Since the dawn of the first tee-time, golfers have been rattling opponents with silly chatter and oafish manners, or by invoking irrelevant rules or otherwise crossing the bounds of decency to induce anxiety. But it wasn't until shortly after the end of World War II, when an intellectual British writer and golf nut, newly unemployed, took pen in hand and wrote an exquisite little book of sports humor bearing as its title the term he had coined, "Gamesmanship," that the world had at last a name for the odious ploys, stunts, and tactics practically every golfer uses at one point or another. It's been 55 years since Stephen Potter devised that word and codified nearly all the bad behaviors we associate with it: "The Theory and Practice of Gamesmanship: Or, The Art of Winning Games Without Actually Cheating" achieved overnight popularity when it was published in Today, the man who came to see his concept placed securely in the lexicon of sportswriters, broadcasters, athletes, and fans is now practically forgotten.
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Stephen Meredith Potter 1 February — 2 December was a British author best known for his parodies of self-help books, and their film and television derivatives. After leaving school in the last months of the First World War he was commissioned as a junior officer in the British Army , but by the time he had completed his training the war was over and he was demobilised.
He then studied English at Oxford , and after some false starts he spent his early working life as an academic, lecturing in English literature at Birkbeck College , part of the University of London , during which time he published several works on Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Finding his income inadequate to support himself and his family, he left the university and took up a post producing and writing for the BBC.
He remained with the BBC until after the Second World War , when he became a freelance writer, and remained so for the rest of his life. His series of humorous books on how to secure an unfair advantage began in with Gamesmanship , purporting to show how poor players can beat better ones by subtle psychological ploys.
This sold prodigiously and led to a series of sequels covering other aspects of life. The books were adapted for the cinema in the s and for television in the s. As he reached school-leaving age he wrote in his diary, "If this war doesn't end soon I shall have to join the beastly army and lay down my blooming life for my blinking country.
He was commissioned into the Coldstream Guards as a second lieutenant just as the war was ending, and did not see active service.
Potter was demobilised in , and spent a few months in his father's office learning book-keeping, before going to Merton College, Oxford , to study English. Potter achieved only a second-class degree in English language and literature. There were two sons of the marriage. Potter's first book, The Young Man , was an autobiographical novel, which was well-reviewed.
The Manchester Guardian wrote, "a brilliant performance Lawrence: A First Study , the first book-length work on Lawrence , which appeared in print within a few days of the death of its subject, unfortunate timing because it seemed like an inadequate memorial rather than what it was intended to be, a critical reappraisal. It also suffered from a regrettable misprint, rendering the heading "Sea and Sardinia", as "Sex and Sardinia".
This was soon amplified by rumour into "Sex and Sardines", none of which helped Potter's reputation as a serious writer. Edwards , in Middleton Murry's Adelphi. After this he concentrated in his next four works on Coleridge. He edited the Nonesuch Press Coleridge , praised in The Times as "the best anthology that has ever shown Coleridge as poet, philosopher and critic.
Reviews were good, but with reservations that Potter oversimplified the dichotomy in Coleridge's nature The Observer or else did not explore the underlying reasons for it TLS. Potter and offer him the Chair of English literature forthwith.
Potter first wrote for BBC radio in Finding that his academic career, although promising, was insufficiently well paid to support his family, he resigned from Birkbeck in and the following year joined the BBC as a writer-producer  in its features department, originally concentrating on literary features and documentaries.
In the same year he joined the Savile Club , known for its artistic and especially literary members, who have included Hardy , Kipling , and Yeats. He was a leading player of the club's idiosyncratic version of snooker , and some of his later "gamesmanship" ploys are thought to have originated in the Savile's games room. Later in the war years he and his wife moved south, living in a farmhouse in Essex where she found more scope to pursue her career as a painter.
In "How to Listen" was the first broadcast heard on the newly created Third Programme. These included drama critic for the New Statesman and book reviewer for the News Chronicle. A ten-day power-cut at the beginning of prevented any broadcasting and gave Potter the opportunity to dash off a book.
