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 10.
One of the great things about working with Alan Little is learning from him, not just about the history of tennis, but also about the literature of the sport. Lots of people know a bit about recent tennis books, but what makes Alan so special is his knowledge of early tennis literature, both mainstream and obscure. I’ve learnt things from Alan that almost nobody else in the world could have taught me. Over the past few days I’ve been chatting to Alan about his favourite tennis books. He’s read so many that it was hard for him to narrow it down, but here, in no particular order, is his go-to top five resources.
Lawn Tennis at Home & Abroad by A. Wallis Myers (1903) – Edited by the legendary tennis correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, this beautifully produced book contains contributions from some of the biggest tennis names of the time, such as Harold Mahoney and Charlotte Sterry. The top tournaments from all over the British Isles are covered in this impressively comprehensive book, as well as tennis all over Europe. There are even chapters on tennis in New Zealand and India. “The book was tremendously ahead of its time,” says Alan. “It was the first ever book of its kind and it’s also profusely illustrated with hundreds of photographs, which was unique for a book at that time.”
Ayers’ Lawn Tennis Almanack (1908-1938) – For 31 years, between 1908 and 1938, Ayres’ Lawn Tennis Almanack was the Wisden of tennis. It contained a comprehensive results section, covering all levels of tennis in Britain, as well as a wide variety of international tournaments. Also included were biographies of a full range of players and a section on the rules of the game. “At one stage, I had mint condition copies of all 31 editions, but I’ve used them so much that they’ve all completely fallen apart,” says Alan. “Every few years I stick them back together with Sellotape!” For many years Alan liked to search for bargains in second-hand bookshops and this series of books was one of his greatest finds. “I found a set of 18 in a shop in Oxford. I paid four guineas for them and they turned into a lifelong source of information.”
The Badminton Library: Tennis, Lawn Tennis, Rackets, Fives by J. M. Heathcote (1890, 1891, 1903, 1908) – A hugely valuable source of historical information on Lawn Tennis as well as the now less well-known sports of real tennis, rackets and fives. “What I love about this book is the extreme detail,” says Alan. “The book covers the evolution of real tennis and lawn tennis. It also contains a history of the All England Lawn Tennis Club and has sections on tactics and ladies’ tennis, which was unusual at the time.”
Forty Years of First Class Lawn Tennis by G. W. Hillyard (1924) – George Hillyard was the Secretary of the All England Lawn Tennis Club between 1907 and 1925 and was one of the most influential people in the early years of the Club. “The great thing about this book is the amazing snippets of information,” says Alan. “The other most notable aspect of the book is the outstanding chapter on the history of the Club, written by H.W.W. Wilberforce, another stalwart of the Club. It’s a must-read for anyone wanting to know the story of the early years of the Club.” Other interesting chapters include those on the Dohertys and the Renshaws who dominated British tennis in the late 19th century, “Advice to Young Players” and “Demeanour in Court”.
Sixty Years in Tennis by Ted Tinling (1983) – As an asthmatic 13-year-old, Ted Tinling was sent by his parents to the French Riviera on doctors’ orders. There he was invited to umpire a match for Suzanne Lenglen, and, responding to her charisma, fell in love with the game of tennis. This witty and fascinating memoir follows the variety of roles he held as a fixture on the tennis tour, most famously perhaps as a tennis dress couturier. He became good friend of players - including Fred Perry, the four musketeers of France (Lacoste, Borotra, Brugnon and Cochet), Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert – working as a player liaison at Wimbledon until the controversy over the frilly lace knickers he designed for Gussie Moran led to him being asked to take leave of his role. “I always liked him because he was a charismatic, interesting character,” says Alan. “And his autobiography reflects him well.”
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.