WHEN people talk of great players that have graced the dartboards of Plymouth, one family name which is revered by many is Bishop.
Not one player, but five of the very best in their own right.
In 1938, ring throwing, or quoits to give its proper name, used to be a popular pastime in some public houses, none more so than at the Clowance Tavern in Devonport.
One of the participants at the time was Tom Bishop who was also becoming a competent thrower on the dartboard and that family name was to make headlines, more than 50 years later.
Five of Tom’s children followed him on the oche and each one turned out to be a champion in their own right and one of Tom’s proudest moments came in the 1950-51 season when he and two of his sons, Eddie and Joe, were all in the same team that won the Knockout Cup final of the City Brewery (Plymouth) Darts League.
On Wednesday, May16, 1951 at Devonport Guildhall, the Clowance Tavern defeated the Royal Clowance Hotel 6-3, with all three Bishops winning.
KINGS ARMS: Dad Tom (front row, far right), with sons George (third left, back row) and Joe (fourth left, back row) played in the Kings Arms after the demise of the Clowance Tavern and are pictured after another successful finals evening with their team mates and licensees at the time Fred and Eileen Glanville (1957-1962).
Later in that decade the Clowance Tavern had its doors shut for the final time and the Bishops then plied their trade at the Kings Arms.
The hostelry was a Starkey Knight & Ford public house which played in the Tivvy League, a forerunner of the successful Whitbread Darts League.
Tom had his final darting years at the Kings and was joined by sons Joe and George and were again very successful before Tom died in 1967 at the seemingly young age now of 62.
Edward was the eldest of the siblings and in 1946, like his father before him, started his darts at the Clowance Tavern.
Team success followed but he won his first individual title in 1954 playing for St Budeaux Working Men’s Club in the Devonport and District Social Clubs League.
He had to wait until 1957 for his next taste of success when, now playing for the Bulls Head in the Tivvy League, he became individual champion and the same season took the pair’s title with Stan Prowse.
Eddie, who sadly died in 2001, contested numerous finals after but finished as runner-up, until playing in the Torpoint and District League for Comrades, he was still good enough to take the individual title in 1982 when approaching his 60th birthday.
Of the five siblings, Joe Bishop was the most gifted of them all and of the ones that he could remember, when I first interviewed the family in 1985, he had won 15 individual titles, 12 doubles, and was talked about for his skill and accuracy in probably every dart playing pub from Lands End to Bristol.
He was winning titles that spanned no fewer than 40 years from the very first in 1945 playing for The Clowance right up to the 1984-85 season when he was the individual champion of the Whitbread Open League, playing for the Crown and Column when he defeated Tom Kendall of The Clifton.
Joe had the honour of being chosen as captain of the Clowance Tavern in the season of 1951-52 and in his first year won the Captain’s title when he defeated A V Wilson of the Royal Clarence.
The same year he lifted the league championship cup when his team pipped the Himalaya Inn for the title.
Joe also had an infinity with the famous News of the World tournament that lasted over a period of 20 years.
He first entered the competition in the season of 1959-60 and qualified for the South West Devon area finals.
He was to make the finals on seven more occasions and was the winner in 1967-68 representing The Herbert and in 1970-71, 1973-74 and again in 1974-75 whilst playing for The Trot in Torpoint.
The four victories then enabled him to participate in the Western Counties Divisional Finals with a place up for grabs in the grand finals at the Alexandra Palace, sadly that one victory was to elude him, but exceptional performances, none-the-less.
In 1966 Joe won the Westward Television individual title and was presented with his winner's tankard (see below). This famous competition, which had the unique format of the best of three legs of 201, double start and finish, was the first televised darts tournament ever to be broadcast in the UK and was shown to ITV viewers in the South West of England.
For some reason, Westward TV held a Champion of Champions tournament in 1973 which was contested by all the previous winners up to that time and won by Joe Bishop.
Another big moment for Joe came in the late 70s when he won the Jersey Open, which was the forerunner for the famous Jersey Festival of Darts.
Joe defeated in the final, another Plymouth legend on the oche, Timmy Green, winning himself an all-expenses week’s holiday on the sunshine island.
