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Image by Gislane Dijkstra

Personal View by Colin White, as it first appeared in the 'Amateur Billiard Player' of May 1999. 
Colin's reflections on the Institute and on Norman Dagley. 
Reproduced here with kind permission of Colin.

Although 57 years have passed since I first crossed its threshold, I remember the old Earl Shilton Social Institute as though it were yesterday. 

A flight of steps led up from Station Road to an unpretentious red brick building through the doors of which a passage, bounded on either side by various rooms, led to a much longer full width room with wooden bench seating worn smooth and shiny with the polishing effect of numerous posteriors, a small private kiosk from which the steward, 'Siah (Josiah) Pratt controlled the proceedings and 5 full-size billiard tables ranged side by side with the favourite No 3 in the centre. 
I call them billiard tables because in those dark days of the early 1940s, when England was in danger of becoming part of the 3rd Reich, the game of billiards still held ascendancy over the usurper called snooker. We teenagers would meet at the 'Stute on Saturday mornings or afternoons and, almost invariably, the evenings for a game of billiards or snooker. This, supplemented by perhaps a couple of visits during the week and Saturday night ‘hops´, was our world of entertainment and very contented we were in those otherwise austere times. So popular was the 'stute that eventually another table was bought and installed in the room immediately inside the front door on the right. It was (not surprisingly) numbered 6, but it was a slow, dead, isolated table, which no-one played on unless forced to do so by high booking numbers. It was removed when demand for table time diminished and no-one was sorry to see it go. 
By comparison table No 3 was like glass and most of us ham-fisted youths found it a very difficult table to play on. Yet there was one person who could perform wonders on this, his favourite table: his name was Reg Wright. Reg it was who spotted another young talented player from among the many youths frequenting the 'stute and Reg it was who taught this youth everything he knew and, as seems to be the usual pattern, was himself surpassed in skill and achievements by his erstwhile pupil. We, with typical Midland penchant for abbreviating names, called him ‘Dag´ but the world at large was to hear about his exploits by his full name - Norman Dagley. 
I suppose it would have been approaching Christmas 1943 when 'Siah organised a tournament with a chicken as the prize. In those days of food shortages, when the occasional rabbit or wood pigeon was a rare but welcome addition to our diet, the prospect of dining off chicken was indeed attractive and the entry list was soon full. To cut a long story short somehow or other I managed to reach the final only to be beaten by Norman on the black. Yes, the black. Norman played in at least one snooker tournament, albeit as a young person of about 14, but he was the one who went home with a smile on his face and a chicken under his arm. I suppose this must have been the first of Norman's countless conquests where a prize was at stake and I was the unfortunate victim. 
Norman's temporary excursion into snooker was, I have no doubt, severely criticised by the Wright family who, I understand, would have nothing to do with such an inferior game; in fact, even billiards had to be played within extremely tight ethical constraints and exacting positional limits. Reg would give Norman a task to master and would not be satisfied until stroke, score and perfect after position was achieved time and again. He would, for instance, lightly mark a 3" x 3" square on both sides of the table into which the cue ball, following a pot red in postman's knock sequence, would have to come to rest for the next stroke. Even when Norman made his first 100+ break, Reg's response was less than complimentary. "Well Norman" he said, "you've done it at last, and a right mess you made of it too". Reg was a very demanding tutor but as we all know it paid off in the long run. 
At this time Norman was playing with the cue which he used all his career. We boys had already saved up our pennies and bought cues which the paternal 'Siah had obtained from somewhere; plain one- piece maple cues with just a single mahogany splice, costing us 15s; or in present day terms 75p. I still have mine in the rack and it is still perfectly straight. Norman's one-piece cue was very superior, being made of ash with 4 ebony splices, costing I suppose in the region of £5. To put these figures into perspective let me say that my first wage packet in 1941 was 9s 6d (48p) while people working on munitions manufacture in Coventry were earning the unbelievably high wage of around £15 per week. Norman's cue, despite being worn away under the tip through years of chalking, served him well and as he said to me in 1987 after pulling off the grand slam, "This is the cue I bought down the old Institute and I've never wanted any other". A few years later saw all the friends serving in the forces in one way or another. Norman told me of joining the air force and hating every minute of it, threatening to abscond on several occasions. Fortunately, as he told me, his father dissuaded him from taking such a course of action because if he did, his dad warned him, they would hunt him down and imprison him which would be infinitely worse than sticking it out. Norman's achievements in the years following demobilisation are well documented and I regret not having seen him play in his many amateur victories. Despite his achievements in later professional years, his outstanding performances while still an amateur must rank these times as his purple period. 
Although I had read of Norman's successes in the Leicester Mercury and the Hinckley Times during our visits back to our parents, it was not until 1987 that I saw him again. I had recently resumed playing snooker, and had only then learned of the existence of the local Sandford Orcas and District Billiards League. I knew Jack Masters of Wincanton, a long standing player in the Sandford League, through playing snooker against him, and I suggested that we might put on an exhibition if Norman were agreeable. On seeing Norman he readily agreed and so it was that he and his wife Nita stayed in our holiday cottage for a week, in return for which he played at Wincanton against his long- time amateur adversary Dick Watts. I recall that eventually we succeeded in getting an audience of 80 which, compared with present day interest, was quite rewarding. But then, they were watching the current World, European and British Champion. I doubt whether Wincanton will ever see the like again. 
Over the next 12 years we met from time to time and I had a number of games with him, but It was not until April 1998 that he came to Mere again to stay with us, and to perform with Roxton Chapman at Wincanton. He had recovered from a burst blood vessel on the brain some years before and a lymphatic gland 'disorder' the previous year, but these afflictions had left their mark. I think Norman recognised this when he referred to himself as being 'in the twilight' of his career. 
Even so, he was still the entertainer, full of humour and clean but unrepeatable jokes. Every time we visited him at Earl Shilton he would ply us with tea, tales of foreign visits (especially India) and numerous jokes and tales about the WPBSA. He was never slow to present a bouquet or throw a brick bat. Norman revered Walter Lindrum, he referred to Herbert Beetham as a perfect gentleman and praised Mike Russell by saying, "You know Colin he is good: he learned in one year what took me five". At the same time he deplored the activities of some WPBSA officials (now fortunately gone), the sometimes outrageous behaviour of professional players which reflected badly on both snooker and billiards, and the appearance of any player looking less than smartly dressed. The last time I saw Norman was at Darley Dale in November 1998. He was, even then, one of the best dressed persons in the room. 
On one of our visits to him during his last illness he reflected on the fickle nature of the local people. When he was winning and the papers were full of captions like "Demon Dagley does it again", everyone wanted to greet him, congratulate him, rub shoulders with him. But he was hurt when after his best years, the very same people wouldn't even pass the time of day. Fortunately the billiard playing fraternity are not like that. He was still as popular as ever when he played last year at Wincanton. He even went to the billiard room on Saturday morning to see how the lads from Derbyshire were 'getting on', he sat through our friendly Black Pudding/Scrumpy thrash-about on Saturday night and afterwards gave a cabaret joke-telling performance for around ½ hour. Norman was still the extrovert entertainer. We finally bid our goodbyes at Nuneaton on 20th January 1999 when a great number of people, including former opponents, paid last respects. There were many misty eyes that day and many people were obviously greatly affected. We had, I am sure, begun to think of him as being almost indestructible. Well, Norman was not as Immortal as we might have thought or hoped, but his personality and his achievements will live as long as billiards is played and long after that. Were it possible to see him for just one brief moment more I am sure that everyone would join me in saying, "Thank you Norm for giving so much pleasure and being an inspiration to so many billiard players". 

