Martin J. Pitt supplied verifiable evidence from 1953.
Jolly hockey sticks! is used as an exclamation in humorous representations or imitations of a manner of speech associated with English public schools, expressing boisterous enthusiasm. The phrase is said to have been coined by actress Beryl Reid on the British radio comedy series Educating Archie (1950–58). However, the OED‘s researchers have been unable to confirm that it was actually used on the programme. After listening to archived recordings of Educating Archie, the closest example researchers were able to find was in an episode dating from 7 December 1952, in which the schoolgirl character Monica, played by Reid, seems to say ‘Jolly gym slips! I’m all for it.’ We have also been unable to verify suggestions that the phrase was used in the film The Belles of St. Trinian’s (1954) or the cartoons by Ronald Searle which inspired it.
The earliest concrete evidence we were able to uncover is from 1960, in a comic novel about the Royal Navy:
Cedric joined them. ‘Jolly hockey sticks, Julia,’ he said.
1960 ‘John Winton’ We saw the Sea ii., p. 31
By 1962, the phrase was being used adjectivally in the press (‘a staunch jolly hockey-sticks English nurse’: 1962 Times Literary Supplement 5 Oct.), which suggests that it must have been rather widely known. Can you help us find earlier evidence, or verify one of the theories about the phrase’s origin?
Posted by OED_Editor on 16 October 2013 16.52