Why I became a Billiard Player
Why I became a billiard player? A superfluous question to address
to the son of a one-time champion billiard player of England,
most people will say. “Young Cook became a billiard player
because his father was a great player,” would probably be the
answer of nine out of every ten people if a plebiscite was to be
taken of the question.
But the answer would be grossly inaccurate, for, strange as it
may sound, my father was strenuously opposed to my adopting
billiards as a profession. Probably that was one reason why I
became a billiard player, for, boy-like, I had a penchant for
thwarting the wishes and desires of my guardians. But to
begin at the beginning.
I first saw the light on the very day my father defeated Joseph
Bennett for the championship-November 21st, 1871. If there is
anything in omens, the incident of my birth surely predestined
that I was to perpetuate the family name in the world of
billiards. More especially so, as that particular championship
game was wholly a family affair, Joe Bennett being my uncle-a
fact not generally known to billiardists of the present day.
Reared and nurtured in an atmosphere of billiards, there was
nothing strange in my boyish delight in watching big games
whenever and wherever I could. I can recall the fact that nothing
on earth (youngster as I was) afforded me greater pleasure than
to watch my father and John Roberts engaging in one of their
titanic struggles on a billiard table. Then was the period when
the billiards fever really caught me. Even now I smile as I think
of those days when, seeing a particular shot which caught my
fancy, I rushed home pell mell to try it on our own table, so
that I might not forget it. Of course, I could not play at all,
but that was of no consideration to me, and it certainly did not
interfere with the pleasure. I should like to remark here, that
the elementary practice I speak of had to be done by stealth, for
my father did not like me to handle a cue at all. Moreover,
neither then nor during any subsequent period did he teach me
anything of the game-not even a single stroke.
Hoping against hope that my father would relent from his anti-
billiards attitude, I studied hard at school, but my hopes sank
to zero when, school days over, I was packed off to the
mercantile business in the City. Ledgers, pens and ink were my
daily companions for five years, until, in June, 1893, the death
of my father altered my whole perspective of life. It is needless
for me to dwell on that sad period of my life, but suffice it to
say, the City office knew me no more. My early fancy for the
restful green, the subdued lights, and the shimmering spheres of
the billiard table returned to me with redoubled force in my
youthful exuberance to perpetuate the name of Cook.
In 1895, I secured my first professional engagement with
Ashcrofts, the Liverpool table makers, whose public room I
managed for two and a half years, during the whole time, also
acting as tutor to the firm’s clientele. From there I went to
Messrs. Orme’s, of Manchester, with whom I remained in the same
capacity for three years. By this time I had improved greatly in
the knowledge and the technique of the game and this made me
ambitious to get on. London, then as now, was the hub of the
billiards world, and to London my eves turned. Fortune favoured
me, for when Messrs. Thurston opened their new premises in
Leicester Square, nine years ago, I was exclusively engaged as
their professional coach and tutor. And in this capacity I still
remain at Leicester Square, varying my tutorial duties by playing
public and private matches in town and country.
Primarily, my time is, however, chiefly devoted to the teaching
of the game rather than the playing of matches,
thus making a speciality of a phase of billiards little practised
by my father. Naturally, I have my own ideas on this particular
branch, and, as these may have some interest for a vast majority
of billiard lovers, I may be pardoned for making a slight
reference to them here.
I begin by demonstrating how the cue should be held, and how it
should be moved – the latter of equal importance to the former but
not always appreciated by the ordinary “hundred-upper.” Next I
demonstrate and explain the strokes which occur most frequently
in the building up of breaks – how they are made and how they are
missed. Ninety per cent of ordinary players, strange to say,
miss the same kind of stroke and in precisely the same way, and I
would impress upon my readers that more may be learned by finding
out just how a simple stroke is often missed, than by attempting
and practising one of a comparatively difficult character. That
is one of the points which escape ninety-nine per cent of
I hope I shall not be accused of egotism when I remark
that great success has attended my efforts to make bad players
good players and good players better players, through the medium
of what one might term the pointing out of unconsidered trifles.
I am proud of my profession and proud of the patronage extended
to me, more perhaps on account of my being the off-spring of a
great player, than of any inherent qualities of my own. Among
those I have had the honour of teaching are: Lady Bingham, Lady
Jephson, the Hon. C. Vereker, Lord Hotham, Lord Bingham, Lord R.
Innes-Kerr, Lord Addington, Lord Leitrim, Lord Boleskine, Hon.
Walter Rothschild, Hon. Charles Rothschild, Sir Thomas Bucknill,
Sir Thomas Lipton, and others.
Going back to my early days, I should like to relate a little
incident with reference to the first semi-public game I ever
played. When I was between twelve and thirteen years of age, my
father discovered that I could knock the balls about. If he was
angry, and presumably he must have been, he did not show it then,
but he soon took a speedy revenge by suggesting that I should
play a friend 100 up, with John Roberts, senior, and himself as
the chief spectators.
The affair was easily arranged, and, as the result, I was
severely trounced. When all was over, my father, addressing
Roberts, remarked. “What do you think of the boy, John?” “Humph-
no good at all, no good at all,” was the old champion’s trenchant
criticism. “There you are, my boy, better stick to your school
lessons, and keep out of the billiard room,” was my father’s
parting shot to me, and which was meant to dry up all my billiard
aspirations. But here I am.
Another story of my father, and which
has the merit of being new. My grandmother, in years gone by,
kept the Swallow Hotel, close by Shaftesbury Avenue. A feature of
the house was the old-fashioned free and easy evenings, when,
with cigar and song, a few happy hours were spent.
The sing-song fashion dying out, the room was converted into a
billiard room. Of course the usual fussy individual – in this case
a commercial traveller in the trade – was soon in evidence with
this and that suggestion, including a grand opening of the
billiard room with a match between two “big” players. Our fussy
friend volunteered his good offices in the securing of the
players. Said the proprietress, “Thanks, very much Mr., but
I have already engaged my two sons-in-law to play.” “Who are
they?” queried the commercial gentleman, aghast.
“Oh, only the champion and ex-champion, Will Cook and Joe
The commercial fled!