Teddy Tinling, was a British tennis player, fashion designer, spy and author. He was a firm fixture on the professional tennis tour for over sixty years. Cuthbert Collingwood Tinling was born in Eastbourne, England in June 1910. His nickname was “Teddy”. In 1923, suffering from bronchial asthma, his parents sent him to the French Riviera on doctor’s orders. It was there he began playing tennis, particularly at the Nice Tennis Club where the then biggest star of the game, Suzanne Lenglen, would practice. Despite Tinling’s youth, Lenglen’s father asked him if he would umpire one of her upcoming matches and he would go on to be her personal umpire for two years in between a short career as a player himself. This friendship with Lenglen led him to his first Wimbledon Championships in 1927, where he became player liaison until 1949. At the age of 21, he opened a fashion house in London and during the 30’s, his innovative designs for tennis star Suzanne Lenglen attracted many other tennis clients. He joined the British army in 1939, reopening his house on his demobilization in 1947. During the War he was a Lt. Colonel in the Intelligence Corps in North Africa and Germany. In 1949, his name became famous when he designed a pair of frilly lace panties for American tennis star Gertrude “Gussy” Moran to wear at Wimbledon under her Tinling-designed tennis dress. Tinling was involved in tennis throughout his life, working for the Lawn Tennis Association and other tennis bodies, mostly in the field of public relations. He was 6 ft. 6 inches tall, by the way. Tinling designed dresses for almost all of the great lady players throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. It was a design in 1949 – lace tennis panties – that led him to being asked to take leave from his position at Wimbledon. From 1952 to the 80’s, he dressed most of the internationally famous women tennis stars, both on the court and off, using bizarre fabrics such as crush resistant tweed, for some of his designs. He tried another stunt at Wimbledon in 1958, dressing Carol Fagero in gold lame panties, but the authorities never let them on the court. Teddy wrote several books on Tennis and the personalities he had met. One was “Love and Faults” mentioned below, written in 1979 and another was “White Ladies” written in 1963 about the lovely Tennis players dressed in white. In 1975, he moved his business to Philadelphia in the USA, where he was just as successful. Tinling was openly gay. He wrote several books on tennis in the 1980s but respiratory problems continued to affect him and he died in 1990 at the age of 80. After his death it was revealed he had been a British Intelligence spy during World War II. He was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1986. Tinling’s brother James Collingwood Tinling was a member of the team that built the first jet engine. Tinling turned instead to the new phenomenon, sportswear. Standard wear at the time for women on the tennis court was a blouse or jersey and a pair of culottes, an outfit which Tinling thought utterly lacking in femininity or style.
His designs were controversial from the outset—Tinling’s first commission, for Joy Gannon’s Wimbledon debut in 1947, was a dress with a small colored border at the hem. A similar design the following year for champion Betty Hilton’s Wightman Cup match so outraged Hazel Wightman she threatened to ban color—if not Tinling—from future Wimbledon games. Into this brewing storm blew Gertrude “gorgeous Gussy” Moran. Could Ted, she wrote from California, design her a dress for Wimbledon? A very colorful dress?
Tinling correctly predicted that an all-white rule would prevail for the 1949 games and so he designed instead a dress in proper white of satin-trimmed rayon, which shimmered, he said, as did Moran herself. Came the fitting, it was apparent that a pair of panties would be required to complete the ensemble. As legend has it, Tinling finished off the pants with a bit of lace edging and with this act inadvertently secured his place in fashion history.
Tinling’s clothes, however, were not banned, and they continued to provoke Wimbledon officialdom as they continued to bring a sense of flair and glamour to center court. Tinling had an easy rapport with the stars of the game. He designed to suit the playing style and personality of the players he came to know so well, matching fabric, trim, and cut to the individual.
Within the profession Tinling was respected as the supreme arbiter who represented players to management in an official capacity not only at Wimbledon, where he was reinstated in 1982, but at the other three Grand Slam events as well as on the Slims tour. His encyclopedic knowledge of tennis and tennis players made him an oral historian of the game, and keeper of its traditions. For six decades Ted Tinling and tennis were synonymous. Suzanne Lenglen, Gussy Moran, Carol Fagero, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Evonne Goolagong and Virginia Wade
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