English Amateur Billiards Association

EABA : The Amateur Billiard Player : November 1997

The Amateur Billiard Player : November 1997

Historical Pot Pourri

Photo of Peter Ainsworth (2k)

by Peter Ainsworth

I was interested to read of the player in this year’s Amateur
Championship who was reprimanded for his style of
clothing. Tantalisingly little information was provided,
leaving the reader to imagine just what sort of outrageous
attire could have warranted such a rebuke.

Photo of Dress Code (50k)

Dress code for players is not a new topic and has always
been a subject to a mixture of public convention and personal
opinion. In the 1850’s participant’s in public matches would
usually play in a frock coat, and often also wear a hat. But
even at this time there were no hard and fast rules. On 18th
October 1866 in a match against John Roberts Senior at the
St.James Hall, London, Charles Hughes raised a few eyebrows
when he appeared wearing a flannel shirt and a pair of red
carpet slippers. Roberts himself invariably wore a soft felt
hat during his games. By 1870, the wearing of coats had
generally been discarded in English billiards, although the
French and American players retained this tradition well
into the following century. The editor of the original Billiard
Dress Code for the EABA?

Player magazine was obviously one of the “old school” for he once
wrote: “It would be interesting to know whence arose the practice of
leaving off the coat when playing billiards. There is nothing dignified in a
man in shirt sleeves and nothing but custom now urged in favour of what
could only have been regarded as a barbarous innovation. No man in a
civilised society would take off his coat under the plea of being too warm,
and even when gardening many would prefer to exchange into a lighter
coal than to wear none at all.”

Hats however, and especially top hats, remained
a frequently seen accessory for the well dressed
English billiard player. Prominent players who
continued this tradition right up to the beginning
of the 20th century included John North from
Bristol and Manchester professional, Billy Moss.

The following is the account of an incident in
Manchester in 1877 which involved Moss and his
famous hat: “We spent a somewhat hilarious
evening, which culminated in an excitable
frequenter of the place knocking Moss s silk hat
into the fountain which adorned the centre of the
hall. This was little short of an act of sacrilege, for even Moss’s most
intimate friends had never seen him without his hat. He wore it at meals,
and when he played billiards; indeed, he was popularly believed to sleep in
it, and it came as quite a shock, even to those who knew him best, to realise
that he was perfectly bald.”
Billy Moss was reputed to be as a good a
fighter as he was billiard player, but it is not recorded whether the “excitable”
one found this out.

Photo of Billy Moss (2k)

Billy Moss

There is little doubt that fashions are set to a large extent by the example
of the leading players. For many years the trend-setter for sartorial elegance
was John Roberts Junior, who was always immaculately dressed during
his matches. The extent to which he was copied by his fellow professionals
is illustrated by this commentary relating to events in 1904: “I shall
always remember how well Roberts looked in evening dress with a while
waistcoat at the time when they first became the fashion. The week after he
wore it for the first time Inman and Reece were playing a tournament heal
at the old Burroughes Hall in Soho Square. On the Monday evening both
turned up in while waistcoats, and there was a general titter. Inman grasped
the situation at once, and the following evening donned the customary
black waistcoat. Reece suffered with his while one for the week, but I never
saw either of the garments again.”

I’m not too sure exactly what the
EABA dress code is, but as one of the
few players who will still occasionally
wear a waistcoat for league matches
(amongst the growing ranks who prefer
more “casual” attire) I would be quite
happy if it included white waistcoats
and top hats.

… from tall hats to tall stories?

I notice that Andy Hunter’s article this
month is about William Cook, which
reminds me of a little story which the
younger Cook used to tell about the
time when he was entertaining the troops during the First World War.

On one occasion, William Cook and Tom Reece were engaged to play an
exhibition match at a military camp. Before the start the master of
ceremonies approached and, saying he knew little about billiards, asked
for a record he could mention when introducing the visitors. Cook suggested
his break of 42,746. The M.C. gasped then went to Reece and made the
same request. “You might mention my break of 499,135 said Reece.” “Oh,
come off it,” exclaimed the M.C., “I thought the other fellow was a bit of
a liar, but tell us something they’ll believe”.

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