In April 2011 my friend Debra Stanley Lapic emailed me link to an American newspaper, The Day dated 30th March 1970 which ran an article ‘woman not allowed to play marbles’ because they were over weight. I looked at it and decided to research it a bit more and find out what went on in the 1970s.
I uncovered some old newsreel footage from 1941 showing a team of ladies playing marbles at Tinsley Green, after the game some Canadian soldiers came over and congratulated them with hugs. So it would seem that women had taken part in the game and had not only helped with administration work.
Mrs Burbridge made the draw for many years and her daughter Silvia and also Barbara Langridge had taken their turn helping with the secretarial work.
On hand to present prizes in the early day and in the 1950s and 60s were a host of local and national celebrities including: -
Mrs Uffham, Miss Joyce, Dawn White, Janet Brown, Julie Bishop, Elizabeth Larner and Carole Shelley
In 1939 Dawn White presented a shield for the winners of the junior championship, which was played for up until the mid 1970s when it went missing – if any one knows of its whereabouts I would love to find it again.
Greyhound barmaid circa 1946
In March 1955 it was rumoured that the infamous ‘Lady Docker’ was going to bring a team of female factory workers to play at Tinsley Green. The story was that on February 25th Lady Docker had demonstrated the game on television, and on March 3rd she was due to captain a team of girls in a game at Castleford in Yorkshire.
She had then set her sights on the World Championships at Tinsley Green. George Burbridge spent many hours sorting it all out and had banned her from playing, saying that they would not be allowed to play, as the game play in Yorkshire is more like skittles than marbles.
In the end it had all came to nothing, but it did give the national press many good stories and hours of reporting.
Then in the swinging 60s Hilary Brock a student came to Tinsley looking for material for her college thesis on children’s games. She was told to see the organiser George Burbridge but not to mention ‘children’ or ‘games’. As he had spent so many years telling anyone who would listen that that marbles was a sport for men and not a children’s game.
On the day of the 1963 championships there was a demonstration by a team of 6 girls who wanted to play, at the start of the championships,’ they paraded with posters that read ‘We want to play marbles’ and ‘Let women join in the game’. 16-year-old Linda Jones from nearby Gossops Green said, “We couldn’t even find the championships organisers to ask if we could play.” After about half an hour of walking about with the placards the girls left.
The question of women playing was to the forefront again in February 1970. The Board of Control had rejected an application from a team of women from Brighton who wished to take part. Their captain, Mrs Irene Poole said it was nonsense to suggest that the sight of women crouching in mini-skirts or trousers to flick the marbles would put the men players off. “Most women wear tights, so there would be no question of us revealing stocking tops and suspenders," she said. “In any case, the men should be concentrating on the game, not looking at our knees or bottoms!”
The team was made up of Mrs Poole and her daughter Beverley, Mrs Bravery, Mrs Leonard, Mrs Mansell, Mrs Havell and Miss Whitethread.
A Worthing women’s marbles team has described the ban on women players is ‘ridiculous.’ They were the Williams’ girls a team sponsored by the Worthing branch of the Royal Air Forces Association.
Mr Les Greenfield who has organised matches for them for five years, said “Our girls have played men’s teams and there has never been any embarrassment. They often wear mini-skirts, but no one has ever complained.”
It was bitterly cold with a north wind blowing across the marbles ring, but even this could not stop several hundred people watching the entertainment. The Local paper had the headline “Marbles wenches” the story was about the Brighton ladies, but the expected demonstration from them did not materials on the day.
1972 was the first year that teams of women were officially allowed to play. The Board of control voted by one vote to let them play, it was said by some of the male players that it was publicity stunt by the Round Table, but this was denied by the organisers. Of the nine teams two were all female, the Prima Donnas from Crawley and the Kernockers who were the wives of the Blue Beats – policemen from London. It was said that the ladies took to long to take their shots, even the referee had to apply the time limit to the games they played.
After the board let women play for the first time the year before there had been uproar in the men’s marbles world. There were many complaints about their lack of skill and experience, which held up play. After a meeting of the board it was stated that the women’s claims were fully discussed by the board, but a majority rejected equal play. The reasons given were:
1. Marbles has historically been a game for male participation.
2. The game requires players to assume postures that are unbecoming to the female form, and distracting to both other competitors and spectators.
3. The 1972 Championship indicated that women were unable to make a competitive challenge and their continued presence might bring the skills of the game into disrepute.
The board did make the concession to both women and children that they could play on a side ring and have their own prize, if there was sufficient team entered before April 15th. Only one member of the board Mr Rajinder Sagoo was in favour of allowing women to play, he said there should be equal opportunities for both men and women.
Len Smith welcomed the ban on women and said, “Marbles was essentially a man’s game and women just could not have master it. If any woman could have played marbles it would have been my own daughter, but even she has never been any good at the game.”
The 1974 championships should have been the biggest and the best ever, sponsored by Yellow Pages, with many teams playing. This year saw some controversy as to whether Tricia Ingrams of the Capital Radio teams Hot Pants should be allowed. In the end after an inspection by Board Members Paul Sagoo, Chris Ireland and Tony Dick she was given the OK as they were deemed to be short trousers and not a skirt. The game between the Toucan Terribles and Capital went out live on Air, with Toucan’s winning 25 marbles to 3. Shortly after this match the championships were rained off of the first time ever.
1975 saw a team of ‘Penthouse Pets’ playing as there was snow on the ring, and it was also very very cold and the girls being rather scantily dressed did not stay long, only long enough of some publicity shots.
The Argus said ‘A very attractive team of Penthouse Pets brightened up the cold morning but were quickly eliminated’.
The local Observer said ‘Undoubtedly the highlight of the British championships was a glamorous team of Penthouse Pets, dressed in a revealing but slightly impractical manner.’
In the American team of 1976 there was a girl player Susan Reagan who showed that women could play she shot from a position down on her knees, bent low across the ring she was very accurate and a pleasure to watch.
There were one or two ladies players taking part in the championships from time to time until 1986, when the first full female teams entered the lists. Two teams the
Sorts and the Tinsley Tarts took part that year and we have had women playing ever since.
Jackie Hodge with the ‘Nina Cohen’ Cup
In the following year, 1987 Bert Cohen, an American marble collector form Boston, presented the ‘Nina Cohen’ cup for the best lady player in memory of his late wife. He and Nina visited The Greyhound some years before and had had their own guided tour of the ‘Home of Marbles’.
The first recipient was Jackie Hodge of the South Norwood Sortes. Since this time many ladies have played in teams of their own or as part of mixed teams.
They say ‘what goes around comes around’ and in 2010 Debra and her daughter Whitny came over and played in the championships. see championship report 2010.
Protesting ladies 1963