ACCESS ALL AREAS Bowlers Journal’s Keith Hale

First published in 2013

Where do we start, World Bowling writer?, Writer for Bowlers Journal?, Ex owner and Editor of World of Tenpin?,

It was with a lot of pride we managed to secure an interview with Keith Hale, With 46 years in the game who better to speak to about the game over the ages, As you can see its a very long interview, by far our longest yet and i have to say most informative but what would you expect from a man who started as a cheese seller and became one of the most respected reporters in the world game. We could have asked so much more though and if not for Keith having to jet off to the Brunswick Euro Challenge this week to report for bowlers Journal we could have extended the interview, We did toy with the idea of a Two parter interview but we think its such a great interview we should just show you it all, So here it is…….

What job did you do before you first bowled?

I had a small company importing continental cheeses and delicatessen products. It was an interesting business as this was before most supermarkets as we know them today, so I had to drive around the south of England selling to the larger grocers and the small delicatessen stores that were just opening in the late 50s. when I’d sold most of my stock I would order more stuff and collect it off a small ship in Whitstable harbour.

How did you first get involved in bowling?

I was based in Brighton and started going nuts on bowling at King Alfred Lanes in Hove in 1960. It was then a ten-lane centre. After a while I bought a ball (£7.50), bag and shoes and as soon as the leagues started I sponsored a team called ‘The Five Just Men’.

What was it about the sport you liked?

In those early days, bowling was so much fun and in the leagues you had to work out your own lane schedules and rules. This was way before the BTBA was formed, so we would write to the American Bowling Congress for help or scrounge materials from American bases.  As King Alfred Lanes was one of the first centres in the  country, there were lots of visits from the likes of Paul Lane, Jim Brewer, Dougie Lyons, some of the AMF Staff of Champions, and Bill Campbell, the AMF Promotions Manager.

Who did you learn from or were you mainly self taught?

The first time I went into the centre, I asked at the desk for some help and a young boy took me to the foul line and showed me how to roll the ball with my thumb to the front. He got me hooked straight away. When I got into league play, the AMF guys taught me to bowl a hook ball. For the life of me, I cannot remember what sort of average I had in those days. The norm at that time was around 150-165.

How did you go from just a bowler to becoming MR Bowling and a career spanning 46 years in the sport?

Forget the MR Bowling – that’s way out of line.

In 1961 I had a very bad time in the cheese business. For some reason it just didn’t sell to its previous levels. I was moaning about this one day to AMF’s Bill Campbell and he told me there was a vacancy for an assistant manager at Stamford Hill in north London, so would I like to take that on? I packed up everything from the cheese business and moved to Stamford Hill.

The day I arrived, Les Woolley, the manager gave in his notice to join Ambassador Bowling and open their new centre in Ipswich. His position was filled by an Australian, Al Westenberg. He left a little while later and I took over as manager. It was a hectic experience as the centre ran from noon until the wee small hours. Sometimes we had to throw people out at five in the morning.

The centre was really the focal point of bowling in the UK and people came from far and wide to play there. We hosted many leagues and national and international tournaments, plus a lot of TV programmes on a Saturday afternoon.

The centre was also extremely haunted by a couple of very active ghosts, seen by most of the staff and researched by top psychic experts Tom Corbett and Nancy Spain, but that’s another story.

From Stamford Hill I had a very short career at Corby, opening a new centre, where I was ‘let go’ as the locals thought that I was not aggressive enough to handle the tough community, mainly composed of steel workers moved into the new town from the Gorbals in Glasgow.

This brought me back to London and I joined the editorial of Tenpin Monthly, the first British national bowling publication. I gained my initial international experience at that time, covering the first European Championships in Besancon, France, the World Championships in Mexico and various events in Belgium and France.That lasted until the end of 1963 as Tenpin Monthly merged with the bowling newspaper, Tenpin Pictorial.

My next stop was opening the fantastic Walton Pier Bowl, Walton-on-Naze, Essex. This little nine-lane centre, situated out on the pier amongst all the fairground rides, was superb and run like a club. Nobody was admitted wearing jeans or having their hair lower than their collar. It had a wonderful atmosphere and was well supported by the local community and many from surrounding towns. Everything a bowling centre should be, but gradually the slot machines and pin tables made an appearance. I might have still been there, I was so happy, but I had a big bust-up with the then owner Mike Goss. A great shame as we had worked well together and he had sent me to America for three weeks to work with the pro bowlers and learn a higher level of bowling ball drilling.

