This assembly tells the story of the last British Wimbledon Singles Champion, and celebrates some of the changes that have happened to our country since her victory
There’s a TV ad running, for Robinson soft drinks, called ‘Wimbledon: Imagine’. It’s very stirring and evocative, and is also an excellent portrait of multi-cultural Britain. Use your judgment about using a TV ad in assembly. We think it earns its keep as a source of discussion for the emotions involved, and for its understated but very positive portrait of diversity in the concept of Britishness. It’s also an object lesson to young multimedia creators in how to tell an emotion-packed story in exactly sixty seconds.
IntroductionAre you keen on tennis? Or do you only like it when the Wimbledon championships are on TV? Some sporting events are like that aren’t they? When our football team is doing well in the World Cup, we’re all football fans. When our athletes win races at the Olympics, we’re all athletics fans. There’s nothing wrong with that. And there’s nothing wrong with wanting your own country to do well. Every year, we hope that we’ll have a player who will do well in the singles championship at Wimbledon – best of all, we hope that we have a player who will win it and become a Wimbledon champion. There’s a TV ad running at the moment that shows what it might be like if that happens. It shows people all over the country, at work and in their homes, just glued to the TV through the last few points of the deciding game, and then explosions of excitement as the winning stroke is played. Look at the emotions on display, and you can’t help but share in them. Has it ever happened for real? Have we ever had a British singles champion at Wimbledon? Well, of course we have. The trouble is, it’s been a long time since it happened – in the case of the men’s title, the last British win is a whole lifetime away. The last British winner of the men’s singles was Fred Perry, who won it three years running in 1934, 1935 and finally in 1936. The last woman winner, though, was much more recent - in 1977. And for those whose memories go back that far, it really was that fairytale ending that we see on the TV advert. The winner was Virginia Wade, who after just a few tennis games on Centre Court became a national hero.
Virginia Wade was one of the first British women to make tennis her full-time career. Born in England in 1945, she moved with her family to South Africa where her father worked as a priest. When she was nine she found a tennis racquet in a cupboard at home, and from that point on tennis became her life. She won every under-eleven tournament she entered. Then when she was fifteen the family came back to England. Virginia’s tennis continued to develop, and she was regarded as the best sixteen-year-old player ever seen in this country. At sixteen she was playing at Wimbledon, and at other big tournaments first in Britain and then around the world. She won many great victories and a huge number of trophies. In 1968 she won the United States Open, and in 1972 the Australian Open, but Wimbledon seemed beyond her grasp. She entered sixteen times, was a semi-finalist twice, and in 1977, by which time she was 31, it seemed as if her career would end without that magical win. That year, there were some wonderful younger players. Martina Navratilova, who would become probably the greatest woman player ever, was just starting, and the defending champion was Chris Evert, another all-time great. The press didn’t give Virginia much of a chance. They thought the other British player, Sue Barker, might do better – and in fact Virginia feels that until Sue was knocked out in the semi-final, this took some of the pressure off her. The key moment in Virginia’s victory came when she beat Chris Evert in her own hard-fought semi-final. After that she was sure she could win against Betty Stove in the final. And sure enough, after losing the first set, she came back to a confident victory. It was a very special win. The year 1977 was the hundredth anniversary of the start of the Wimbledon championships. And it was the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Year – 25 years since she came to the throne, a summer of many celebrations, with street parties and special events in schools. That special year the Queen was at Wimbledon, and she came on to court herself to present Virginia with her trophy. So it really was a magical moment for all who saw it. It was very much like that TV advert. Here’s how Virginia remembers it.‘The Queen was chatting to me and I was trying to lip-read what she was saying but I never really heard what she said because there was so much commotion, which included the crowd singing “for she's a jolly good fellow”. The hundred-year anniversary made it special. It was a pretty big, romantic milestone. The Silver Jubilee celebrations made it extra special. It certainly helped me be more motivated than I had been.’
The world and our country have changed a lot since 1977. Sport has become much more commercial, and sports stars are bigger celebrities. Virginia’s not sure that’s a good thing, because she thinks sport should first of all be fun. She thinks many young people are pushed into taking tennis seriously too early in their lives. She says that if she was in charge of all tennis, she would want children to have more fun. She says: ‘You see them in the parks playing football and having a good time. Tennis is an individual sport but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. Little kids can start by throwing and catching balls, playing tag, working on their hand-eye co-ordination, but in a fun way.’There are many good things about our country, too. The Robinsons TV advert shows just how much more multicultural we are now, with people of all races and backgrounds enjoying a British victory. And that’s something to really celebrate.
We thank you, Lord, for the gift of sport – for the ability to test ourselves and to compete. Help us to celebrate all successes – other people’s as well as our own. Above all help us to remember that all sport was invented for fun, and without fun it has no real meaning. Amen.
Things to think about
Every great champion had to start somewhere. When Virginia won her championship, was she thinking about the day she found that tennis racquet in a cupboard? Does she think about it now, when she’s on TV and radio and giving talks? Could you write down her thoughts for her?
From the advert
- What part does Robinsons play at Wimbledon? (Drinks on court.)
- When does the product appear? (Very briefly in a bottle at the start, then in a glass a few times.)
- Can you describe the build-up of emotions?
- Is there a main character?
- How does the central little girl react, compared to everyone else?
- What’s the secret to telling a good video story in a very short time? (Lessons for your children’s multimedia work.)
Virginia Wade at Wimbledon in 1977 with her trophy
Virginia Wade in 2007
The quote about Virginia’s conversation with the Queen is taken from the official Wimbledon website
Virginia’s quote about children having fun is from an interview by Brian Viner, in the Independent, 29 June 2007
This e-bulletin issue was first published in June 2009
About the author: Gerald Haigh