A series of four films celebrating the 125th anniversary of Wimbledon. This programme examines the tournament's beginnings at Worple Road and its subsequent growth.
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What is Wimbledon?
For 125 years, players and fans have made the pilgrimage to SW19,
a quiet suburb of London, to try to find the answer.
You behave almost in a different way when you come here
because you are aware of what it means to the sport
and the richness of the tradition of the place.
At its core lies a simple rectangle, 78ft by 36ft,
surrounded by 18 other identical rectangles.
Add some texture, grass -
out of date in tennis terms but vivid and tactile.
Who wants to touch clay or hard court?
Simply the most famous lawn in the world.
As far as Wimbledon is concerned, it's all about the players.
What we do is provide the right stage,
the right environment for them to perform on.
Now start painting the broad strokes.
Tradition, pomp, ceremony - quintessentially British.
Wimbledon is this extraordinary mix of British tradition
and then the sport at its most modern best.
Fill in the background. Fans - polite but supportive.
But with no British men's singles winner since 1936,
give them a break.
Finally, the masterstrokes - the players.
Artists and artisans, punchers and counter-punchers.
All of them seduced sooner or later by its unique aura.
It's a feeling.
Some people have it before they even get there
but those that didn't have it, they certainly get it later.
It touches everyone.
But what is in Wimbledon's aesthetic - its DNA -
that makes this place one of the most enduring and endearing sports arenas in the world?
In celebrating Wimbledon's 125th anniversary,
we discover the reasons.
We begin with the years 1877 to 1939.
A typical scene for many a young player
dreaming of one day becoming Wimbledon champion.
But these four young girls are in fact following in fabled footsteps.
It was here at Walpole Road, now the playing fields of the Wimbledon High School For Girls,
that the championships were first played in 1877.
The game would be recognisable to the first competitors but only just.
No one could have anticipated how Wimbledon and its Championships
would come to dominate the landscape of a game first regarded
as no more than a gentle pastime for the lawns of the country gentry.
22 players entered the first men-only championships,
with Spencer Gore, an old boy of Harrow School,
claiming the first prize of 12 Guineas
and a silver Challenge Trophy.
The championships probably came and went with very little fuss.
You have to remember that tennis did not have any working-class roots.
I think they called it patter.
This sort of faux sport was not for them.
You have to give credit to the members
who actually stuck their necks out
and decided to go ahead with this completely novel championship.
It could have remained a marginalised,
niche sport that fizzled out, like croquet.
Over the next few years, popularity of the game
and of Wimbledon grew and broadened,
fuelled by a women's singles title, first won by Maud Watson in 1884.
The club came to claim a central position in the world tennis calendar.
Adopting, if only for a few years,
the title of the World Championships On Grass.
It was a day out and people took it quite seriously.
At this early period it wasn't that the stage
of getting on to the London social calendar
like Henley or Ascot or Lord's but there was a presence about it.
You were beginning to get the cultural aspect
of being seen at these events.
Times have indeed changed through the years but not so much.
A day out at Wimbledon has become a social and sporting necessity.
A must-do for all walks of life.
Everyone, it seems, wants to be part of the summer garden party
which, with its champagne and strawberries,
is so intrinsically linked to a British summer.
A tennis tournament, yes, but also a place to be seen and admired.
Royal patronage, which continues through to this day,
only underlines its standing.
You have a sense that it's a very privileged lifestyle
that you are stepping into and that it's an extraordinarily elegant experience.
But at the same time it's very inclusive.
You can walk around the grounds and you'll see people
from all walks of life and from all over the world
coming to enjoy the sport.
So I don't think it's elitist in that respect.
But you do still have a sense of grandeur
and that it's a special place to be.
As Wimbledon became more and more popular at the turn of the 20th century, so did its champions.
But all were happy to conform to the dress, decorum and attitudes expected of Victorian England.
Then someone tore up the rule book.
I think every now and again along comes somebody special in sport
who transforms it
and widens its appeal.
Certainly Suzanne Lenglen was such a person.
Before the modern tennis superstar,
before Chrissie, Steffi or Serena, came Suzanne Lenglen.
Flamboyant, flighty and feisty.
Such was her reputation that spectators trampled over the hedges
to watch her debut in 1919 on court four at the old Walpole Road.
The fact that Suzanne was really the first great, electric woman player
meant so much to Wimbledon.
To come out and see this extraordinary
She was a wonderful personality.
Not a very pretty girl but a very vivacious one,
and her personality won over people. With this beautiful, balletic grace,
moving so wonderfully on the court.
And her accuracy and control of the ball was second to none.
Lenglen may have won six singles titles
but it was a French sense of style
and her diva's temperament that she was best known for.
While outside the courts the suffragettes were fighting for women's rights,
inside Wimbledon the fortunes of the fairer sex were far more advanced.
Lenglen led the way, with dresses a trifle shorter,
a little flimsier and a lot more risque than everyone else's.
Her dresses were copied as women's fashion and sold in the shops.
French women would buy them
and thought how wonderful they looked in Suzanne dresses.
She was a character like we've never had, certainly.