To the despair of his publisher he was a far from methodical author: every Potter manuscript was "a mass of dirty bits of paper, vilely typed, corrected in illegible biro , episodic and half-revised. It was the first of his series of books purporting to teach ploys for manipulating one's associates, making them feel inferior and thus gaining the status of being one-up on them.
From this book, the term "Gamesmanship" entered the English language. Potter said that he was introduced to the technique by C. Joad during a game of tennis in which Joad and Potter were struggling against two fit young students. Joad politely requested the students to state clearly whether a ball had landed in or out when in truth it was so obviously out that they had not thought it necessary to say so.
This nonplussed the students, who wondered if their sportsmanship was in question; they became so edgy that they lost the match. Potter followed up the success of Gamesmanship, extending the basic idea to many other aspects of life, in Some Notes on Lifemanship , which was another big seller. Thus for example the reader is enjoined, "never forget the uses of Lowbrowmanship in conversation And I'm awfully sorry but I like leg shows.
If the Lowbrowman happens to be a Professor of Aesthetics In his notes on Woomanship, Potter expresses surprise that "twelve times as many workers volunteered to send in reports on Woomanship as on any other subject"  I mixed gamesmanship, for a man "a good working knowledge of the Chivalry Gambit is essential"; a woman's counter to "the least signs of trying the 'I have long adored you from afar' move", is to "treat it immediately as a formal proposal of marriage which you shyly accept.
This is one of the most devastating, the most match-winning, counters in the whole realm of gamesmanship". The most famous local residents were Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears , with whom the Potters quickly became friendly.
They got involved with the running of Britten's Aldeburgh Festival , and "every summer Britten, Peter Pears, and the Potters formed the nucleus of countless tennis parties on the grass court at the Red House. She consented, and he moved away from Aldeburgh. Finding the Red House too large and expensive for one person, Mary Potter agreed to exchange houses with Britten and Pears, who moved into the Red House, with which they were associated for the rest of their lives and beyond.
Their only child, Luke, was born the following year. A second successor to Gamesmanship was published as One-Upmanship Potter had become well enough known overseas to be invited to give a literary lecture tour of America. He described his experiences in Potter on America , which received a long and complimentary review in The Times Literary Supplement : "Mr.
Potter's private army of Lifemen will need no recommendation to this latest frolic It is a pleasure to discover or rediscover the United States in this company, for the author is the most literate of humorists.
A third sequel to Gamesmanship , was published in under the title of Supermanship. Its publisher, Rupert Hart-Davis , privately wrote of the book, " Gamesmanship made me laugh a lot, and its two successors were just good enough all three still sell prodigiously , but the world has moved deathwards, you may say in the last ten years, and Potter hasn't budged an inch. In truth the joke is played out, but he won't face the fact.
This manuscript consists of a bunch of marginal articles, written during the past six years and slung together with the minimum of care. The New Yorker commented, "his methods and the point of view behind them don't seem as funny or as sharp as they once did, possibly because they are no longer surprising, or possibly because he is getting a little tired of his own joke.
As in any practical manual, the principles are stated and concisely illustrated. Nothing goes on too long. By the late s the concept and the suffix "-manship" had entered the English language. He described himself in The Times in as "one whose sole contribution to world thought has been the naming and description of the form of behaviour now known as gamesmanship". He wanted to be a great serious writer.
Yet that was totally beyond him. Potter's last works went in new directions. In he wrote a corporate history of H. Heinz under the title The Magic Number , and his autobiography of his first 20 years, Steps to Immaturity. His publisher was doubtful about the latter, but it was well received.
The Times Literary Supplement , called it "this sympathetic, beguiling book" and looked forward to a sequel,  and other papers from The Daily Express to The New Statesman praised it in their reviews. Potter died of pneumonia in London at the age of The film School for Scoundrels recapitulates many of the "one-up" ideas, and extends them to "Woo-manship", meaning the art of manipulative seduction of women.
The script was adapted by Peter Ustinov from Potter's books. One-Upmanship is a British television series based on Potter's work.
Starring Richard Briers , Peter Jones who also played a supporting role in School for Scoundrels , and Frederick Jaeger , it was subsequently broadened into three series that were broadcast between and Details of the broadcasts can be found on this BBC comedy Web site.
