By James Zug
Forty-one years ago John Beddington wrote a tiny paperback squash manual, Play Better Squash, which was published in London by Queen Anne Press (the publishing house that Ian Fleming ran; perhaps the reason there is no squash in the James Bond books or films is that Fleming died before Play Better Squash?).
Even before the book, Beddington was a man about town, running pro tennis and squash tournaments and commercial squash clubs. Although he is most famous for his tennis events (he founded and directed the Masters tournament at Royal Albert Hall and was a vice president of Tennis Canada for seventeen years), Beddington ran a number of high-profile squash tournaments including the Canadian Open from 1984 to 1995, the Loews Cup from 1983 to 1990 (U.S. v. Canada v. Mexico) and two British Opens, in 2003 and 2004.
Play Better Squash went through two more editions, a hardcover and a paperback edition published by Macdonald & Jane in 1978, and a hardcover and paperback edition published by Queen Anne again in 1984. It was translated into French, German, Spanish and Swedish.
It now appears again, an unexpected late flowering. Many good parts remain. Rex Bellamy’s 1974 foreword is still there. “The author is always good company,” said Bellamy, the longtime squash correspondent for the Times of London. Readers, he added, “may also find future comfort in the fact that, if there are no squash courts in the next world, John Beddington is the kind of man who will build some.” Retired master of ceremonies Don Goodwin, who collaborated with Beddington for many years at the tennis Canadian Open, added a new foreword.
The book is definitely written for the novice and neophyte. Beddington goes through the most basic parts of the game—how to choose a racquet, clothing, shoes. He states: “Dirty socks cause blisters more easily.” During the warm up, Beddington recommends gamesmanship: “Don’t allow your opponent all the shots he likes in the knock-up…establish your authority….let him do his share of the work to keep the knock-up going.” He gives a little history of the game (with a few errors) and in the back prints a complete set of the current rules. With dozens of diagrams, Beddington goes over the strokes, shots and movement in the game. He suggest all kinds of drills, including one of emptying a box of balls all over a court and then timing yourself sprinting around collecting them all.
The advice is simple and practical. You can almost see a player doing what Victor Niederhoffer did, back in the early 1960s, when to learn the game he got on a court by himself with a racquet in one hand and this book in another, trying to translate the words into actions. Because the book is now available not only as a paperback but as an e-reader on Kindle, you might see a player out there with his tablet or phone.
Sometimes the instruction is a bit obvious. Mishits? “Don’t bother to practice the blocked service return off the frame.” Beer or wine? “Not before playing.” Breaking too many racquets? “However good or expensive a racket is, it will not last any longer than any other if it is hit hard enough against the walls or the floor.” And sometimes it is wrong. About jet lag, he counsels not playing squash for the first twenty-four hours after arrival—nowadays a match is considered a healthy way to acclimatize.
The 1974 edition had a nice section in the back on the greatest of all-time. For the 2015 edition, Beddington has edited some of the profiles down severely, and sadly removed others like the one on Gogi Alauddin (who appeared on the 1974 cover). In return he has added short, insightful and sometimes quite witty entries on many the top players from the last four decades; he has gone from just one woman in the 1974 edition (Heather McKay) to five.
Alas, there are no photographs in the 2015 edition, which brings to mind the 1974 edition’s photo insert. It featured almost sculpture-like images of some of the top players. Bodies frozen in time. And great moustaches. What was it about John Easter, the lank-haired former model turned world No.15? His photo appeared in the 1974 edition and in The Book of Jonah, Barrington’s 1972 memoir. Hashtag heartthrob.