After a short ‘caretaker’ stint for AMF at the old Hull Bowl I joined Corkwood Recreations to assist with opening their chain. Their first, Weston-super-Mare is still going, as is their last, Aylesbury Bowl, but Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire and Barrhead, Scotland, didn’t last very long. I ran Hoddesdon for a couple of years but being on top of a small shopping centre it didn’t do very good business. Luckily, I managed to pick an AMF ball drill there and did quite well in the pro shop.

An unwise move to Magnet Bowling saw me based at Cambridge with trips to Peterborough, Bristol, Poole and Chesterfield, but I wasn’t happy there and left after a few months. My timing was good as the chain went out of business shortly afterwards.

In 1973, Ralph Miller, the manager of Wembley Stadium Bowl offered me the pro shop at the centre. I had to be interviewed by the MD of the Wembley complex before I was allowed to start. He promised me that Wembley Stadium Bowl would be the last bowling centre to close in the UK. Unfortunately, two years later it closed doors and was converted into a squash centre.

Bernie Caterer was a regular bowler there and in a weak moment he came to work with me and did very well. When Wembley closed we moved to the Airport Bowl and we ran the pro shop there for about 12 years. At some time or other, we represented many of the major American manufacturers, but that is another story, too.

Bernie and I parted company about 1985. I continued alone and sold out in 1986, spending all my time after that with World of Tenpin and Bowlers Journal magazines, spending a few months each year in Chicago, working on the BJI annual Almanac, the Buyers Guide and running the Bowlers Journal Women’s Championships at various bowling centers across the United States.

World of Tenpin was a major struggle as I received no industry or federation support, except for a small amount of advertising. I only managed five or six issues a year as I had to pay the printer before I could send the next copy to be processed.

Fortunately, the publication was taken over by Blacker Communications and upped to a monthly format with loads of colour and a great designer and ad sales. It was nice to get a regular pay packet.

When 65 I retired and Eric Hayton took the editor’s chair. The title and owners changed to Go Tenpin.

I went to Jersey as general manager of the luxurious Jersey Bowl, supposedly for three months until a new GM was appointed, but stayed for eighteen months. Then I oversaw the installation of the Guernsey Bowl for a few months, before returning to the UK for ‘retirement’.

My retirement, however, was not recognized by Bowlers Journal. I was appointed European editor and went on to cover many international events in Europe and Asia. Although the European bowlers are fun to work with, I really liked being in Asia. The dedication and discipline is unbelievable. I did the TV commentaries on several stops of the ABF Tour, which were five hours live and had terrific viewing figures. Just lack of sponsorship put a stop to that, which was so strange seeing that the audience was estimated at 90 million and available in 256 million households across Asia.

Now, being a certified antique, I have cut back on overseas travel. The hassle of airports gets me down and travel is no fun any more. Nevertheless, at the time of writing I have two trips to Greece, one to Malaysia and on to Turkey, and that’s just March and April.

World of Tenpin, or as it’s now known Go Tenpin, is where most UK people would know you from, How did you become the editor?

World of Tenpin was conceived after a few beers in the bar at Charrington Bowl, Tolworth. Mort Luby of Bowlers Journal, Dave Neville (Tolworth Tenpin) and I were chatting about international bowling publications and the question of why is there no British magazine arose. I wonder, if I had my life over again, if I would repeat at that time saying “Let’s start one!” Dave was enthusiastic and we set the wheels in motion, publishing the first edition of World of Tenpin in September, 1978.

Dave was taken ill around 1983 and I took over as editor and publisher until my retirement.

One of my first part time jobs was selling the W.O.T for you to the leagues at Leeds for a £1 which I loved doing, There must have been some great times for you with the magazine?

Yes, it was very rewarding, but certainly not financially. I travelled the world and met so many people, making friends world-wide. The AMF World Cup, World and European Championships were great experiences.

And, of course, bad times and dips in readership or info submitted?