Potter's diaries, acquired by the University of Texas after his death, were a primary source for Stephen Potter at the BBC by his second son, Julian Potter, a chronicle of Potter's time in the features department of the BBC in the s. Raffles and the Match-Fixing Syndicate , by Adam Corres, is an extension of Potter's theories, explaining the principles of cricket gamesmanship and the psychology of "thinking the batsman out". In a article Edmund Wilson wondered why Potter, as an academic himself, did not "exploit the fertile field of one-upmanship among professors, whereupon Wilson proceeded to fill the gap".
In , devotees of Potter created an annual winter golf tournament based on the tactics espoused in the author's book Gamesmanship. Eric Berne in his best-selling Games People Play readily acknowledges Potter's Gamemanship as a precursor: 'Due credit should be given to Stephen Potter for his perceptive, humorous discussions of manoeuvres, or "ploys", in everyday social situations'.
What has been termed Potter's "blend of flat and serious tone reminiscent of a gentlemanly sports handbook united with a sceptical judgement of the values of the English middle-class social scene"  would thus seem to have fed into Berne's own "sardonically humorous Games People Play Potter's ' Game Leg Being a Nice Chap in certain circumstances is valuable'  precedes Berne's "Good Joe"; Potter's "Advicemanship", whereby 'if properly managed, the mere giving of advice is sufficient'  to win, precedes Berne's "I'm Only Trying to Help You", where 'the damage is done while being helpful'.
Words : Words rewarded by parental approval The sociologist Erving Goffman also profited from Potter's work, in the sense that it "disclose[s] an elaborate code of conventions which operated in everyday social intercourse, which was nevertheless tacit", and could be exploited by the sociologist: "what Potter's articles perhaps did, by their oblique but recognisable affinity with Goffman's own ideas, was to provide the kind of licence or mandate"  Goffman needed to find his own creative approach.
As of [update] , some of his works are out of print, but many have new editions. In , Lifemanship was re-published by Moyer Bell. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. For the American officer, see Stephen Potter officer. Clare L. Merton College Register Oxford: Basil Blackwell. The rules of Savile Snooker, formulated by Potter, can be accessed here. The Manchester Guardian , 28 September , p. Corgi p. Categories : English biographers Coldstream Guards officers English satirists English literary critics English non-fiction writers English humorists Alumni of Merton College, Oxford Academics of Birkbeck, University of London births deaths 20th-century English novelists 20th-century biographers English male novelists 20th-century British male writers English male non-fiction writers.
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Gamesmanship and the strange little books that taught me how to win at everything
Most people understand the concept of gamesmanship, but how many these days know who coined the word, let alone have read the book that popularised it? Stephen Potter's humorous classic, subtitled "The Art of Winning Games Without Actually Cheating", was first published in , but this reissue of his slim but influential volume contains many ideas that seem remarkably modern. This is one of the oldest of gambits, and is now almost entirely used in the form 'My slow to your fast'. At golf especially, against a player who makes a great deal of 'wanting to get on with the game', the technique is 1 to agree Jeffreys always adds here 'as long as we don't hurry on the shot' ; 2 to hold things up by 15 or 20 disguised pauses. And Potter's suggestions on how to goad a steady player into a rush of blood to the head —"for, he remembers, hadn't he once been chaffed for breaking a window with a cricket ball while he was on holiday at Whitby" — are irresistibly reminiscent of Freddie Flintoff's injunction to West Indies fast bowler Tino Best to "mind the windows, Tino", causing the latter to charge down the wicket next ball to be stumped by yards. Potter pioneered the use of cod footnotes and spuriously scientific-looking charts and diagrams, and his deadpan humour is often bolstered by the addition of a qualifying clause, such as when, discussing poker, he states: "I do believe that a trace of American accent — West Coast — casts a small shadow of apprehension over the minds of English players.
What is gamesmanship? Most difficult of questions to answer briefly. There have been five hundred books written on the subject of games. Five hundred books on play and the tactics of play. Not one on the art of winning. I well remember the gritty floor and the damp roller-towels of the changing-room where the idea of writing this book came to me. Yet my approach to the thing had been gradual.