Norman Dagley was born in Earl Shilton and remained a resident of the Leicestershire village throughout his life. In his early days he was above average at both cricket and football. He was captain of the local Grammar School at cricket—a game he loved passionately, also having a trial for the Leicestershire county side as a spin bowler. At football he had a trial on the right-wing for Aston Villa. His early working life included 20 years at Eatough´s Shoe Factory, national service in the Royal Air Force, a spell as a bus driver, then a chauffeur, and finally he worked as a supervisor at the Atack Snooker Centre in Nuneaton. But it was at billiards that Norman gained his international recognition. 
He was taught to play the game at the Earl Shilton Institute by Reg Wright of Barwell, and throughout his career he could never praise Reg enough, attributing his success to having been taught the game correctly in his formative years. Reg Wright was himself a top class amateur player who was always striving for perfection in his play. He was a great coach and mentor for Dagley and he taught him every facet of the game, refusing to let Norman play on the "big match" scene until Wright considered he was "ready". When this day arrived, Norman entered the English Amateur Championship and became part of what must be regarded as the halcyon days of the amateur game. At this time the Championship was played out from the last 32 at Burroughes & Watts Hall in Soho Square, London where there was terrific opposition from the likes of Leslie Driffield, Herbert Beetham, Frank Edwards, Alf Nolan and Jack Karnehm—all champions in their own right—plus many more very good players. Dagley soon made his mark and eventually set up a record sequence of championship wins—15 in all. He also won the CIU Individual Championship a record 11 times, on occasion´s travelling 200 miles to play a game of 350 up. In one round of the CIU he made a break of 349 unfinished against the unfortunate Les Kitchen, who had travelled all the way from Portsmouth for the privileged of witnessing this feat Dagley played in many different countries including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Malta and India. He made a total of 16 trips to India, where he was always treated like royalty. In the course of his travels he collected two World Amateur titles. His first was in Malta in 1971, the second in Auckland, New Zealand in 1975. Indeed, for a long time he was almost invincible on the amateur circuit. As his game grew in stature he began to improvise, especially with top-of-the-table, and he had many tricks and moves which would allow him to continue a break when all seemed lost. He always referred to "postman´s knock" in this way : "If your opponent´s white is trapped on the top cushion behind the spot you´ve only got two balls to worry about, not three". Dagley, for all his good grounding, had several other things in his armoury; he was a brilliant potter, had a steely determination and an ice-cool temperament; was able to sit out while his opponent held the table and then come back to punish him for any mistake he made. 
Norman turned professional after his last Amateur Championship win in 1984 and subsequently won two World Professional titles. His first came in 1987, when he completed a "Grand Slam" by also taking the European and United Kingdom Championships. He retained his World Championship the following year. 
Of all the events in which he played, his favourite by far was the annual "Darley Dale" invitation tournament in Derbyshire. Organised by Jim McCann and Malcolm Gregory, this brought together four top professional players in a series of 50 minute matches. Throughout his career, Norman always showed great sportsmanship and was a good ambassador for both billiards and his country. He was very good company to be with, always ready for a laugh and a joke, and he will be sadly missed by his many friends around the World. Truly a legend in the game in his own lifetime—Contributors : Richie Evans John Quartermain and others.