I'm not so sure there's ever been a woman athlete like her.
She would entertain the press after a match in her bath tub.
I assume there were soap bubbles but maybe not.
She was a very fluid tennis player.
You see the pictures of her jumping and so forth.
It was not uncommon for one breast or the other to fall out of her outfit.
On the French Riviera they even named her breasts Mary and Jane.
Wise guys would say, "Who do you think we are going to see today, Mary or Jane?"
It did not bother Suzanne one bit.
She'd tuck it back in and go right on playing.
Lenglen may have laid the foundations of fashion at Wimbledon
but it was designer Teddy Tinling
who raised the hemline to another level.
His outfits for Gussie Moran - not Wimbledon's greatest player -
still managed to raise eyebrows around the world in the 1940s.
His creations continued to inspire on court fashion trends
for the next 30 years.
Wimbledon became a fashion parade almost as much as much as a tennis tournament,
as players and clothing companies
began to capitalise on the best catwalk in the sporting calendar.
It is a very personality-driven game.
It's a very individual sport.
I think their personalities show through with what they're wearing.
I think that the world of Nike and Adidas
and Lacoste and everybody else has realised that,
and more and more with new fabrics and new designs,
they're realising this can be just so important for their brands
through the young men and women that are wearing them on court.
We think always about the backdrop. That's the colour of the court
or of the baseline walls behind them,
whatever the advertising or lack of advertising might be.
At Wimbledon it's so pure and clean.
So it forces you to be more clever
with cut lines and with the neckline or something that might look more dramatic
just in white as opposed to relying on a bright colour
fighting against a court backdrop.
Fashion statements had become stronger and more daring.
Sometimes too strong, too daring.
But the All England Club's predominantly white clothing rule
is just one way that Wimbledon asserts its uniqueness
over every other tournament in the world.
It feels like its own environment. The rules are set in stone.
There's no getting around them and there's no bending them.
It runs a certain way.
You feel like you're part of something that's much bigger
than not only you but in many ways it feels bigger than the sport.
There is a very hefty apparel manufacturing guidebook
showing what is and is not acceptable.
There are certain specific asks
and one of them is that the back of the garment should be all white.
So we definitely pay attention to that and design into those rules.
But you never quite know until you get to that point
whether or not the apparel will pass.
Instead of restricting choice,
the all-white rule has created an aesthetic, a simplicity
that only adds to the glamour and sex appeal at the heart of the game.
I think when you're watching tennis at its highest level, it's like watching ballet.
They are so elegant and athletic at the same time,
that it's a celebration of men and women's bodies.
I think that's become much more prevalent,
say, in the last five or ten years,
when there's just so much more exposure for the game.
Obviously since it's a game that's really driven by young, very attractive people,
fashion goes hand in hand with that particular group.
Fittingly, Suzanne Lenglen hit the very last ball
on the old Centre Court at Worple Road.
The crowds that tennis' first celebrity attracted,
meant Wimbledon had to find a new, bigger home in 1922.
The chosen sight, just four miles up the road at Church Road, SW19.
When Lenglen flounced off court in 1926,
after an argument about her punctuality, she was unbeaten.
She turned professional, a hint of troubles to come,
and never returned.
But, by then, Wimbledon, with its new Centre Court modelled on the old,
and its broad acres, could live without Lenglen.
The championships and the game had developed a life of its own,
finding new ways to thrill each year.
For me, Wimbledon has always been a very special place,
ever since I came here as a junior.
I remember walking through the main gate and up the main concourse
and thinking, wow, I'm going to be playing on the courts at Wimbledon.
Woh, what a thrill.
In the '20s and '30s, overseas players
began to dominate the tournament.
Strapping Americans like Bill Tilden, with his booming serve and blistering ground strokes.
The French Musketeers, Jean Borotra, Henri Cochet, and Rene Lacoste.
The red-headed Californian, Don Budge,
who perfected the attacking backhand stroke
and won the first ever Grand Slam of major titles in one year.
-What do you think of our English summer?
-Well, I think you had that last week!
Ever-growing crowds flocked to see the insatiable American,
Helen Wills Moody, winner of eight Wimbledon singles titles,
a feat that would not be beaten for over 50 years.
But the best remembered among the home crowd, Fred Perry.
The last British men's singles winner, who claimed three straight championships in the '30s.
I am very pleased to think that I have at last fulfilled
the trust placed in me by the Lawn Tennis Association.
and carried off the title at Wimbledon.
In so doing, I have achieved my own life's ambition.
By the start of the Second World War, the pattern was set.
Champions no longer made Wimbledon, Wimbledon made champions.
The bond has only strengthened over the decades.
You try to transport yourself in time to the '20s,
to the '30s, to the '40s, imagine all those great players playing there,
and you just feel it.
So you feel very much alone, but at the same time,
surrounded by history and surrounded by all those people
that had played there, whether they're alive or not.
But, for every winner, there has to be a loser.
The list of great players to have never won Wimbledon
is a very long one.
To many, an eternal blot on their careers.
