What was snooker like in the Joe Davis era?


Snooker in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. But let’s be honest, it’s more easily known as the Joe Davis era. There’s probably less than a handful of people that can actually recall what snooker was like during this period. So I thought I would try to give a few ideas on what the sport we all know and love was like during this era. Because let’s be real, it wasn’t the same as we watch it today.

Firstly, there was no WPBSA at that time. Instead, snooker was regulated by the BACC, otherwise known as the Billiards Association and Control Council. It wasn’t until 1968 that the WPBSA was formed.

When it came to the World Championships, tournaments were often held at various locations around the UK. However, particularly during the earlier WSC’s in the late 1920s, each match in a given tournament would be held at different venues. So a QF match would be held in a different venue than a SF – and then the final would be held somewhere completely different. A lot of these venues were back room snooker clubs as opposed to the theatre-like venues that we view today.

Another (obvious) difference was that there were far fewer players and tournaments during the Joe Davis era. We can only really comment on the WSC because there isn’t much documented relating to other tournaments besides the Gold Cup. But despite rising popularity, there were still few entrants in World Championships in various years. In 1931, there were only two entrants in the WSC – Joe Davis and Tom Dennis.

The lack of entrants was most likely contributed by the difficulty of the game. We’re all likely aware of how difficult snooker is however, playing conditions were quite different back in this era. Snooker balls were made of a different, denser material which made it difficult to break-build and compile centuries. Centuries during the Joe Davis era were significantly fewer than what we see today.

If you watch archived footage of Joe Davis playing, you can see that break-off shots were very different as well. Due to the material of the snooker balls, they couldn’t travel around the table and the cue ball would often stop at the side of the table. A future short relating to the differing materials of snooker balls will follow.

Lastly, snooker matches were contested over a much longer period. Because of the minimal prize money available during this era, players mainly competed for a share of the gate fees. So what they would do is play ‘dead frames’. This meant that they would compete until there was a winner, then play a further number of frames (which wouldn’t change the result) to extend play over a few more days so they can generate more revenue to split amongst the players.

For example, in 1927 Joe Davis had won the final against Tom Dennis 16-7 but an additional 8 dead frames were played so that the final could be extended for another day even though the outcome had been decided. If you look at the archives of WSC finals, there were often 60-70+ frames of snooker played. In the post Joe Davis era this raised to 145 frames being played over a period of weeks. So, in today’s context if a best-of-35 final was played, all 35 frames would be played even if the result was 34-1.

Besides that, it’s pretty much the same game! Let me know if anything was missed!