cannes in 1926 and her fall-out with the authorities at Wimbledon, which led to her turning professional.

“Olympic tennis is another topic which has always fascinated Alan,” Robert continues. “This led to him writing Tennis and the Olympic Games, which consists of reviews and results from every Olympic tennis tournament from Athens 1896 to Beijing 2008. In 2012, he produced a booklet reviewing the 2012 Olympic tennis event, held at Wimbledon, which of course Andy Murray won.”

A mine of detailed information, Alan has also authored several pamphlets on famous players from the early years of Lawn Tennis, including Maud Watson, the first Wimbledon Ladies’ champion. Available for sale in the Wimbledon Shop - and lovely souvenirs of a visit to The Championships - are Alan's books on the Gentlemen's Singles Champions (1884-2015) and the Ladies Singles Champions (1877-2015), and also a trilogy of lavishly illustrated books tracing the evolution of the site from the original ground just off Worple Road to the All England Club's new home on Church Road.

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.

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