Personal View by Jim McCann, as it first appeared in the 'Amateur Billiard Player' of May 1999. 
Jim's reflections on his associations with Norman Dagley. 
Reproduced here with kind permission of Jim.


Throughout the World, wherever billiards is played, the name Norman Dagley stood for everything that is good about the game. 
He has been a giant in the game from the early 1960´s until the early 1990´s when ill-health began to take its toll. 
Norman epitomised the saying that "billiards is a game for gentlemen, played by gentlemen" His silky skills on the table were backed up by his sartorial elegance and sportsmanship, second to none. 
I feel privileged to have been Norman´s friend for over twenty years and have travelled with him throughout the country to witness many of his major triumphs. He was a constant wit, and had the ability to fit into any company and make people feel at ease. 
I first met Norman when he came to the Whitworth to play against us in the now defunct "Powerglide League" which was for three man teams from all over the country. It was from these games, and encouragement from Norman and Bob Close, that I set up an exhibition at the Whitworth. That "one-off" Sunday event paved the way for an 18 year run which must be put down to the skills demonstrated by the players involved. 
On one of these occasions Norman had just finished off the last game with a superb break of 385 and left the table to deafening applause. One of our senior members went over to him and said "Well Norman, if that´s billiards, what´s the game called that I´ve been playing for the last 40 years ?" 
In those early days, Norman and Bob Close provided me with my fondest billiards memories and I did my best to watch them whenever possible. The highlight for me was the 1984 English Amateur Final at Widnes when Norman was unstoppable. In the last two hour session he had only ten visits to the table and I looked on in wonder as he ran in breaks of 255, 136, 401, 92, 472 and 280 unfinished. 
When the applause subsided, it was announced that Norman´s session score of 1,477 and an average of 147.7 was a World record under the two pot rule. To this, Bob Close stood up and said "I´d like to claim a World record for the lowest score" as he had only been able to amass 75 points during the session. 
Pro-Am days with the likes of Norman, Bob and Mark Wildman were always enjoyable and a chance to learn from the best. On one occasion we were to play at Kings Cross and decided to go there by train. As we were going to different stations, Norman offered to meet me off the train at St. Pancras, but told me to look around in case I missed him. As I got off the train I looked across the teaming masses, and in the middle stood this elegant man in black trousers, shiny patent leather shoes, a stunning white top coat and sunglasses. 
I could have picked him out if he had been stood on the Moon. From there we went to the hotel and he then proceeded to take me on a tour of the local night-life, still in his stunning attire and sunglasses ! 
The advent of the newly formed professional game gave Norman another platform to demonstrate his skills to a wider audience and even some TV coverage. We had some wonderful times in London, Stockport (Romiley Forum), Bolton (Town Hall), Sheffield (Radion Plaza) and Wigan. He quickly rose through the rankings an soon established himself as number one in the World. 
To see him lift the World Championship in Bolton was a fitting reward for all his efforts over the years. 
On the pro circuit it became the job of either myself or Des Heald to fix his bow tie, make sure his Italian braces where correctly aligned, and carry his cue case-which he seemed to forget with great regularity. On one occasion at the Radion Plaza, Eugene Hughes and I were watching Norman play, and marvelling at his cueing technique. Eugene then told me that Norman was the only player, be it at billiards or snooker, that he would pay money to watch. He also used to tell the young snooker pro´s "If you want to see the perfect cue action, go and see Norman Dagley play" 
Over the years we have always talked regularly on the phone about all aspects of the game and life in general, but his coming to Darley Dale always made that occasion special, and to sit in his company at the venues over the years was always a privilege and an experience. One of the nice parts about the Darley Dale tournament is the social side we enjoy in the pub after the play is finished. Sat one night with Peter Miller of the CIU we were discussing old times. Years ago in the CIU, if a player reached the finals he was allowed to claim expenses for travel because it was a nation wide event. At one such final Norman went over to Peter and gave him his travel expenses on a piece of paper. Peter opened it, read the total at the bottom and said "Blimey Norman, I didn´t realise Concorde flew out of Leicester". 
At one of the team finals the players were lining up to give their expenses to Peter who promptly told them "Hold on lads, lets get Norman´s sorted out first and see what´s left for you lot". 
I know that there will be things that I have omitted from this tribute which will come to mind at a later date, but one thing I must say from a purely personal point of view, he was the greatest man who ever lived. 
One thing is certain, there will never be another. 
Thanks for the memory.

