Wimbledon Ball boys
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Goldings started supplying the ball boys from 1947 when Wimbledon had reopened after the war, for the next twenty years Goldings WBTS was the only Dr. Barnardo's home who supplied the ball boys. Prior to this from the 1920s to the outbreak of war The Shaftsbury Children's' Home supplied the ball boys. The months leading up to Wimbledon Goldings would have the boys training on the two grass courts by bottom field, of the 300 boys only 50 plus boys would make the grade and be chosen to be Wimbledon ball boys. In The late 50s the training moved to the purpose made hard courts which was near the swimming pool. The numbers did rise in the 60s to about 100 boys for the first week of Wimbledon.
One of the few claims of fame was be one of the chosen few to go to Wimbledon and be seen on Pathe News, and TV in the days of black & white steam TV. Some boys did get the sack, and were never seen at Wimbledon again. The reasons ranged for reselling tickets obtained, being drunk and selling used tennis balls. Then we have a bet of 2d that got pictures flashed around the world. Then a boy who received two nasty bites from a grey squirrel who had decided to have a run-about on centre court and stopped play. The Press would always try to get some boys to make a comment about the tennis and the next the papers would have "A Wimbledon spokesperson said" ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, But this was us the Goldings Ball boys.
The job of a Wimbledon Ball Boy was only given to one third of the school in the 60s, the competition was fierce and strong amongst us all. The boys that were chosen had to be willing to give up two weeks of school and school food. This was a tough choice and we really had to think long and hard. For those of us who had chosen Wimbledon. The training started about a month before the big day, it consisted learning how to react fast and accurately to retrieve a ball after it had hit the net; the art of throwing tennis balls accurately to the serving player; of remaining perfectly immobile whilst play was in progress; of lectures of what to say in the event a member of the press asked a question, the answer to give was "no comment" Strange as it may seem we never had any instruction or testing on how to keep the score.
If your position was at the back of the court you had to just dodge the occasional tennis ball and be a bit of a mind reader on how many balls the player wanted for that service, Then you had the player who had taken a dislike of one of the tennis balls, they all looked the same to me, white and round with no square edges. One boy rolled the ball instead of throwing, the photo of this event was used all around the the western world all for a 2p bet for a 1/2oz shag. One thing I never received training on, keeping the score which was left to the ball boys on the lower courts while keeping track of the tennis balls. The boys even had to look after the officials on court, one boy had to give a line judge a wake-up call in a first round match 1964. click on the thumbnail for the true facts of the infamous Lineperson Mrs. Dorothy Cavis Brown.
Talking of drink, the drinks that were situated within the umpires chair had to be kept tidy at all times with the labels facing front and consisted of three bottles of Robertson's squash and chilled water that the net ball boys also had to serve the players, but we were not allowed to drink on court. But rules are there to be broken by Goldings boys and we know today you have to drink plenty of water when out in the sun all day.
Sydney Bracken wrote into the Barnardo Guild: Wimbledon was the other highlight of the year. Besides basking in the brief spell of publicity and occasional public adulation ( I was asked for my autograph once) it was also a time to make some money. In my final year I was made Head Ball Boy and my duties were to patrol the various courts ensuring that the boys were conducting themselves in a manner that would bring credit to the school. I used to see to it that a certain number of balls from each court got 'lost' so that they could then be offered to the public at a mere 15/‑ a set. Suggestions that the balls had been used by such stars as Rod Laver and Maria Bueno helped ensure a lively trade.
In 1961 British Pathe News came to Goldings to film the boys in colour training to improve their tennis ball skills along with a young Pop Steel showing his skills in playing tennis. The film also showed the Reverend Bernard Nixon showing the boys how to hold their balls. Pop Steel also showed his skill on the tennis courts. There is also a short sequence of some boys doing woodwork, one giggling and looking very mischievous ho ho..
Through the years the ball boy uniform was as follows: from 1946-1954 -the prefects wore their blue shirts and the others wore their grey shirt and dark long trousers, which was the school uniform 1955-1957 - shirt in Club colours and long dark trousers, 1958-1966 - shirt in Club colours and shorts. We had been informed that the uniform that we had to wear was designed for Black & White TV and consisted of a dark green and purple short sleeve shirt and grey shorts and grey socks, this was in the sixties. The only coat we had was our school blazer. The years that I went to Wimbledon it was always "next year we hope to have a new design of Ball Boy uniform and tracksuit "
Joe Patch who was an ex physical training officer from first world war started the training and selection in the early years, but this quickly became the responsibility of the school Vicar. In 1947 the Rev S Corbett who was the deputy Head Master also trained the boys, then after 1957 the Rev. E. Appleyard took over the selection and training. Then from about 1960 the Rev B. L. Nixon became the training coach. The weeks leading up to Wimbledon Goldings was the best behaved school in England. In 1966 British Pathe News came to Goldings to film the training, it had a great shot of the boys being shown how to grab a tennis ball by the Rev B. L. Nixon. Then it showed the boys running onto tennis court picking up balls returning to sideline and throwing balls across court to more boys on the other side, who catch the balls and then run back to centre of court. What fun! The title was Ball Boys in Training.
Masters from Goldings would take it in turns to be escorts, I always wondered what they did all day. One ex House Master wrote " As the boys were under the direction of the Wimbledon staff, we didn't have much to do except watch the best games. We got to see the best of Wimbledon without having to buy a ticket. Great days" So what was our benefit?
The money paid for one week in 1946 was £1.5 Shillings (£1.25) in 1958 was £2.10 shillings,(£2.50) 1965 £3.10 shillings.(£3.50) I wonder what they get today? to put things into perspective we used to get about 6 bob (35p) per week pocket money in 1965.
The added benefits:
Selling the sweat bands of players to the spectators for couple of bob, a top ranked player 10 bob, Selling the used tennis balls mainly to Americans who paid 10 bob for a box of six (now this was totally wrong) as it was stealing. Selling photos from the press room, the ones that were not going to be used for 2 bob Selling used tickets obtained from people who were leaving and had not placed them in the box for charity.
The days of the Goldings Ball Boys are long gone, but not forgotten. We are hoping that after reading this page that your memories will awaken and that you will send in your recollections of your time as one of the renown Wimbledon Ball Boys of Goldings. The school supplied Ball Boys for twenty years till Goldings closed. That year the new Ball Boys from The Shaftsbury Children's' Home did get new uniforms and the B.B.C Transmitted in full colour. All that ground work and we went out in black and white, well shades of grey.
These Wimbledon pages will hold photos and links, plus, including your information and stories as we were the best? don't you think.
A radio programme New Balls Please was presented by Tony Hawks who investigated the history of Wimbledon's ball boys and girls over the years and discovers what it took to make the grade at tennis's most famous tournament. Old Goldings boys recall their days leading up to Wimbledon and how they faired on court, Johnny Leach talked about his brush with Gorgeous Gussie and Brian Ball recalls smoking on court, those were the days and Jimmy James remembers marching into Wimbledon. The programme was transmitted on The BBC Radio 4 on the 26th June 2004 @ 10:30hrs.
In 2006 a BBC spokesman stated that this year was the first time a person with one arm has been a ball boy. Well Mr. BBC as well as loosing your stiff upper lip you should get your facts right as Michael 'Jarvo' Jarvis was the first back in the days when TV was black and white and worked on steam power in 1952. But well done to the lad that was second because Michael was one of the best of about 300 boys of which only 52 were chosen. I understand the number of boys and girls are a little higher today so well done.
Victor King noted: this was the first year we got short sleeved polo type shirts, not those horrible thick long sleeved shirts that made you sweat profusely.
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