For many years Joe was a regular member of the successful Fisherman’s side that won the league and cup double season upon season in the Tivvy League.
Ironically, Joe passed away exactly two weeks after the death of his older brother Eddie in 2001.
The first taste of success for George Bishop came whilst playing for The Trot in the Torpoint and District League and in 1955, he won the individual crown.
His next individual honour came in 1963 when playing for St Budeaux WMC in the Devonport and District Social Clubs League and he defended that singles title for the next two seasons for a remarkable hat-trick.
In 1964 he defeated Joe in the semi’s and Eddie in the final, which he fondly remembered as his greatest achievement.
The following year he defeated another great player of his generation in the final . . . Fred Pritchard.
George won the Dockyard individual title seven years in succession from 1963 and also claimed the pairs title throughout those seven years with Mivvy Wellington.
After winning the Torpoint and District League for a second time in 1970, George, alongside Joe, played in the Courage League at The Herbert and were amongst the honours again when the brothers won five doubles titles and were runners-up on another three occasions.
It was in 1971 that George emulated his brother by winning the Westward TV title and in the seasons of 1971-72 and 1977-78, he was a South West Devon area finalist in the News of the World.
In 1980, playing for The Fishermans Arms, George took the Dennis Davey trophy, a much sought-after title for years in the Whitbread League and in 1982, took the pairs title, playing with his 18-year-old nephew Mark, who was then in his first competitive season.
In the 1985-86 campaign, whilst playing for the Crown and Column in the Whitbread League, George, who died in 2008, added to the silverware by winning the Joe Bickle Cup with licensee John Bamford.
Although he used to play with his brothers on a social basis, David didn’t enter league darts until 1965 where he played for the Standard Inn, the licensee at the time being the former Plymouth Argyle player Bill Strauss with his wife Betty.
A fine player in his own right, David was always over-shadowed by George and Joe and it was not until the season of 1984-85 that he achieved the success he was long overdue.
Playing for the Waterloo Inn in the newly formed Bass Open League, he became the league’s inaugural individual champion when he defeated John Goves at finals and presentation evening which was held at the Prince Regent.
It was destined to be a great final and nobody was disappointed as both players put up good performances.
Goves took the first leg, aided by three tons, only for Bishop to reply in the next with three tons and a 140 and checkout on tops at the first time of asking for a win in 16, before going on win the deciding leg and the title.
David continued to play for the Waterloo in the Bass Open League, the Les Best Wednesday League and the Friday Inter City League up until his death in 1998.
Joe, David and George all played together for two seasons during 1987 at The Longroom in the Friday Inter City League.
They won one title and later that same year were champions again by 34 points with Half Moon trailing in second place.
George won the individual title in both campaigns, the second one with an unblemished record of 18 wins from 18 starts.
Now aged 77, Hazel (below) is the only surviving sibling of the famous quintet and like her brothers, she could also play a bit as her trophy cabinet once proved.
Playing for The Herbert, she took her first honour in 1963 when she won the Courage Ladies’ Individual title, then she did not play competitive darts again until 1969.
She even had to be persuaded then by brother Joe who was looking for a partner to enter the Cornwall Mixed Doubles championships.
Not wanting to let him down, she played the tournament which they promptly won.
Not until 1978 did she make a return, to play for the New Pier in the Courage Ladies’ League and it did not take Hazel long to find her old form as she showed by winning the singles title.
In 1981, Hazel had by far her best season when, in a clean sweep on finals night, she received no fewer than five trophies.
She won the individual title for the third time, she took the Secretaries Cup and partnered Pat Lawson to victory in the doubles.
Her New Pier side also rounded off a good campaign when they clinched the league and cup double.
The following year she retained her Secretaries’ title and was runner-up in the pairs with New Inn landlady Lesley Woolcocks.
In the season of 1983-84, Hazel played in the Halls Ladies’ League for the first time, representing the Crown and Column.
It was not too long before she made her presence felt and made a big impact by winning the Halls individual title at her first attempt, and successfully defended that crown in the following campaign when defeating Britannia’s Mandy Allen.
She denied herself a record-breaking third consecutive title when, as on two previous occasions she abruptly stopped playing and was never to throw a competitive dart again.