A Personal View by Geoff Kenney, 

Geoff's reflections on his meeting Norman Dagley. 
Reproduced here with kind permission of Geoff.


On October 22nd 1979, my Parents, Brian and Doreen, took over as Steward and Stewardess of the Hinckley Liberal Club on Mansion Street, Hinckley. 
I was already struck by the snooker ‘bug’ and to hear that the current English Billiards champion was resident at my new home, although I’d never heard of Norman Dagley, was great news.
Within a month, I had met Sam Alkin, a pensioner who was a friend and follower of Norman, who had told me how good he was and that he was the best in the World. 
I was 16, and although I had only been playing snooker for a few months, had half a dozen sixty breaks to my credit and was in the County under 18 squad. To be a snooker professional was my aim, and to have ‘the best player in the world’ at my local, albeit billiards not snooker, didn’t matter to me. I knew how much harder billiards is to play than snooker; anyone who has played will know. 
They are similar games in a lot of respects, and I was hoping to meet this Norman Dagley to see how he could help me and to see what his thoughts were on the games. After getting into the Hinckley Liberal ‘B’ team, I was a regular face in the snooker room, and I had met some very good players as well as characters. Walter Egginton was my regular practice partner along with his sons Neil and Malcolm who was my long-time pair’s partner. Ronnie Jones from Coventry and the brilliant Alan Orton from Burbage; one of the finest players ever to play in the Hinckley League. 
But where was this Norman fellow? Everyone talked about him, sang his praises and boasted about him, but I had never even seen him. And I was here seven nights a week! 
New Years Eve that year and The Liberal Club was the place to be. The membership was booming, times were good and I had met lots of new friends due to my skill on the snooker table. One of them, Phil Howkins, a great bloke but not a snooker player, had seen me play and praised my ability for my age, invited me to the party in the concert room that evening. It was packed and everyone was laughing and enjoying themselves to the music of ‘Ronda’ a local band. As time was getting on I noticed a chap at the bar in a white sports jacket that seemed to glow in the dark. He stood out like a sore thumb and I said to Phil, “Look at that bloke there”. 
“That’s Norman Dagley”, he replied. The sound of my jaw hitting the ground was deafening. He was chatting to the locals, and I couldn’t take my eyes off him now but for the rest of the night he was never on his own; there was always someone with him. How was I going to talk to him if he wasn’t approachable? And what would I say to him? If this bloke was as good as he was portrayed, he wouldn’t want to talk to a spotty 16 year old kid who thought he could play the game. The night came to a close, and Phil had introduced me to his friends, and I chatted to them politely but with one eye on Norman. Yes, he did look strange, but he had an aura about him that I can’t explain to this day. 

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