For the fourth season in succession, fifty boys from our school were chosen to act as ball-boys at the
All England Lawn Tennis Championships at Wimbledon. As in previous years they did their job well,
receiving words of praise from spectators, umpires and players. The glorious sunshine, with no drop
of rain during the whole fortnight, made conditions ideal for tennis, but the grilling heat had its
disadvantages both players and ball-boys. Some of our boys were affected by the heat and Stephenson
174 spent a weekend in hospital, fortunately, when he rejoined us on Tuesday, he was quite well again.
one of the players most popular with the boys was Schroeder, the Champion. After every match he
said "Thanks, boys". We knew that his words were sincere, and his kindly manner seemed to spur us
on to greater efforts.
An exciting incident occurred on the Centre Court. A grey squirrel, "tree-rat" as we call it, invaded
the court and interrupted the game. All of us joined in the chase and ran two or three times round the
court before Johnny Knight managed to grab it. He had to pay for spoiling the squirrel's fun by being
bitten twice on the hand.
"Gorgeous Gussy" Moran's panties caused a flutter of excitement and a topic of conversation as
popular as the weather at Wimbledon. Unfortunately. "Gussy" wore them only twice throughout the
whole tournament, I must say that I sympathise with those members of the "higher authority" who
had the misfortune to choose the wrong day.
I had the privilege of representing the ball boys in the BBC programme "In Town Tonight". It was a
most interesting experience and carried with it a certain monetary reward which will stand me in good
stead for the holidays.
(Signed) School Captain J. G James.
A view from the side lines
From 1946, the first Wimbledon after the war. until 1966 when the William Baker, popularly known
as Goldings, closed down, 50 Barnardo boys were bussed each day from Hertford to Wimbledon to
Ball-boy the tournament. For the lucky chosen it was the highlight of the year, the carrot
"upended enticingly in view of 200 high-spirited teenage boys, and as one ex-master recalls, for the two
months before the ball boy selection was announced there was not a better behaved school in England.
The first year it happened, 1946, they sent a double-decker London bus for us with Ball-boys Express
on the front. It had an open upper deck. We rode straight through the centre of London and round
Piccadilly Circus. We wore our best clothes, long grey flannels, white shirt and blazer with school
motto on the pocket “Finis Coronat Opus” - "The End Crowns The Work".
Later on we were supplied with shorts and shirts but in the earlv years it was grey flannels which we
slept on at night to lay the creases . . . by soaping the inside of the crease then stretching the trousers
flat under the mattress. The journey was marvellous we sang all the way.
In those days coaches had wind-down windows, it was before, air conditioning, and this enabled us to
hang out of the side and, as we pulled alongside a truck travelling from the orchards into London,
nick a handful of cherries from its load.
Arriving at Wimbledon we changed into plimsolls, chalky white and stiff, and ate lunch in the
refreshment tent - yes, we heard about the strawberries and cream but never saw them, they were for
the nobs, not us before starting work.
It must have been the second year that one of the teachers in charge decided to do something about the
lack of seating arrangements for Barnardo staff during play. Seeing a vacant corner on the centre
court, he sent a couple of boys to collect a bench from elsewhere, placed it in the prime position then
approached the referee for "permission to use that spare bench on centre court for use of ball-boy
"What spare bench?" asked the referee, somewhat puzzled. The master took him to see, and
establishing that it seemed to be spare, the referee gave permission. Within minutes a notice designating
"Bench to be used only by Barnardo ball-boy masters" was in evidence and remained so for 20 years,
giving all Barnardo masters who followed on, a prime view of the game.
There were three boys to each court, one at each end and one on the net. except for the centre court
where there were six. I was always on the centre court. I saw Kramer, Bob Falkenberg, John Bromwich
and Ted Schroeder play. I watched Louise Brough and Doris Hart, although it seems to me the women
weren't such good players then.
It was incredibly hard work, but we felt privileged to be doing it and that we were important to the
game. People took notice of us. we were mini celebrities. After one newspaper story about us, a sponsor
donated the cost of building courts at school and this allowed the boys to take up the game for
themselves. Another offer, to provide top coaching for the six centre court ball-boys, was turned down
by our headmaster who said it would be an unfair privilege for the chosen six, to the disadvantage of
the 200 others. He was a man of strong principles about fairness. In an effort to dissuade boys from
smoking he gave it up himself.
When we left the grounds at the end of the day there were people sleeping out for the following day's
play, especially during the second week.
We would arrive back at Goldings at 11 pm having eaten our supper on the coach bread and jam
sandwiches which had been made up and packed the night before. Bread was still rationed, and the
rule was two slices per boy per meal, but the kitchen staff interpreted the rule fairly liberally and
slices were cut doorstep style.
And then it was up at reveille the following morning and a rush for the ablutions block, fall in on the
parade ground and back to Wimbledon. That was the only period during the year when we were
allowed to bath or shower more than once weekly, regarded as a privilege although not all the boys
saw it in the same light. Neither were we allowed extra time off. Wimbledon was calculated into the
syllabus and work made up later in the summer, so that no boy should get extra holiday through dint
of being a ball-boy. We still did our share of the chores which for all boys included polishing the
dormitory floor each morning.
Today the ball-boys get souvenirs, sweat bands and possibly are not above asking for a player's
racquet, but then we would never have dared to ask for so much as an autograph, which would have
been regarded as the height of cheek. The players were charming to us, invariably sending letters of
thanks at the end of the tournament.
There was one very big bonus, apart from the honour and glory, and that was the money. Pocket
money at school was fixed, starting at 4d a week (for 14 year olds) and rising to 6s 6d a week by the
time I left to do National Service at I8, a sum which included 6d extra because I was head boy and 6d
for choir. Wimbledon paid each boy 5s a day which meant £3 at the end of the fortnight paid into our
school bank account. You can't imagine what wealth this represented.
For a boy on 4d a week, going in the pictures meant saving up for three weeks and running like hell
as soon as you were let out on Saturday afternoon to reach the cinema before all the is seats had gone.
One year I earned even more. I was invited to go on "In Town Tonight". The programme went out
live on Saturday evening, but first there was a rehearsal.
I travelled to London, in my best flannels and blazer, arrived at Kings Cross and found my way to the
Aeolian Hall in Bond Street. (It was the first time I had ever been to) London, not counting driving
through on the coach. It was an enormous adventure. We rehearsed all day Wednesday, a script was
prepared, then we did it all over again on Saturday. John Ellison was the interviewer, three girl
singers stood a short distance away, grouped around a microphone suspended just over our heads.
Walt Disney was another guest. I was very struck by how casually he had come into the studio,
wearing a short-sleeved shirt, while I was dressed as for an important occasion. He autographed the
back of my script.
My fee was £3, paid in cash. I couldn't wait to spend some of it, and the next day at Wimbledon
went into the bar tent to buy shandies for a friend and me. The lady behind the counter refused to
serve me because she knew I was a Barnardo boy and assumed I wasn't old enough. I was 18. I had to
find a friend, Tony Johnson, who was taller and send him up to the bar.
I cannot remember it raining, ever, while I was a ball-boy. I've been back a few times since, and
queued for a place, and got very wet in the process. But the summers of '46, '47. '48 and '49 were
© John (Jimmy) James
Jimmy James. 45-49