meaning and origin of ‘jolly hockey stick(s)’


Cambridge Heath Rd, E2 (980 2415). Sat-Thurs 10am-6pm, Sun 2.30-6pm. Jolly Hockey Sticks. Schoolgirls through the eyes of Angela Brazil¹ & others. May 30-Sept 30.

from The Illustrated London News – May 1984

(¹ Angela Brazil (1868-1947), British author of schoolgirls’ stories)



The exclamation jolly hockey stick(s) is used in imitations or representations of upper or upper-middle-class speech associated with a type of English public schoolgirl, especially to express boisterous enthusiasm, excitement, exuberance, etc. (hockey is a favourite field sport in girls’ public schools; in the United Kingdom, the term public school denotes a private fee-paying secondary school).

This exclamation was coined by the British actress Beryl Reid (1919-96), and first appeared in print in The Daily Mirror (London) of 21st January 1953:

                         . . . on Monica, the tonic comic
Beryl Reid was just another radio comedienne until she produced Monica, that lisping schoolgirl involved in most of Archie Andrews’s scrapes in “Educating Archie².”

Miss Reid’s schoolgirl character had her first big hit in “Starlight Hour³” just over two years ago. Today her “Jolly hockey stick” and “Absolute terminus” are catch phrases.
Says Beryl: “Monica is a mixture of all the schoolgirls I’ve ever met.”
For her radio work, comedienne Beryl arrives at the studio in full Monica garb—gym slip, blouse, and tie in green, red and fawn.
She wore these clothes as a schoolgirl at Manchester’s Withington High School. This came as rather a shock to Pat Kirkwood, a former fellow-pupil, for when they met for a broadcast Miss Kirkwood recognised the colours.
“Good gracious!” said Pat. “If Miss Robson could see us now!”
Pert-nosed Beryl learns all her radio scripts by heart, always carries them, written in her own long-hand, when she broadcasts—“then, if I have to read it, I can.”
Gagman Ronnie Wolfe thinks up her scripts, but Monica turns them into “Monica-ese.”
“Otherwise things would just turn out the absolute terminus,” lisps Beryl.

(² Educating Archie, a comedy show broadcast on the Light Programme, a BBC radio station, featuring the English ventriloquist Peter Brough (1916-99) and his doll Archie Andrews)
(³ Starlight Hour, Beryl Reid’s own radio series)

The exclamation was used in the Sussex Express & County Herald of 14th December 1956, in the review of Newick Amateur Dramatic Society’s production of The Happiest Days of your Life, by the British playwright John Dighton (1909-89); the plot of this comedy deals with the accidental billeting of St Swithin’s Girls’ School at Nutbourne College, a boys’ school (the amateur actor Joel Farmer played St Swithin’s senior assistant mistress):

Jack Fell-Clark as the senior assistant master adopted a nicely balanced sophisticated approach to the ticklish situation for pupils and staff alike of compulsory co-education under the one small roof. His abject terror in the face of amorous advances by his opposite number, played by Joel Farmer with a keep-fit heartiness and a stiff-legged awkwardness which anticipated at any moment an exclamation of “Jolly Hockey Sticks,” was delightful. Excellent performance, both of these.

The word was soon used as an adjective. A review of The Bright One, a comedy by J. M. Fulton (pen name of the English actress Judy Campbell – 1916-2004), published in The Stage (London) of 27th November 1958, has the following about the English actress Kay Kendall (1927-59):

One meets her first as Agatha Purvis, a schoolteacher, all jolly hockey-stick type, exploring a grove in Greece with two members of a cruise party, an American tourist and a Dorset farmer.

The earliest noun use that I have found is from The Stage of 19th November 1964; the review of the first episode of Victoria Regina, a drama series about Queen Victoria, broadcast on ITV Granada, contains:

Patricia Routledge gave a fascinating touch of “jolly hockey stick” to the young Queen which I found entirely in keeping with the high-spirited girl who was Victoria before Albert sobered her down. Miss Routledge glided realistically from proudish miss through gauche kittenishness to unflinching obstinacy and hinted at passion. In her teenage Queen were all the attributes that we shall expect to see develop in the maturing woman.

No verb use is recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary (3rd edition – 2013), but I have found one, in The Stage of 12th January 1995:

In Cold Comfort Farm (BBC1, Sunday, January 1, 9.30pm) stereotypes were again unwrapped for our delight and presented in a jolly and refreshing countryside romp that tore apart the naff tradition of rural drama. The bold, well-educated Flora’s stay with her earthy country cousins was superbly played by Kate Beckinsale who jolly hockey-sticked her way into the bosom of her relatives, untouched by their ‘natural’ ways.
The skill showed in the way with which she managed to make the character remain attractively enthusiastic despite the slightly unwholesome undertones of her privileged class swooping on the lusty bumpkins and patronising them wherever she went.

A journalist named Frank Keating punned on jolly hockey sticks when he wrote about the women’s hockey county championship in The Illustrated London News of February 1982:

Jolly hockey sticks are raised for the final flourish at Portsmouth in the month’s middle weekend when the women’s semi-finals and final for the County Championship are held. The officials still insist the “gels” [= girls] wear those split shortie skirts that the Angela Brazils swirled to such effect aeons ago. One England international confided to me last season how, on a freezing afternoon, they can cause a terrible rash on the inside thighs. It is known in the locker rooms as FLT—Fat Leg Trouble! They have asked if they can wear tracksuits or even jeans—but tweeded officialdom still resists.

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