View OED entry

jolly hockey sticks int. before 1960

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
Comments: 7

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  • Bryn_Wordhunt

    Might either of these usages tally with Sense B, adj. ?

    Home Economics (1960) Volume VI – Page 48, Forbes Publications:

    This, sometimes, is an approach that girls respond to more quickly than the jolly-hockey-sticks exhortation to “keep your shoulders back” “don’t slump” “stand up straight”.

    John O’ London’s (1960) Volume 3, page 450:

    Appalling dialogue of the jolly-hockey-sticks variety in a dreary novel …

    Might either of these usages tally with Sense C, n. ?

    Turner, G. (1967) The North Country,, London, Eyre & Spottiswoode, `page 45’:

    Similarly, they do not choose schools like Benenden (‘That’s a bit too O.K.,’ said one) or Cheltenham Ladies College (‘too jolly hockey sticks‘) for their girls and often settle for somewhere less ambitious, like Queenswood.

    Miller, R (1971) A Case of Cleavage in the Altogether , Penthouse, Volume 6 [issues 7-12], `page 111’:

    It is all jolly-hockey-sticks, happy campers and good clean fun.

    • David Crosbie

      I have a vivid memory of Beryl Reid saying ‘Jolly hockey sticks!’ well before 1960. This may, of course, be a false memory. But if so, where could it have come from? Have the OED team searched all the Educating Archie recordings with Monica? If my memory is really false, I suppose it must have been planted by one or more impressionists ‘doing’ Monica, or by one or more comediennes playing a similar character which I equated with Monica.

  • Bryn_Wordhunt

    Thomas, D-F (1955) Trouble No Worry to Touring Trio /
    Traveling Trio Grins In Spite of Trouble, Wilmington, The Sunday Star-News, 8th May, pp.1-A/2-A, has a usage that might be of interest, for Sense A, int.:

    Well, jolly hockey stick! That’s all I can say, girls,” added Joan with a note of false cheer. She uses the phrase, she says, when she gets down in the dumps. It always helps.

    Initially, a “Warsaw” by-line, in a US newspaper article on a [2,000 mile] motoring tour by three medical workers, from a New York hospital, might seem out of step with the OED’s suggested timeline for jolly hockey sticks; especially, given the singular use of stick. The article, however, focuses on an Anglo-Irish trio, who are offered overnight accommodation in the jail at Warsaw, North Carolina, whilst their car is repaired, and quotes Joan Jackson, a nurse from Surrey, England; returning the timeline to Britain and implying that the singular stick might be a mis-hearing by a US journalist.

    Joan is, also quoted with:

    Egad! What in the Kingdom could that be ?

    Oh! My cell … It was a dilly, don’t you know …

    Though whether her usage was a true representation … of upper or upper-middle-class speech, per Sense A in the OED entry, an imitation by a journalist playing on perceived stereotypes for their readership, or Joan quoting from a contemporary UK radio programme, seems open to interpretation.

  • hb1616

    The connection to Searle seems to stem from Geoffrey Willans, Ronald Searle, Molesworth, 1958, (published earlier in Young Elisabethan 1956), but the phrase there is:
    JOLLY HOCKEY GURLS. These gurls wear gym tunics and hav bulging muscles, they line the touchline and shout, ‘Hurrah for Coll!’

    Newnes’s Strand Magazine has this in 1936:
    Oh, the jolly old hockey-knockers ? Certainly, certainly, certainly.” ” Hockey- knockers ! ” hissed Angus in her ear. ” You heard what he said ! One of the finest steel- shafted, rubber-grip, self-compensating sets of clubs ever made by the Pro,

  • ammonshea

    It seems unlikely that this would count as evidence, since it appears to be used in a markedly different fashion, but given that it is such an odd collocation I thought I’d mention it.
    In The Manchester Guardian, 1919, 1 Dec., 7/2 the phrase appears:
    ‘And Jones, who was staying with you for the “hols,” would be certain to show you a jolly hockey stick or an ocean-going liner with real steam in the boiler.’

  • disqus_Ijx09n0zob

    From Vogue magazine, Aug. 1, 1957 “Wings of Your Own” by Geri Trotta:

    “She might as well make up her mind to act as navigator and be ready to creep around cold airports before dawn — and sometimes before breakfast. This sounds frightfully jolly hockey-sticks but has compensations: among them, a whole new world, unanchored in space and time.”

  • Martin J. Pitt

    Daily Mirror Wednesday, January 21, 1953

    Article about Beryl Reid:

    Miss Reld’s schoolgirl character had her big
    hit in *’ Starlight Hour ” just over two years ago.
    Today her ” Jolly hockey stick ”
    and ” Absolute terminus” are
    catch phrases.