radio review

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The Independent Culture
If telling shaggy dog stories were an Olympic sport, then Martin Wainwright would soon be boarding a plane to Atlanta. Darts and justice were his subjects in last night's "Hitting the Bull's-Eye" (Radio 4), and from them he managed to weave a gloriously inconsequential 15 minutes' radio. Wainwright recalled a case he'd seen as a boy at Leeds Magistrates Court in which a Bernard Walter Wills had been prosecuted for removing his clothes in the Blue Lagoon launderette, "a real-life precedent of that television advertisement". This led him (far from inevitably) to reflect on a case at the same court in 1908 that was a seminal moment in the history of darts. But, before he would reveal too much, he was off at another tangent, taking flight into a brief but none the less thorough history of darts.

The sport had, Wainwright pointed out, a long and distinguished pedigree.The Romans relieved their boredom on Hadrian's Wall by throwing featherless arrows called pylae. Anne Boleyn gave Henry VIII a set of darts decorated in the Biscayan fashion (his subsequent behaviour towards her suggests it wasn't what he wanted in his stocking). Even the sailors on the Mayflower (who you'd have imagined a rather Puritan lot) whiled away the journey by throwing spikes at wine butts. Time's arrow had diminished the military potential of the dart, Wainwright conceded. Yet, as late as 1917, pilots from the Royal Flying Corps reached for the sky with a clutch of darts to test their efficacy against Zeppelins. Armed with the above facts - and aware that the team record for scoring a million points is six hours, 43 minutes and 4 seconds P the attentive listener should stroll through GCSE darts.

But this, like Wainwright himself, is to digress. At the heart of his story, when he got round to it, was Mr William "Big Foot" Anakin, a wagon- builder who played darts illegally at the Adelphi pub in Leeds. When the police raided the premises, the landlord asked Big Foot to take his dartboard to court to prove the game was one of skill - and therefore not contrary to the gaming laws. Needless to say, Anakin played a blinder, hitting three double 20s (the highest score then possible) with his first three throws. The court clerk, who was acting as the control, could hardly hit the target. And that's how darts became (almost) respectable.

I would like to think I wasn't alone in feeling strangely enriched by this new-found knowledge. Any suggestions of what to do with it, however, would be gratefully received.