Oh yes! I don’t know why bowlers are so bad at supporting their sport. It is not just here in the UK. Readership of bowling publications is low all over the world. Look at the shelves in the newsagents: Pistol Shooting Monthly, Jogging Monthly, Airgun Magazine, etc., etc. When Blacker took over WoT we went onto the shelves of newsagents countrywide, but sales were so small that the scheme was dropped.

Now magazines have to take a different tack as bowling news is quickly available on websites. I often tell the tales of how we used to go to tournaments around midday, check the scores, type a few paragraphs and the top 12 standings and then go touring. Now it is a 14-hour day at most events, updating the bowlersjournal.com and TT website after every squad and sending info to our bowling journalists who can’t get to the event.

You were also an editor for a bowls magazine too and met all the bowls stars too, which bowls players impressed you?

I just had one year as editor of World Bowls, a magazine also owned by the new owners of WoT. It was the official publication of the English Bowls Association, so I had an immediate ‘in’ to the top echelon of the sport. The organization of the whole sport is just incredible and the discipline of the players unbeatable. My favourite player, who became a great friend, was Andy Thomson, a Scot who became an England international. He wrote a superb column for me each month, along the lines that the late Barry James did in WoT. It is amazing how well tenpin players adapt to green bowls. You have to read the green as you read lanes. But the big problem is that you have to stop the bloody bowl!

The top players formed a new association they wanted to call the Pro Bowlers Tour. I was able to put them right on that, avoiding later litigation.

Sometimes I regret handing that magazine over to my assistant editor. Within a year it was taken over by Bowls International.

How did you become a world bowling writer?

I formed a strong bond of friendship with Mort Luby, then the owner and publisher of Bowlers Journal, whilst at the FIQ World Championships in Mexico in 1963. That friendship lasts until the present day and I was honoured to have been best man at his wedding a few years ago.

I have always been interested in writing, even winning essay competitions whilst at school, but never taking it seriously. My first bowling coverage was for Tenpin Monthly at the European Championships in France in 1962, a story called Veni Vidi Vici, detailing the success of the Finnish team at that event.

I kept bashing the typewriter keys, contributing to several publications at home and overseas and, as detailed above, worked with Bowlers Journal.

What does your role for them involve?

Officially, I am the European zone editor for Bowlers Journal, reporting on EBT and other events in this neck of the woods. However, in addition, I run World Bowling Writers, a Bowlers Journal sponsored association of international bowling journalists, federation officials, industry leaders and PR personnel. I publish an international newsletter, which runs about six pages, twice a month and also handle the voting for our awards programme, honouring bowling writers, industry pioneers, coaches and bowlers of the year. It will be a great honour to present salvers to Osku Palermaa of Finland and America’s Diandra Asbaty during the World Tenpin Masters in April at the Barnsley Metrodome as 2006 Bowlers of the Year.

Many won’t know but you have worked all over the world and for some time in the United States, where you have told me many great stories of top players visiting your centres and the events you met the star names, Of all the people you met in a stunning career which made you the most nervous to interview?

In words of one syllable – None! I can’t think of any interviews of a nervous disposition. Bowling people are great, but some are more forthcoming than others. The funniest was perhaps the one for TV of FIQ President Steve Hontiveros in Manila. The TV producer insisted that we stood for the filming in front of a swimming pool at a Philippine country club. Steve, one of the most charming people you could ever wish to meet, is just about five-foot tall. I’m six-foot three. So the mike was up and down and he had to look up at me as he spoke. I was very embarrassed when it went out on TV but everyone else just laughed. After that I did all my interviews sitting at a table.

You met ALL the big names, Earl, Dick, Carmen, Mike Aulby, Marshall Holman, etc. Who of all the players EVER was in your opinion the best?

Two names vie for that honour – Earl Anthony and Dick Weber. Both sadly no longer with us. I had some terrific times and good laughs with both. I’ll give Dick the edge because he was such a wonderful bowling ambassador. I met him for the first time in 1966 but we didn’t become friends until 1971 when I was bowling against him in a pro-am just before the start of the World Championships in Milwaukee. I hit about four strikes in a row and he asked my average. 165 I replied. “Bloody bandit,” he retorted, and we were friends ever more. I was really disappointed when I visited his own centre, just outside St Louis. To put it mildly, it was a bit of a dump, nothing like I had expected.

