I say, anyone for tennis?


Have some events managed to stay essentially the same in character whilst others have changed beyond recognition? Wimbledon is in many ways gloriously anachronistic and has stayed resolutely the same since 1877.  My late father was on the board and I was immensely lucky to have watched every men’s final from 1969 until his death in 2004. Yes the event is old fashioned but still managed to sneak in the odd dollop of progress. It took till mid 60s before the All English Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club, to give it its official name, allowed professionals to compete. In the 1970s skirts went high and in the 1980s rackets just went high tech. In the 1990s Wimbledon led the way in taking a little pressure out of the balls to stop short serve and volley rallies that threatened to ruin the game... but those two weeks in July are still rooted in Agatha Christie’s England. Pimms Number 1 cup to drink, smoked salmon sandwiches, strawberries & cream to eat, and a fearsome dress code. All men must wear jackets and ties in the members enclosure, trousers are frowned on for women and no one raises their voice (John Mcenroe in his prime, the exception that proved the rule). Even now the men’s and ladies champion pair up at the opening dance at the Gala finale ball. You almost expect to see Maggie Smith as Dowager Lady Grantham complete with lorgnette inspecting the crowds to make sure no riff-raff have gained entry. And yet Wimbledon has survived, even thrived. Unique in the tennis world as a Grand Slam on grass yet with the atmosphere of a smart village fete. It’s not the quaint atmosphere that puzzles me, but why no one else has tried to copy it.

...and another thing

The Monaco Grand Prix is another event that seems out of step with its own sport. Tracks have sprung up in Asia and the Middle East, each paying vast sums for the chance to showcase an F1 event and competing to the death to replace other venues.

As a race, Monaco is about as diverting as watching paint dry. With nowhere to overtake it’s a procession from start to finish only enlivened by seeing how bored Prince Albert’s wife looks or trying to spot the most vulgar display of wealth on the mega-yachts moored in the harbour.

Yet I’m assured that of all the races in Formula 1’s ever changing line-up, there is more chance of Ferraris racing in a blue and yellow livery than Monaco being booted off the F1 calendar.

...and another thing

Sport is not the only event that clings to tradition. Many people still wear evening dress to the opera or ballet, yet are the same people who show up at a rock concert in jeans or a comedy club with a red nose and would refuse point blank to wear a tie at the Ritz for breakfast. No one would think of needing to fly in First Class in a suit anymore (though if you are hoping for an upgrade, forget it if you are wearing sneakers or jeans) but if you eat at the Captains table on the transatlantic Queen Mary, again it’s a suit and tie if not a dinner jacket (preferably white).

This in a world where the people who still wear suits at work, work for people who wear sneakers and jeans.

Despite the sartorial role reversal brought about mainly by Internet’s new wealth, we still cling to little islands of formality in the strangest of circumstances. Despite all the power and money, you never see new money appear before a select committee in anything but tailor made business attire, or make a visit to her Majesty at Buck House in a onesie.

The Oscars still gets Hollywood to dress up like it’s prom night and most weddings in the US have the groom squeezed into a rented dinner jacket, even if the wedding is during daylight hours. Something we English, look at in absolute horror.

 So yes, some events have changed beyond recognition. The Super Bowl is now a nonstop string of commercials occasionally interrupted by moments of football and the World Cup takes place wherever the hosts can afford to lavish favours on FIFA big wigs, but the more genteel events of opera, ballet, sailing, tennis, horse racing and cricket cling to tradition… as well as serious sponsor’s money. If I was still wearing one, I’d take my hat off to these old fashioned events!

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