Reminiscences of a Billiards Man



Reminiscences of a Billiards Man

My early days in playing both Billiards and Snooker were focused towards playing in the British Isles Championships which were held over two separate weeks at Burroughes and Watts Hall, Soho Square in London. This was the home of the most prominent and famous Billiard table maker of the time, which was established in 1835 and carved out a very good reputation which still persists today.

These two events, and later the Youth’s 16 to 18 year olds Championships carried a great deal of national coverage in the press in those pre television times, when only one major television channel existed and certainly no commercial stations were in operation. In fact in this post war era few people even owned a television set and colour television which would later greatly enhance the coverage of our chosen sport was years away.

It was generally understood that you played in these events for the sheer pleasure of doing so, winning was a welcome bonus of course. I well remember that reaching the final of any of the aforementioned events would mean that you would spend the week at the Cora Hotel, Upper Woburn Place, NW1, all expenses paid. If conversely, if you were knocked out, it was virtually straight home on the next steam tram.

The Cora was certainly worth practicing for to a young man with an uncertain future in the game.

During those years, I was really up for these two annual events, in fact on three consecutive outings I managed the whole weeks stay, in fact I encountered several personalities who would later become synonymous with the games of Billiards and Snooker including. Rex Williams, Cliff Wilson, Clive Everton, Ray Reardon, John Virgo and then there was Marcus Owen a great of the game who sadly died in tragic circumstances some twenty years ago. Along with Reardon and Wilson, Marcus made up a group whose rivalry and skill were enthralling to see.

Frank Collins was the resident referee and in those days he would have been nearer 80 than 70 years old. He dressed in the cut of a fearsome figure, barely five feet tall but dressed in Edwardian formal style with his moustache and high winged collar. Mr Collins had known all the greats, Roberts Junior and Senior, both the famous Smiths Willie and Sydney as well as Walter Lindrum along with Claude Falkiner, Tom Reece and W J Peall. He spoke with great authority which could not be questioned, he was still there a few years later when I returned for the senior events. I still clearly remember a typical comment made out loud and clearly intended for the player in question to pick up on, the chap was a middle order player but on the day was having a bad game, as a spectator I felt for him but not Frank, he commented, “I could beat this fellow one hand and blindfolded as well”. He was well known for this type of outburst. Incidentally Frank Collins held the record for a one-handed break of 105 made in 1902.

Mr Collins waited for the players to enter through the double doors and climb the stairs to the match room. The genial Jack Rainbow, boss of Burroughes at the time would have welcomed you as you came in from the square. On the ground floor level there were three demonstration Billiard rooms set up to reflect and simulate several styles of Billiard room designs. Various professional players were engaged to teach in the rooms and encourage turnover for the company in any way that they could. Sidney Lee was an almost ever present. The rooms were furnished in Edwardian, Regency and Georgian styles, each had a Billiard table in a similar style as the centrepiece of the display.

Upstairs and adjacent to the match room John Roberts looked down on three sides from pictures framed and imposing and on an ornate pedestal stood the great John Roberts World Championship Billiards trophy which was later presented to the future winners of the English Amateur Championship. This trophy has not been seen in public for many years and if anyone knows of its whereabouts, I would be delighted to hear from you, I can be initially contacted via the Cues n Views web-site. 

Awaiting your entrance into the 125 seat arena was an experience, the silence was, even with a full house, quite terrifying, Collins would stand expressionless, it seemed as though the great Roberts, now long dead, was questioning your right to be there in the inner sanctum of Billiards and later of course Snooker.

Lastly in the small press gallery, dear old faithful Richard Holt awaiting your display and hoping to catch the deadlines of the Star and the Standard with writing skills and wit of the very highest calibre, Richard wrote the very popular little book in the Teach Yourself series entitled “Teach Yourself Billiards and Snooker” which was re-issued many times from the fifties up to the 1980s.

Mark Wildman