I’ve got a bowling bag full of stories of all the names you list above and I’m laughing at some of the situations we have been in. They are, or were, all fantastic people and jolly good company.

Which current world players impress you and why?

Oh! Good grief! Where do I start? The talent nowadays is just unbelievable. Away from the PBA Tour, how can you not be impressed by the two-handers Osku Palermaa and Jason Belmonte? Paul Moor and Gery Verbruggen have dominated Europe over the past seven years. Neither are very communicative, but both have exceptional talent. In Asia, Wu Siu Hong, Hong Kong; Remy Ong, Singapore and Alex Liew, Malaysia quickly come to mind, the latter two you can gauge for yourselves at the upcoming World Tenpin Masters in Barnsley. Kim Bok Eun of Korea is one of the most talented players I have ever seen, but he seldom competes outside his own country. You’ll agree with me that Tim Mack and Bill Hoffman must lead the colonials.

Ladies? Our own Pauline Buck and Zara Glover are incredible. Britt Brondsted of Denmark and Martina Beckel of Germany – great talents. Americans? Diandra Asbaty, Lynda Barnes and Shannon Pluhowsky, all World Cup champions. In Asia, I just love watching Shalin Zulkifli, Esther Cheah and Wendy Chai of Malaysia and Putty Armein of Indonesia. I’m so disappointed that Esther and Putty have not been invited to Barnsley, they are playing so well this year.

Now I’m going to have to take some stick for leaving some top names out!

Having met so many fantastic people is it hard to keep in touch with so many?, Your Christmas card list must be massive.

Yes, indeed. But thankfully I can send e-cards at Christmas and that saves an incredible amount. Buying and mailing individual cards would be far too much for my meager pension.

If there’s a more qualified person to answer this next question I have not met them yet. How different is bowling today from the bowling you started with?

As different as chalk and cheese. The equipment changes, for instance. As I said earlier, you could a ball, bag and shoes for under £20 and you used just one ball. I remember Dick Weber laughing about going out on Tour with just one ball for three months. No problem with airline luggage in those days.

The enthusiasm was much greater, too. On league nights the players would come in and practise for a couple of games and stay afterwards for a pot game if lanes were available.

Lane conditioning was not a problem with the old nitro-cellulose and water-based finishes. Lanes were oiled in the morning, and that was that. Skill and accuracy were the key points, just ask Ron Oldfield and Ron Deacon, even the Bucks.

Then there was media support. We had TV live on Saturday afternoons and leagues and tournaments sponsored by large companies and national newspapers. I remember the Daily Mail and Haig Whisky leagues, featuring teams from many centres playing around the London area. The Daily Express, News of the World and London Evening News ran annual national tournaments, the latter was won by the Tottenham Hotspur soccer team, regular participants in Stamford Hill’s Premier League.

The Daily Sketch had a regular weekly tenpin column. But it all fell by the wayside. Reasons galore, but I’ll stick my neck out and say that there was little support from the industry.

What do you think of Paul Moor’s rise in the World Game, Is he now a living UK legend who can only get better?

I have the greatest admiration for Paul and cheered the loudest when he opening the scoring with a perfect game in last year’s Weber Cup. I think he has a fairly simple game and has that accuracy and skill acquired through hours of practice. To me, he always seems to be one step ahead of the lane condition and is able to make changes in line or equipment exactly when required. It was a great pleasure to present him with the World Bowling Writers Bowler of the Year salver last year and I hope that before I ‘pop my clogs’ I will be able to do that again.

As for ‘A Living Legend’, I hope he will not be offended if I say that he has some way to go yet to reach that elevated position, but I wish him well as he has certainly built a solid foundation.

Is it an exciting time to be a UK bowler or as a sport do we still have a long way to go to match countries like Australia and in Asia where bowling is sometimes a national sport?

I’m not so sure about Australia. I don’t think they are faring much better than the sport in this country and many centres are not doing so well, according to recent reports. Asia is very different. Bowling does well because the people of lesser build can win medals at the major championships. Therefore, many are sponsored by their governments and just bowl full-time, attending well organized clinics, fitness classes and psychology seminars five days a week. If they don’t meet the set criteria they are out. In Malaysia, my favourite Asian country, they have their Elite squad. To remain in that means really hard work, but the rewards are huge.

