HISTORY OF BTJA (est. 1951)
In July 2021, the LTWA was renamed the 'British Tennis Journalists' Association'
LTWA History by Ronald Atkin, Hon. Vice-President, BTJA (2024 updated version)
At 73 years of age and still going strong the Lawn Tennis Writersʼ Association of Great Britain (to give it the full and arguably slightly pompous title) is one of the oldest sports journalistsʼ “clubs” in the world. In those 73 years the make-up of our membership has evolved just as tennis itself has adapted in a swift-changing society.
It was at the British Hard Court Championships of blessed memory at the West Hants Club in Bournemouth in the spring of 1951 that the decision was taken to found the LTWA among the many print journalism writers who were covering the event. So many suggestions and possible hurdles were raised that the original committee was broadened to include national morning papers, the London evenings, provincial publications, the agencies and tennis magazines. In more recent years, as first radio and then television made more of an impact on the coverage of tennis, and in particular the Wimbledon Championships, the LTWA membership was widened, also including overdue recognition of the massive input of our colleagues in the world of photography – the “snappers”.
At times the debate was animated – though never fevered – as we discussed whether to change the Associationʼs very name, possibly to the Lawn Tennis Journalistsʼ Association, but in the end the original initials LTWA prevailed, a decision which was much to the satisfaction of our then President, Laurie Pignon. Laurie, who passed away in April 2012, was the last of the original founder members of 1951, an occasion which he once recalled in typically robust style.
“To let the tennis world know we had arrived”, wrote Laurie, “we deliberately made it a grand affair, dinner and ball at the Park Lane Hotel followed by carriages at midnight after we had danced the last waltz to the music of George Melachrino”. It was also the occasion of the LTWAʼs first awards ceremony, conducted by the first LTWA President, the Viscount Lord Rothermere, owner of the Daily Mail and himself a keen tennis player. In honouring Britainʼs top players, Tony Mottram and Jean Walker-Smith, Lord Rothermere also announced a British rankings list “which in spite of our many requests the LTA had refused to do” claimed Pignon, who provided his lordship with a list he had himself compiled.
My own first Wimbledon visit was in 1953, when I was sent by the Nottingham Evening Post to cover the Gentlemenʼs Singles Final (then played on a Friday) in which Vic Seixas of the United States defeated Denmarkʼs Kurt Nielsen in straight sets. I have long ago forgotten the details of that final but still vividly recall the small media room with its single table, which would have fitted into the kitchen of the most modest of homes and around which the worldʼs print media, almost without exception British, penned their epics. I was more in awe of the presence of Peter Wilson, the Daily Mirrorʼs “Voice of Sport” than the athletes I was writing about, though being a shy lad from the Midlands I never let on.
My next excursion to Wimbledon was in 1976 – and every year thereafter – when a larger table, indeed several rooms, were needed to accommodate the burgeoning media gathering, and so we have progressed, from the hand-held phone and messengers dashing off with your copy to the present-day mah-jong click of the ubiquitous laptop. Inevitably, it was dear Laurie Pignon who best recalled the pace of change in the coverage of tennis.
Recalled from retirement by the Daily Mail to cover the return to the sport of Bjorn Borg at Monte Carlo, Laurie said, “I turned up at the media room with my pipe, a flask of whisky and my battered portable typewriter to find the place full of people sipping Coca-Cola from cans and gazing into screens”.
Through it all, the LTWA has succeeded in keeping up with the times and, most significantly, maintained its close, friendly ties with the All England Club and our opinion is still regularly sought about matters possibly affecting media coverage of The Championships. The most recent of these was to resist a mooted move of the media seats on Centre Court to the very rear of the stadium. The resistance was successful; for the 2014 Championships the written press will be located four rows, rather than 40, further back from the action than we were this year.
The success of the LTWA can be seen at todayʼs sell-out occasion (LTWA Annual Awards Lunch). We may have moved on from the black tie dinner and carriages at midnight to the more convenient lunch but our get-together can still fill the place.
For the first time four years ago, the Lawn Tennis Writersʼ Association ran a Junior Tennis Journalist competition, giving two young people aged between 11–19 the chance to attend the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals and enjoy a day of VIP treatment meeting a range of media from around the world.
The competition is part of the LifeSkills created with Barclays programme which aims to give young people the skills and experiences they need to enter the world of work. Sixteen year old Irfan Allana and Eighteen year old Alex Forrest beat competition from around the UK by describing why they think the end-of- season championship is so special.
The youngsters enjoyed a tour of the vast media centre, were given courtside seats for the afternoon and evening sessions and even met and interviewed three-time champion Boris Becker.