The All England Lawn Tennis Club used the iconic poster to promote a forthcoming exhibition
No sooner has the poster been catapulted back into the public eye with a claim that Fiona Butler is not the 'model' - the use of the image on a poster by the Lawn Tennis Association promoting an exhibition has sent a small faction into feverish palpitations and cries of horror resulting in the poster being pulled! (Well not on this page dedicated to the notoriety of the whole remarkable industry that has grown around this historic image).
By David Wilkes for the Daily Mail Published: 23:43, 18 March 2015 | Updated: 00:40, 19 March 2015
It's the cheeky poster that adorned the bedroom walls of countless teenage boys in the 1970s and 1980s.
Whether Athena's tennis girl is a suitable adornment for the genteel surrounds of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum is another matter entirely. Following a volley of criticism and cries of sexism on social media, the All England Lawn Tennis Club was forced to apologise for using the iconic poster to promote a forthcoming exhibition.
Earlier yesterday they had tweeted a photograph of the dress worn by the blonde model and her racket, alongside the famous image, to promote its Powerful Posters exhibition, due to open tomorrow. That such a saucy shot should appear to have won the approval of the historic and respectable club immediately raised eyebrows on Twitter.
Tennis fan Kishore Sharma was outraged, writing: 'Can't believe Wimbledon used this pic for upcoming 'Powerful Poster Exhibition'. 'Roger Federer fans who call themselves 'Fed's Angels' on Twitter, posted: 'Come on Wimble! I thought you were the classy slam!'
The offending image was swiftly deleted from the official Wimbledon Twitter account and a new post went up which said: 'We apologise for offence caused by the Athena Tennis Girl poster. It is a controversial piece of poster history but we do not endorse it.'
However, a Twitter user responded with the comment: 'The poster doesn't show the history of tennis, the girl isn't a tennis player, you are just publicising sexualisation of females.' And campaign group the Everyday Sexism Project asked: 'Wimbledon having deleted your tweet, can you confirm if the poster you tweeted will be included in your exhibition?'
Last night an All England Club spokesman said the poster would remain in the exhibition despite the apology. He added: 'We're aware that the poster has generated debate on social media and we decided to respond to some of the comments raised since we want to be clear that it is not a reflection of how we view women in tennis. 'The image in question is from a 1970s poster that was extremely popular, selling over 2million copies worldwide and it is part of an historic exhibition about tennis posters dating back to 1893. 'Not to include it in the exhibition would perhaps be an oversight since it is the most famous tennis poster of all time and should be regarded in this context only.'
Last night tennis fans were questioning whether the poster, one of the world's best-selling, really is that controversial after all. Sadie Hochfield tweeted: 'Ridiculous Wimbledon are getting stick for sharing iconic poster. Political correctness gone mad/don't pretend you've never seen it before!' Sara Smith-Jones posted: 'Wimbledon [has] nothing to apologise for – I think it's a great poster, is of its time in history.' Mark Staniforth said: 'Wimbledon has just tweeted an apology for any 'offence' caused by a link to the 40-year-old Athena Girl poster. The world's gone mad.'
Others merely saw the funny side. 'I think Wimbledon were right to delete the Athena poster tweet,' one Twitter user wrote. 'No one should have to see that appalling 1970s court surface again.'
The year-long exhibition will range from the earliest poster in the museum's collection, an 1893 advertisement for The Championships, through to the original artwork for this year's Grand Slam at the world famous venue in London SW19.
Controversy: But Peter Atkinson, a pensioner from Marsh Gate, Cornwall, claims the woman credited with being the model in the photograph, Fiona Butler, is wrong and that it in fact shows his ex-wife - from the Daily Mail in February 2015
- Peter Atkinson claims his ex-wife was the photographer's tennis coach
- He says she told him she posed for a shoot with Martin Elliot in 1972
- A postcard of the picture postmarked 1974 seems to back his claim
- As does a 1974 calendar showing a photo apparently from the same series
By Damien Gayle for MailOnline - all images copyrighted as shown SWNS.com / Press Association (PA) Wire / Martin Elliot / Pyramid / Stefan Rousseau
A postcard and a calendar from 1974 may finally prove a pensioner's claim that there has been a mix-up over the true identity of the model in Athena's famous 'Tennis Girl' poster.