What does the UK bowling community need to do to inspire change and an increase in media and corporate support?

Work at it, for one. It’s no good sitting back and waiting for the media and corporations to come and beg for co-operation. I think the big disaster in recent times was missing out on having bowling in the Commonwealth Games in Manchester So much work by Derek Brooker went into getting the sport into the Games in Malaysia and Malaysia Congress president was distraught when he stated that the baton was not carried forward to Manchester.

I don’t see bowling ever getting into the Olympic Games, so to gain some credibility it must get a better reputation world-wide.

In the UK, the BTBA and Area Associations have never had the support they deserve and therefore do not reflect the high standards and loads of medals won in the majors. With more support and a bigger team they could take us much further up the ladder of success.

Has bowling advanced all that much in your years in the game and if so in what ways?

That’s difficult to answer because every few years the sport and equipment change so much. Overall, I prefer the ‘good old days’.

Which single performance by a bowler impressed you greatly and who is the person you would say epitomizes bowling the most?

Easy! My most memorable bowling moment was Pauline Buck, then Pauline Smith, winning the AMF World Cup at the fabulous 50-lane Madison Square Garden bowling centre in New York in 1981. Whilst we were all going wild with excitement, Pauline cleaned up cool, calm and collected. The NY correspondent from the Daily Mail was sitting next to me, asking what was going on, and even he was ecstatic when Pauline clinched her first BWC title.

As for epitomizing bowling, who better than Tim Mack? This New Jersey lad, recently moved to Indianapolis, has such enthusiasm for bowling that you can visit all 110 countries with bowling lanes and he will be known as a friend. His talent is legendary and it was a disaster when his shoulder required surgery, taking the edge off his career. But now his ‘Mack Attack’ seminars have a great following all over. Yes, sir! He’s number one!

Which is the most beautiful centre you have visited in your years in the game and which was the worst?

Bowling de Paris was the most elegant centre in the early days and Jersey Bowl really stole my heart in the 90s. There are some beautiful centres around the world now, far too many to name.

As for the worst, I plead the fifth amendment as I value my safety when travelling. I have known many good centres with lousy staff and vice versa.

One of my favourites for all round efficiency and friendliness is Ancol Bowl in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Which country you have visited is the most in love with bowling?

I think the Malaysians love bowling to the nth degree. Doc PS Nathan, Sidney Tung and Terence Yaw of the Malaysian Tenpin Bowling Congress are wonderful people and have a tremendously well organized sport following throughout the nation.

What’s the funniest thing you have seen in bowling?

I never actually saw it, but one of the funniest bowling stories, among many, was of Martin Webster bowling in the SHAPE tournament at the headquarters bowling centre in Belgium. A sparrow had somehow flown into the centre some time previously and had become a pet with the staff. Unfortunately it chose the wrong moment to fly down onto the lane. It met its fate when Martin’s fast rolling ball caused its demise, right in front of the headpin. Martin now claims the only bowling ‘birdie’. I wonder if the manager of the centre is speaking to him yet?

You told me a frightening ghost story from a UK centre, have you seen many ghosts in bowling? or was it just this one, We’d like to know more about this story it sounds really interesting.

It is such a long story, as mentioned earlier at Stamford Hill. I was accused of being sensational by AMF’s Bill Campbell at the time, but he was to be proved so wrong at a later date. I was once asked to tell the story in America to Reg Pearson, then the GM of the 50-lane Bally Casino bowling centre in Reno. We drove from Reno to Incline Village, south Lake Tahoe, Carson City and back to Reno, about 70 miles, and the story lasted the length of the trip. I’ll have to write it up sometime.

Disappointingly, that was my only known psychic experience.

Have you seen any other amazing things in bowling?

Yes. Dick Weber bowling at melons, and other squashy things, on a lane set up in a park in Richmond, Virginia.

What do you think or the bowling ball revolutions over the years, Has it hurt or improved the game in your eyes?