Someone could win five French Opens, ten Australian Opens, six US Opens,
but if they didn't have one Wimbledon, they wouldn't quite feel
as though they were fulfilled.
Game, set and match, Cash!
You win that one and, baby, that's all you need.
I can still see Cash, the first one, going up,
left the court and went into the stands.
He started that whole tradition. If he had done that,
if he had won the US Open and done that,
I don't think it would have been embedded in my memory like that.
And likewise, if you don't do well at Wimbledon, you go to your grave.
Someone saying, yes, he was a great player, but.
But he didn't win Wimbledon.
'All I wanted to do was win that Wimbledon title.'
That's all I ever concentrated on.
I didn't care about the money,
I didn't care that the girls, well, I cared about the girls!
I didn't care about fame. All I wanted to do was win Wimbledon.
While champions come and go, Wimbledon has to balance past, present and future.
I think we're very conscious that the whole image of Wimbledon is based on tradition
going back to 1877,
keeping those things that are of vital to us,
grass-court tennis, white clothing,
limited amounts of advertising around the grounds.
But in the same breath, we are in a competitive sports event business
and we need to innovate as well and to change as the years go by.
From the construction of Church Road on,
the club has tried to improve and expand.
Sometimes the changes are too discreet to even notice.
But there is no hiding the march of time.
In 1997, the old Number One court was demolished and replaced
by a new, state-of-the-art, 11,000-seater stadium.
The client doesn't so much define the restrictions,
its other things that come into play.
And at Wimbledon, it's the site, it's the history of the grounds.
When you go into to a club like that, you've got be very careful
about what you do so that it doesn't detract from it.
If anything, hopefully every time we touch a piece of it, it is just that little bit better each time.
It was the notorious British weather,
one of Wimbledon's more enduring if unwanted images,
which led to the biggest architectural change
in recent years.
When the All England Club decided to build a retractable canopy on Centre Court in 2006,
many thought it would have been far cheaper to build
an entirely new structure than to install a roof
on a stadium built in 1922.
But remember, this IS Wimbledon.
What they did with Centre Court
is quintessentially English.
What they could have done was build a 50,000-seat, purpose-built arena
with lots of corporate hospitality facilities
and the latest state-of-the-art technology, but they didn't.
What they did is they simply took what they already had
and they accentuated it.
I think the public response to the roof
has been nothing other than positive.
We've had a lovely situation where the sun's shone ever since we built it,
and long may it stay that way.
But the reaction to taking an existing building,
remodelling it, bringing it up to date,
putting a roof on it, I think has been a better option for us
than having to relocate.
Entering the grandest of stages in the game on Finals Day
remains one of life's seminal moments.
OK, boys, let go.
Good luck to you both.
The walk onto the hallowed turf of Centre Court.
The glance at that famous quote.
The sense of anticipation.
The players feel it,
the fans do, it's palpable.
There's that lovely moment when you can't see them
but you know they're coming because some people can see them.
That applause gets louder and louder and louder,
and suddenly they actually come into your view.
The hairs still stand up on the back of your hands.
The day that doesn't happen is that they should go off and be a grave digger.
No other 21st century sports arena has the same intimacy
or dignity as Centre Court.
No scoreboard telling fans to clap.
No public announcer, no rock music.
No cheerleaders. No mascots.
It's a great feeling to be there
and to see the court that as a kid you grew up watching.
I just love the whole atmosphere
of the echo of the ball and just the quietness that they have before the point.
It is the most unique place I've ever played.
No vista on Centre Court appears by chance.
Everything is designed a certain way.
Even when you're sitting at the back of the stadium,
the roof slopes down so much that you can't see the rest of the stadium.
All you can see is this very tight green slot
where the players are playing on that pristine piece of grass.
So the building focuses the attention to that one intense moment,
one man playing against another, one woman against the other.
And I think the building helps that experience, it helps that intensity.
It's tradition, it means something around the world,
it's the well-cut English lawns.
The sense of fair play,
not shouting, not swearing,
making sure that you're respectful to your opponents.
This is all part of the package, it's all part of the deal.
And I think in many ways it harks back to an England,
certainly of the 19th century, possibly the 20th century,
but it's an England and a world where these kind
of values and these qualities are no longer present.
Even though the court has changed in its construction,
the way it looks over the years,
there is still that sense of this is the epicentre of tennis.
A champion's back garden and a challenger's distant land,
never rough or raucous, insistent yet sympathetic,
claustrophobic and very public.
There is nowhere to run, no place to hide on Centre Court.
Just a place to try and claim as their own for a while.
Knowing that no matter who they are,
they're all just passing through.
The years 1877-1939 laid the foundations of Wimbledon
and tennis in general.
The period after the Second World War
turned the sport into a business.
Professionalism arrived and it was the All England Club
who was first to act.
Why just tennis players can't be paid? It didn't make any sense.
And that ultimately was the stroke, the lightning that changed
the whole game, because all of a sudden, and it was Wimbledon,
looked and said this is insane.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
The first in a series of four films celebrating the 125th anniversary of Wimbledon, this programme examines the tournament's beginnings at Worple Road and its growth into the greatest tennis tournament in the world.