Photographer Martin Elliot always credited model Fiona Butler, his then girlfriend, as starring in the dream-like photograph taken on a sunny day in 1976.But Peter Atkinson has for 30 years claimed the bare bum in the picture, which became famous in the 1980s and decorated a generation of boys' bedrooms, in fact belonged to his ex-wife.And now, he says, he has found proof.
‘Fiona [Butler] has always said she had a photo shoot with her knickers off with Martin,' said Mr Atkinson. 'She thinks that the photo shoot they had was the one that was used - that's not the case.'
Exhibit A is a postcard Mr Atkinson bought off eBay showing the Tennis Girl picture, but stamped with a 1974 postmark - two years before Mr Elliot claims he shot the photograph. / Exhibit A: Mr Atkinson claims to have bought this postcard from eBay. Postmarked 1974, it nevertheless shows the unmistakable Tennis Girl image, which by the photographer's account wasn't taken until 1976
Exhibit B is a 1974 calendar unearthed by the pensioner. It is illustrated with a photograph so similar to the Tennis Girl shot it seems likely they could have been taken during the same shoot. Exhibit B: This 1974 calendar shows what appears to be another photograph from the same set as the Tennis Girl shot, which Mr Atkinson says is further evidence that the iconic photo was in fact a picture of his ex
The 72-year-old also claims that Mr Elliot, who died of cancer in 2010, had confessed to him in a meeting that Ms Butler is not the real Tennis Girl. 'Fiona was photographed by Martin Elliot, but that was years after the initial photo was taken,' Mr Atkinson said. 'Initially Martin photographed my ex-wife, and tried to flog it to the poster manufacturer Athena. 'Athena weren't interested to begin with, but eventually they came back to him and commissioned him to take the photo properly and lent him some professional gear.'
Mr Atkinson says Mr Elliot did indeed recreate the original shoot four years later with Ms Butler, who was then 18 and the photographer's girlfriend. But the image that went global and adorned boys' walls around the world was from the original set, insists Mr Atkinson, and shows his ex-wife.
A best-seller throughout the late 1970s and 1980s, Athena's Tennis Girl poster a worldwide impact. It was banned in several countries and even publicly torn to pieces in the Middle East as an example of Western sexual decadence. The girl in the photo, which remains popular to this day, remained anonymous until 1989, when Fiona Butler stepped forward to announce that she was the face behind the behind.
Mr Elliot's story is that the shot was taken at the now defunct Birmingham University courts at Edgbaston on a hazy September afternoon in 1976. Chewed tennis balls belonging to Miss Butler's dog were scattered across the court.
Mr Elliott went on to sell the image rights to Athena but retained the copyright, earning him an estimated £250,000 in royalty payments. Two million copies were sold worldwide.
Miss Butler, who is now Mrs Walker and a mother-of-three, has previously said she had no regrets about posing for the photograph, even though she never earned a penny from it.
But Mr Atkinson believes she had been misled by Mr Elliot.
He says his ex-wife, to whom he was married between 1980 and 1986, revealed to him during their relationship that she had posed for the photograph while working as a tennis coach.
Mr Elliot, one of her pupils, talked her into posing for him in a photo shoot in 1972, he says.
The 'real' Tennis Girl: Fiona Walker - née Butler - poses with an original copy of the poster
His ex-wife wishes to remain anonymous, apparently because it was her word against the late Mr Elliot's, who had always refused to publicly acknowledge Mr Atkinson's claims. But before his death five years ago, Mr Elliot met the pensioner, who lives near Camelford, Cornwall, and allegedly admitted he had been lying.
'He confessed i to me - but I can't prove it,' Mr Atkinson said. 'He said that he would give it me in writing, on a postcard, but it never arrived.'
Since Mr Elliot's death the royalties for the poster have been paid to his widow, Noelle Bott.
The late photographer has previously said of the image: 'If I had a pound for ever model that has laid claim to being the girl, and every photographer that has claimed they took the photo, I'd be a very rich man.'
From the Daily Mail - 6th July 2014
- White handmade dress featured in iconic Tennis Girl poster of the 1970s
- It was worn by Fiona Butler, 18, when photograph was taken in Birmingham
- Lace dress sold at auction in Stourbridge, West Midlands for £15,500
The white dress that featured in the iconic Tennis Girl poster of the 1970s sold at auction yesterday for £15,500.
The handmade dress with lace trim was being worn by 18-year-old Fiona Butler when the image was captured by her then-boyfriend, Martin Elliott, on the University of Birmingham tennis courts in 1976.