Is this one reason for the decline of sport bowling? When I moved to Leeds from Southport I thought of trying to get a place in the Friday night fives’ league. Then I saw the current price of bowling equipment. I stay at home.

Is bowling becoming too expensive?

Yes, and always has been.

What do you think of Glow bowling and Disco bowling?

Fantastic. They both bring in people to see the centre. Many of them must get hooked on the sport. Another great step forward, like computer scoring and bumpers.

The PartyPoker World Tenpin Masters is up soon in Barnsley, 16 world players do battle, who do you think could do well this year and who are you looking forward to watching?

I look forward to watching them all. They are all stars in their own right. Chris Barnes is going to be the guy to beat. This is a great event but I’m disappointed that I don’t get to see it live as I’m up in the players’ room posting live scores on the bowlersjournal.com website from the TV monitor.

Thanks to yourself there will be a Nintendo Wii in the players lounge during the event, Who do you fancy a roll off against, Barnes or Glover, Moor or Osk?

Seeing that my current Wii high game is just 202, I think I had better challenge Luke Riches of Matchroom or Cass Edwards, in between commentaries. I’m hot stuff at the nine-hole golf, though. Thought … why thanks to me? You want me to take mine?

What do you think of the UK TV coverage of bowling?

I am (so should you be) so grateful to Barry Hearn and the Matchroom crew for putting the time, effort and finance to air 45 weeks of bowling a year, up to 2006 that is. This year we miss 15 weeks of the World Cup, so have to be content with just the World Tenpin Masters and the Weber Cup. Take it from me, TV commentating on bowling is not easy, especially grading the talk to such a wide audience, and I think that Nick Halling and Cass Edwards do a great job and deserve far more accolades. It would be nice to feature other events, so who will put up the money?

Why should people visit the event?

Because you won’t understand the enjoyment, the thrills and excitement in such a fabulous atmosphere as the Metrodome Barnsley. And, you cheapskates, it’s Free!

Being much travelled you spend a lot of time on aircraft jetting all over the world, what’s on your list for this year?

Thessaloniki for the Brunswick Euro Challenge; Malaysia for their 30th Malaysian Open; Thessaloniki for the European Youth and Istanbul for their EBT Open. That’s up to the end of April, haven’t looked at the following months yet.

What’s your tip for Jetlag?

Melatonin – a miracle drug used by all aircrew. I have to buy it on the internet as it is not yet approved in this country.

Which airports should people avoid?

Heathrow and Frankfurt. I fly to Amsterdam and change there rather than go through the hassle of Heathrow. Frankfurt is just too disorganized and the security staff far too arrogant for my taste.

And finally, you are stuck on a desert island, you are told you can have 3 items and 4 people as company, what and who and why?

OH no! I’m knackered after going through all these questions, and now I have to answer this?

My three items would be my laptop, a huge supply of fully charged batteries and a Photoshop manual. I’ve been digital imaging for a few years and still don’t understand all the bells and whistles.

People? That is really difficult. 1. Mort Luby from Chicago as he’s been such a tremendous influence on my career in bowling. 2. Ron Oldfield so that we could talk sensible bowling. There are some lovely and nice lady bowlers, but I would hate to take them away from the lanes, so I’ll get myself into trouble by taking Seija Lankinen from Finland along. She’s a very good journalist and we could create a good website detailing the history of bowling. My fourth choice, well away from bowling, would be my absolute idol, Michael Crawford. I first saw him on the West End stage in ‘Billy Liar’ so many years ago. He has so much dedication to his art that he went to circus school for 18 months for his part in ‘Barnum’ where he performed incredible feats. Then he had to force himself to learn to sing for ‘Phantom of the Opera’. He starred in so many shows and has so many talents. He would be wonderful company for us all.

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There you have it a snapshot of the man Keith Hale, Any one of his answers could have been explored more and reported on, in fact We don’t know about you but we’d like to hear more about the Ghost story and Keith’s times with the great Dick Weber and Earl Anthony.

I’d personally like to thank Keith for all his support of myself and this website and I’m honoured to learn the media trade from such a world renowned figure in bowling. His advice has been invaluable, as has been his knowledge of the game.

What are the odd’s, you dream up a bowling website and the next month the most experienced media reporter of bowling moves house to your area. hehe 

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