The Return of ‘Rondart’: Darts’ Greatest Variety Act Acknowledged

Ronald ‘Rondart’ Tomlinson was born in 1929 in West Auckland in the North East of England, but his aptitude for dart-blowing took him everywhere from Holland to Taiwan.

And now an exhibition in the Darlington Hippodrome is detailing and displaying his remarkable career and act to a whole new generation of people.

The exhibition is the outcome of a long process that began back in 2015, with photographer Elaine Vizor and her father Ron.

Elaine gave me the background: “My father and his younger brother Dennis both knew Ron very well. I’m not sure how early their paths crossed, but my dad and his brother followed Ron as best they could in the days without internet and when Rondart returned to the area from 1986 until he died in 2005, they would meet up in Bishop Auckland.”

“I remember they spoke about Rondart when I was a teenager and told me he was a great entertainer. I have to be honest and say that it was a bit lost on me as a youngster and it wasn’t until 2015 that I realised the importance of it. Rondart gave my dad and his brother gifts over the years and my dad kept them almost as sacred treasures. The gifts were all tokens of Ron’s work as the world’s greatest variety dart-blower and are the artefacts now on display at Darlington Hippodrome.”

It was a mission which gathered a new momentum after the death of Elaine’s father Ron back in 2019, and thanks to the great work of The Northern Echo‘s Chris Lloyd and others including local paper the Teesdale Mercury, a home has finally been found for the wonderful exhibits.

Dart-blowing is a curious but not unfamiliar act (particularly for anyone who has seen Wayne Mardle in exhibition) which was received to great acclaim in the golden age of variety performance. But how exactly did Rondart discover his unique talent?

“Ron learned the art of dart blowing from his uncle Syd Hall of Darlington who himself was the only World Champion dart blower,” Vizor explained. “Syd had learned the art from Rondart’s father and from the age of eight Ron had watched his father teach Syd in their West Auckland kitchen.”

“He would practice alongside them and by the age of fourteen Ron was a performer and appeared on TV too. My favourite artefact is Ron’s business card which he’d dated 1943 – so young yet already so professional! Ron’s father had taught himself to blow darts after being injured in World War 1 and no longer able to use his arms to throw darts conventionally. If not for this unfortunate injury it is unlikely that either Syd or Ron would have been introduced to the skill. They were both clearly naturally gifted and born to perform this act.”

Variety performance was a mainstay on our screens for many years, and it made Ron’s act one which took him both to many TV studios and locations across the globe. Even as far as Japan, as Elaine detailed.

“In the display is a set of red darts labelled ‘Japanese TV Show 1967’. Ron was the world’s only and greatest dart blowing variety act and when variety was at its heyday, Ron was also at the height of his profession. The display also includes original posters of UK Variety Shows including Rondart, and a flyer including Rondart in Hamburg.”

“There are also vintage photos of Ron as a young performer, a wonderful pathe film of him practicing his act with showgirls assisting him and on YouTube a video of a later appearance on the Paul Daniels Magic Show.”

Elaine has also been ably assisted in her research by Dr. Patrick Chaplin, who wrote an obituary for Rondart published in Darts World back in 2005 which appears in the exhibit.

Her efforts have also produced great responses from the public.

“Since my first connection with Chris Lloyd and the short feature on the BBC, there have been a couple of responses from the public. The first article in 2021 brought out a memory from someone who had seen Rondart’s act at Darlington Civic Theatre many years ago. I’ve also met Ron’s niece Maureen who revels in the publicity we are bringing to Rondart now as she has very fond memories of him and shares my hope for something permanent to honour Rondart.”

“From February 2022, working with Geraldine Hart, secretary of the Bishop Auckland People’s Museum, the Rondart artefacts had their first public exhibition at the Bishop Auckland Hippodrome. This was very well received and gave me the push to approach Darlington Hippodrome.”

“One of the artefacts is a 1987 Darlington Civic Theatre brochure in which Rondart and his wife Christina appear alongside the Beverley Sisters, Bobby Crush and others, so it seemed fitting to try this contact. I’m so glad I did as the response was amazing. Caitlin Barratt [of the Hippodrome] was so enthusiastic about showcasing Rondart and booked him on the spot. Rondart would appear at the Hippodrome again!”

The exhibition is a great testament both to the remarkable life of Ronald Tomlinson and also Elaine and her father’s efforts to bring new life to these wonderful artefacts. But the desire is very much that the journey does not end there.

Elaine said: “My hope, as the custodian of the artefacts, has always been to find a permanent home locally to display them to celebrate our local legend. Ideally somewhere where many people can see them. Rondart’s legacy is too good to lose and needs some permanent recognition of his talent, his fame, and his roots that brought him home. Hopefully the amazing and much appreciated temporary exhibitions will be stepping stones on the way to achieving this goal.”

The exhibition, at the Darlington Hippodrome, will be in place throughout panto season and up until April 2023. It is a great and fascinating tribute to a variety star of the oche. My thanks to Elaine Vizor and Patrick Chaplin for setting up the original contact.


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