Fieldings Auctioneers, which offered the dress as a part of a lot that included the tennis racquet from the image and two copies of the poster, confirmed it had smashed its £2,000 estimate at the auction in Stourbridge in the West Midlands.
Commercial photographer Mr Elliott, who died in 2010, sold the image licence and the photo was reprinted in the 1977 Athena poster, which sold more than two million copies.
The dress was made by Ms Butler’s friend Carol Knotts, who said: ‘I’ve had it tucked away in a cupboard for all those years.
‘It’s a little piece of tennis history.’
l to r - The handmade dress with lace trim was being worn by 18-year-old Fiona Butler when the iconic 'Tennis Girl' image was captured by her then-boyfriend, Martin Elliott, on the University of Birmingham courts in 1976 / Fieldings Auctioneers, which offered the dress as a part of a lot that included the tennis racquet from the image and two copies of the poster, confirmed it had smashed its £2,000 estimate when it sold at the auction
She received some ribbing for the over-simplified advice she dispensed in her party-planning book Celebrate last year – but it hasn’t stopped Pippa Middleton’s writing career taking another leap forward.
The Duchess of Cambridge’s sister has joined Vanity Fair magazine, where her first article covered the upcoming Wimbledon fortnight.
It mixed nostalgic memories of childhood visits to the tournament with tips for those going this year – with just a touch of the back-to-basics approach that made her the butt of those unkind jokes.
But as Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter explained when he signed her up: ‘She’s a keen observer of British lifestyle pursuits and customs. She is also an avid sportswoman and we look forward to her take on traditional English pursuits, beginning with Wimbledon.’
Indeed, her sporty credentials, both as a spectator and participant, are impeccable.
She attended Marlborough College on a sports scholarship, has taken part in the world’s longest cross-country ski race, and last week was watching the tennis at Queen’s with mum Carole.
The 29-year-old’s debut Vanity Fair article is illustrated with full-page images of her on the tennis court and cycling to the All-England Club.
However, spoilsports at the magazine have refused to release the pictures for us to share with Mail on Sunday readers.
So, with the help of photographer Alison Jackson – known for her candid portraits of the great and the good using uncanny lookalikes – we’ve recreated our own tongue-in-cheek Pippa-style guide to Wimbledon...
Available on the internet is a condensed version of the Vanity Fair article entitled 'Wimbledon Whoops' by Pippa Middleton :
I was at Wimbledon with my dad watching Tim Henman and Pete Sampras play. We were sitting quite close to the players’ court entrance. When Tim Henman walked onto the court, the crowd cheered him, and as he neared our seats my dad mistakenly yelled, “Come on, Pete!” That was embarrassing.
Gussie Moran’s risqué tennis outfit, designed by Ted Tinling, caused a sensation at the 1949 Wimbledon because of her lace-trimmed knickers. Tinling, in his book Sixty Years in Tennis, wrote, “The situation snowballed out of all proportion A racehorse, an aircraft and a restaurant’s special sauce were named after her. She was voted the best dressed sports woman by the US Fashion Academy.”
This poster (referring to the original Athena poster) is a tennis classic with another famous bum! All the boys at school had this on their bedroom walls. I’ve been sent similar cheeky ones by friends over the years, including this Happy Birthday card from my grandparents when I was 15—if only they’d known what was to come!
Although we have never been introduced, many of us know this lady a little better than we should.
Her cheekiest of poses on a sunny tennis court way back in the 1970s remains one of the world’s best selling posters.
Now, after more than 30 years and countless refusals to pose again, Fiona Walker has decided to show her face for the first time.
Aged 52 and married to a wealthy businessman, she has no regrets about her moment in the spotlight – even though she has never earned a penny from it.
She is not even a tennis fan, confessing to never liking the game.
Mrs Walker was an 18-year-old art student called Fiona Butler when she agreed to pose for her then boyfriend, an ambitious young photographer called Martin Elliott.
With a borrowed sports dress and racket and wearing her father’s white plimsolls (and of course very little else) she and Elliott created one of the most iconic images of the 1970s.
Court on Canvas: Fiona Walker poses next to the iconic Athena poster she appeared in in 1976
The shot was taken at the now defunct Birmingham University courts at Edgbaston on a hazy September afternoon in 1976. Chewed tennis balls belonging to her dog were scattered across the court.
Elliott went on to sell the image rights to Athena but retained the copyright, earning him an estimated £250,000 in royalty payments. Two million copies were sold worldwide.
