Teddy is big but he moves fast. Teddy has the feeling that if he ever slows down, the tennis Establishment will nail him. The Establishment never forgets. It has never forgiven him for the lace panties affair, and everybody knows all that was years ago. Then there was the thing with the peekaboo dress. But Teddy Tinling, who talks like a hot popcorn-popper—maybe faster than any man alive—can explain all that. If Wimbledon will only listen. Listen, Wimbledon:
It all starts with the tournament committee. Solid types. It also all starts with Tinling, now a leading London fashion designer. On one side people insist that the committee is just as dedicated to thwarting the march of tennis fashion as it is to putting on the tournament. On the other side people grimly point out that if such is the case the committee has not had much luck.
This year at Wimbledon, as in the past, many of the women players have been draped, fitted, zipped, snapped and buttoned into Teddy Tinling tennis clothes. The list includes such leading lights as Julie Heldman and Peaches Bartkowicz of the U.S.; Virginia Wade and Ann Jones of Britain; Judy Tegart of Australia; and, in fact, the No. 1 players from about a dozen countries. Tinling figures about two-thirds of the entry list came on wearing his designs. Oh, not everybody. Billie Jean King, for example, just won't. Billie Jean sticks to a workmanlike outfit of knitted shirt and pleated skirt. But almost everybody.
Tinling is the biggest name in his field. He also is the biggest man in his field—6'5" tall. He obviously would stand out in any group this side of the Boston Celtics, but Teddy would be conspicuous at any old height. Tinling was 59 years old on June 23 but he dresses like a mod pop singer 40 years younger. Wild, wide ties, beads, bell-bottoms and all that. No shoulder-length hair, however. All Teddy has left is a thin, light brown monk's fringe just above the ears, but the shining glow on top is more impressive anyway. In fact, the bald head, his towering height, a nose like an ax, bright, pale blue eyes and a verbal delivery create impact. Pop-pop-pop-pop!
Teddy Tinling designs create quite an impact, too. Marketed by English Calico, Ltd. of London, they are available all over the world. But where the fashion battle lines are really drawn, so far as Tinling's life has been concerned, are on the green lawns of the All England Club in south London. This is Wimbledon, where white is right. Tinling screams for color in tennis. Wimbledon insists on white. And the clash between Tinling and Wimbledon over who can wear what has created almost as much excitement over the years as five-set finals in center court. The tournament committee looks upon itself as a last bulwark protecting what is left of English good sense and respectability. Teddy Tinling looks upon it as something else entirely.
"So far as fashion is concerned, Wimbledon is an outdated enclave," snorts Tinling. "They are determined on a policy of insularity. They positively don't want to know. But I am not going to hold back the whole world of progress just because of Wimbledon."
In an attempt to shock the tournament committee out of its white rut, Tinling has thrown in a wide arsenal of teasers: lace panties, gold lam� panties, pink panties, pink petticoats, the peekaboo look. The result has often as not simply been a white backlash—with bans on color being instituted in 1949 and again in 1962.
"One year we put a lot of color underneath, and this was the thing that drove them mad because they are so stupidly sensitive about themselves," says Tinling, turning up the heat. "That year, 1962, when Maria Bueno was wearing color on her underpants, they actually built up in their own minds that I had put the All England Club's colors [purple and green] across Bueno's backside as a deliberate insult to them."
One of the reasons behind Tinling's success as a designer is that he was once a pretty fair tennis player himself—he played in the doubles at Wimbledon four times—and he is hip to the requirements of a competitive player. "Teddy's line is so good," says a Wimbledon regular, "because he plays himself and knows how to give freedom without spoiling the appearance of a dress." At any rate, he knows tennis and he knows a good player from a bad player. But from his workshop on the top floor of a huge, dowdy, yellow brick building overlooking a railroad yard that leads out of London to the west, Tinling would much prefer to look back and reminisce about a series of Wimbledons that have nothing to do with service aces, overhead smashes and match points. It is a Wimbledon history that deals with broderie anglaise, mimosa yellow or the cocoon.
Tinling came into tennis through the South of France, not a bad entrance. He was asthmatic as a child, and his parents moved to Nice from London to give the youngest of three boys the benefit of clean air and a warm climate. He spent a good deal of time in bed, privately tutored, but took up tennis at 12 on his doctor's advice that he get some outdoor exercise. He promptly joined the luxury world of the Continental tennis circuit. In 1927 Teddy was invited by Wimbledon to serve during the tournament as the liaison man between the committee and the players. For the next 22 years Tinling served as maitre d'hotel of the center court, escorting the players out of the wings and onto the green lawn stage. In 1931 he moved back to London, became a dress designer and soon was running one of Mayfair's more successful fashion houses.