Anyone who has visited Cheltenham Croquet Club during the course of a tournament will doubtless recognize the above ‘tribute’ to the club coffee trolley…
In 2002 my wife Deborah and I found ourselves involved in the introduction of a radical innovation in the Croquet Gazette, that august organ of the Croquet Association inaugurated in 1904.
A strip cartoon, the lead character of which was a croquet-playing hippopotamus? Surely not!
Humour was often incorporated in the articles and tournament reports published therein, but never before had readers been exposed to the like of this!
But, yes – thanks to some ‘outside the box’ thinking by the then editor James Hawkins, Hoopopotamus made his debut in November 2002 (issue 282), and thereafter featured regularly until his final appearance in April 2013 (issue 343).
I had already come up with the concept of a croquet-playing hippo of this name back in 2001.
He and Ace, his ‘croquet bat’ coach, were based on ‘real’ characters (note: reality is relative) – a small maroon velour hippopotamus named Hippolata (rhymes with ‘chipolata’) and an even smaller black velour bat named Ace.
Both had been acquired by us some years earlier, and had made occasional brief visits to Cheltenham Croquet Club, sometimes getting photographed in the process (as seen here).
This led to a photograph of Hippolata being used in issue 221 (May-June 1992) of the Gazette as the basis of a caption competition under the editorship of John Walters.
The winning caption was announced in the following issue, along with some of the other submissions, one of which mirrored our own thinking in suggesting ‘Hoopopotamus’.
Ten years later, thanks to Deborah’s ability to turn my raw pencil-sketch drafts into ‘proper’ cartoons and the ongoing support of Gail Curry as editor, Hoopopotamus and his club colleagues were sharing their antics with the world, and continued to do so until their cessation was confirmed in the letter shown here from issue 345 (September 2013) – which appeared, appropriately enough, beneath the Obituary column:
The original cartoons were published in grayscale, but for those readers who would like to revisit Hoopopotamus and his friends (or for those who would like to meet him for the first time) a full colour version (including three cartoons that did not appear in the original series) can be downloaded from the link at the top of this page.
Followers of Latham croquet fiction will no doubt realize that Hoopopotamus and Ace further adapted themselves to appear as the Chimneypotamus and the Ace of Spades in both Reflections on Croquet in Wonderland and A Singular Case of Fictional Doubles, which, along with my croquet-inspired interpretation of British history Plus Twenty-Six and All That, were published, complete with Deborah’s illustrations, on the Croquet World Online Magazine website between 2012 and 2015. These stories can also now be accessed on my Stories I Have Tried To Write page.