Now a mother of three, who works as an illustrator, Mrs Walker is philosophical about not being paid for her part,saying she remains ‘incredibly proud’ of her pose.
‘I am the worst person ever when it comes to money. To be honest, it didn’t bother me at the time, and once it became successful the time had passed,’ she said.
‘My mother has a very faded copy in what used to be my father’s study. I just have it in the form of a very small postcard.
Timeless image: A teenage boy's bedroom was not complete without the poster in the Seventies
‘I think it’s the light that makes it so appealing. It never ceases to make me smile when I see it. My children have told their friends that I was the girl in the poster, but most people don’t believe it.
‘I’ve never gone out of my way to court attention, and have declined being photographed publicly since then, because I am quite a private person.’
So what made her decide it was time to reveal herself now? Mrs Walker is helping to promote an exhibition on lawn tennis as a subject in art, which will be held at Birmingham’s Barber Institute of Fine Arts this summer. She believes her picture has earned ‘a place in the history of tennis’.
Elliott, who died last year at 63, would have been thrilled at the legacy. She said: ‘I think Martin would be very proud of the fact that his picture is in the exhibition.’
Not quite as cheeky: Fiona puts her tennis whites back on in 1980
Mark Brown, arts correspondent Tuesday 22 March 2011 17.35 GMT
As an 18-year-old girl in the long hot summer of 1976 Fiona Walker, then Butler, cheerfully allowed her boyfriend, Martin Elliott, to photograph her knickerless, walking towards a tennis net. Elliott sold the image to Athena, and up it speedily went on the bedroom walls of boys everywhere, becoming one of the world's biggest-selling posters.
Now, the Athena Tennis Girl poster is to be included in what organisers say is the first exhibition exploring lawn tennis as a subject in fine art.
Walker was not then, nor ever has been, a tennis player. "I don't have the hand-eye co-ordination," she says. Nor has she made a penny from the poster. "I was naive and was paid nothing."
But she has fond memories of the photoshoot – in which she wore her dad's plimsolls – and harbours no embarrassment by the image. "It never ceases to make me smile when I see it. I have no regrets about it," she says.
Elliott – who did do very well out of the image – died last year.
Walker was reunited with the picture when she attended the launch of the exhibition called Court on Canvas. The show is being held this summer at Birmingham's Barber Institute of Fine Arts, less than half a mile from Ampton Road, Edgbaston, where the sport was played for the first time.
The exhibition will include more than 40 works by painters including LS Lowry, Stanley Spencer, Paul Nash, David Hockney and Eric Ravilious.
It will be curated by the Barber's director, Ann Sumner, a keen tennis player and fan. So keen, she recalls: "I was giving birth to my youngest daughter during the Steffi Graf Wimbledon final of 1991 and was very annoyed they didn't have a television available."
She hopes the show will be fun and illuminating but it also has a serious intent, not least as social history helping to chronicle the emancipation of women and the breakdown of class structures.
Lawn tennis was one of the first sports in which women could participate freely, but in the early works women are shown wearing heels, absurdly long dresses and hats as they serve and return. It was only in the 1930s that the legs came out.
The Tennis Players by Christopher Wood 1921
"There are stunning images in the exhibition, and I think people will be amazed by their breadth," said Sumner.
The show includes art from the 1870s until the present day, with something of a gap from the second world war until the 1970s, during which period British interest in tennis declined.
The sexiness of lawn tennis will also be seen in a work going on public display for the first time, a portrait of 1930s Wimbledon finalist Bunny Austin – the man who controversially wore shorts – in which he is painted shirtless.
Shakespeare’s painting ‘The Tennis Player’ is on loan to the Barber Institute from Dudley Museum and Art Gallery.
A parallel exhibition featuring memorabilia, photographs and outfits will chart the early history of the game created by two pals, Harry Gem and Jean Batista Augurio Perera.
The exhibition featured 'The Tennis Player' by Eric Gill (1923) the original image (white on black background) is difficult to see so I have reversed the image to give a clearer view:
Ravilious also brought his unique talent to this exhibition : It features an image of his Preparatory Design on a Grand Theme for Sport for the British Pavilion of the Patis International Exhibition of 1937 - watercolour on paper. It is very stylised and Ravilious wanted to expand to other sports but Oliver Hill, who was the overall organiser of the content of the exhibition was very much determined to have his favourite sport (tennis) featuring. (Source is 'Court on Canvas: Tennis in Art' by Ann Sumner.)
Page updated 29th July 2015