50 Years, 50 Heroes: Ted Tinling, 1979

by: Steve Tignor | December 03, 2018

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WATCH—Heroes - Ted Tinling: 

 

For our sixth annual Heroes Issue, we’ve selected passages from the last 50 years of Tennis Magazine and TENNIS.com—starting in 1969 and ending in 2018—to highlight 50 worthy heroes. Each passage acknowledges the person as they were then; each subsequent story catches up with the person, or highlights their impact, as they are now. It is best summed up with a quote from the great Arthur Ashe, that was featured on the cover of the November/December issue of this magazine in 2015: “True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.”


Tinling should be declared an international treasure; no person has given as much to tennis and come away with a comparable amount of insight and wisdom concerning the nature of players. - Peter Bodo / May 1979

The Leaning Tower of Pizzazz,” Bud Collins called him, and it’s hard to argue with the image. Cuthbert Collingwood “Teddy” Tinling was 6'5", and from the 1920s to his death in 1990, he injected tennis with his personality, which was colorful, irreverent, ahead of its time, and taller than life.

He reached his peak of notoriety in the 1970s, when his bald dome, pointy ears, unbuttoned shirts, gold chains, wide collars and white slacks made the openly gay Tinling an unmissable fixture on the new Virginia Slims women’s tour. But his flagrantly snarky sensibility and obsessive fascination with the sport and its stars would have made him a perfect fit for the social-media age, too.

As a player on the English circuit, Tinling was more famous for his colossally high ball toss—he had to take a few steps to properly position himself before it came down—than he was for any great victories. Instead, he found his place in the game as a couturier, one who was unafraid to pronounce a fellow player’s clothes “simply appalling” and offer to “rig him up” with one of his own sartorial creations.

Starting in 1927, Tinling served as a player liaison at Wimbledon, a job he kept until 1949, when one of those creations got him fired. That year, Gussie Moran—known as “Gorgeous Gussie” in the British tabloids—wore a daringly short skirt over a pair of lace panties designed by Tinling. Moran lost in the first round, but she and Tinling were castigated by Wimbledon officials for bringing “vulgarity and sin” into the club. Tinling would be persona non grata there for 20 years.

By 1970, though, the once-staid sport had begun to catch up with its most flamboyant figure. With the advent of the Slims tour, Tinling became famous for the eye-catching, avant-garde dresses he designed for the new stars of women’s tennis. Among his creations was the outfit Billie Jean King wore for the Battle of the Sexes, the dresses Martina Navratilova wore for her first two Wimbledon titles in 1978 and ’79, and the dress Chris Evert wore to her wedding to John Lloyd.

Tinling was nearly as famous for his witticisms as he was for his designs, and by the 1980s he had become the game’s de facto master of ceremonies. When the Australian Open moved to its new facility in 1988, Tinling emceed the opening ceremony. Even at 80, he followed tennis as closely as ever. “Send me a fax to hell to let me know if Jennifer [Capriati] wins Wimbledon,” he said in his last weeks.

Fashions changed, but Ted Tinling was eternal.

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