HOW do you become the world’s only professional dart-spitter, touring the planet for four decades, appearing on TV stations from Japan to Spain, when you hail from a humble mining community in south Durham?

The rise of Rondart is remarkable, and now we are in possession of the full facts, thanks to the members of the Tomlinson family of West Auckland who have been in touch.

Rondart’s father was Harry Tomlinson, who was born in 1888. He married Elizabeth Hall in 1909 and they lived at Heselden, south of Peterlee, where Harry worked as a miner.

In June 1916, Harry enlisted in the Durham Light Infantry and was sent to northern front. Here, in the confined space of the trenches where there wasn’t room to swing a cat letalone throw an arrow, Harry devised the pastime of dart-spitting.

The dart was placed sideways in the mouth, the teeth gripping its wooden barrel. Using spit force and tongue propulsion, the dart was emitted at great speed, somehow turning round in its flight so that it reached the dartboard point first.

Then came the shell with Harry’s name on it.

“According to family folklore, he was injured in a blast and left for dead, face down in the wet trenches for three days, before he was rescued and taken to a field hospital,” says his grandson, John Brass, who now lives in Worcestershire but sends emails from his “spennylad” address which gives a clue to where he comes from.

Harry was eventually invalided out of the army on September 24, 1917, with rheumatic fever and severe injuries.

“There’s a family photo, taken about 1924, and Harry is sitting awkwardly in a rudimentary wheelchair,” says John. “You can see his arms and legs are limp.”

The family were reduced to living in a hut in Horden Colliery, surviving on his 13s 9d a week compensation and whatever Elizabeth could earn through taking washing in.

The local community presented him with a silver badge to show he had served his country and wasn’t a deserter.

But there is an entrepreneurial streak within the Tomlinson family, and Harry, despite his difficulties, became a successful coal merchant and owned several wagons.

Several of his sons were his drivers – he had nine children, the youngest of which was Ron, who was born in West Auckland in 1929.

Harry passed his dart-spitting skills onto his wife’s brother, Stephen “Syd” Hall, and it was he who turned them into a beer money club act. He was most famous for his interval entertainment at Darlington’s Arcade cinema in Skinnergate (now a bingohall) where a dartboard was lowered in front of the screen and from the front of the balcony, he spat darts over the heads of the punters in the stalls to hit the bull’s eye. This must have been 36.5ft away, so it was one hell of a spit.

The Daily Mirror heard of these extraordinary exploits and on March 18, 1938, held the first Pouff Darts Championship of Great Britain at the Dorchester Hotel in London. There were seven competitors – five from the south-east plus Syd and the only female entrant, Miss Edna Beattie, who came from Darlington.

They had “ten goes of three pouffs each” from a standard 9ft oche, and Syd won the world championship with 644 points. He was given three guineas and a silver cup.

There was no second world championship in 1939. This might have been because the world had more serious things on its mind with the inevitability of the approaching war, or it might have been because the inaugural champion was in jail.

People recall that Syd was a “Jack the lad”, a “lovable rogue”. He worked as a moulder at Shaw and Knight, the well company at Tindale Crescent where he shaped basins and toilets out of porcelain – and shillings and half-crowns out of pewter.

They were apparently perfect, and he would ride out in the family coal wagons and spend them in faraway places like Penrith or Blackpool.

“He lived at Denton village, near Bolam,” his cousin Bill Tomlinson once recalled. “He broke the moulds and chucked them in the local middem with other rubbish where they were spotted by an old lady. She took them to the police and the result was that Syd was jailed for three years, cut to about 18 months.”

But Syd had passed his skills on to his seven-year-old cousin, Ron, who would become renowned the world over as Rondart.

“I stayed at his house in Darlington in 1936 for a week and he was showing me how to blow darts,” remembered Rondart in 2003. “When I got back home to West Auckland, my dad was so pleased, and from then I would practise for 15 minutes twice a day every day, including the lunch hour from school.

“I never did know what Uncle Syd did for a living, but I do know he served time in prison for forgery!”

Ron’s big break came when he was 12 and he appeared at a talent competition called Ben Jenkins’ Welsh Discoveries at the Theatre Royal in Blyth on a Saturday night. His act was firing a dart out of his mouth and knocking a lit cigarette off his sister’s head. He won the competition, returned home to West Auckland, packed his suitcase and opened in Colwyn Bay on the Monday.

The show soon transferred into London where he was on £2-a-week and he appeared with a girl who whistled and a boy who did farmyard impressions.

Ron served in the RAF during the war but in peacetime launched the Rondart act on the world of variety. He never topped the bill, but once seen, he was never forgotten.

He toured for a while with Middlesbrough escapologist Jimmy Crossini. They’d give local football stars £15-a-week to join them on stage on play head tennis. When Ron was in Newcastle, he booked Jackie Milburn and Bobby Mitchell; when in the Boro, he had Brian Clough and Lindy Delapenha doing keepie-ups.

In 1957, Ron married his glamorous assistant, Jeannie, and they toured the world for 20 years until they divorced. In 1979, he married Maria Cristina, a showgirl from Colombia who then joined him on stage.

Ron would crouch quite low and spit his dart upwards, bursting balloons in front of his sidekick or knocking cigarettes of their heads.

As Memories 501 told, he appeared on BBC1 in Billy Smart’s Circus in 1967, the Wheeltappers and Shunters Club in 1976 with Bernard Manning, and on the Paul Daniels Magic Show in 1985.

Memories 501 also said that he retired with Cristina to Witton Park after his last TV appearance, on the Spanish version of the Generation Game, in 1997, and he died there in 2005. However, the article on Rondart stimulated such interest that his story was told once more on television, on BBC Look North, on Tuesday evening.

TO tidy up loose ends, Harry Tomlinson – the First World War soldier who invented the dart-spitting concept – died in 1946, having had his coal wagons requisitioned by the government at the start of the war.

“He didn’t get any compensation and so when his sons finished their war work, they had nothing,” says Harry’s grandson, John Tomlinson, who still lives in West.

As a consequence, the Tomlinson entrepreneurial streak came to the fore once more. The oldest son, Jack, became a fruitier with several shops; Harry (who was also known as Curly and appeared on stage with Syd Hall) became a timber merchant in Staindrop; Robert had a garage which he developed into a scrapyard on land which he bought in 1959 for £650 and which was sold in 2008 for £2.5m for housing; Bill became a coal merchant, and Douglas founded the electrical contractors Tomlinson Longstaff which still runs in West.

And the youngest, Ron, became the world’s only professional dart-spitter. Ron’s widow, Cristina, who settled in well in Witton Park, returned to Colombia after his death.

SYD HALL, the first and only World Darts Pouffing Champion, didn’t return to the oche after the Second World War. He worked for Cleveland Bridge in Darlington and died in 1956.

The really big mystery of this story concerns Miss Edna Beattie, of Darlington, who entered the 1938 world championship – and came third, ahead of five mile entrants.

The Daily Mirror described her as “an attractive dark-haired young woman”, and, with her “dark eyes dancing with fun”, she told the reporter: “Gee, I’m so excited that I’ve got a prize. I have been playing for a month. I just retreated foot by foot and now I can blow a dart 20ft.”

There are Tomlinsons a-plenty around West Auckland, but whatever happened to Miss Edna Beattie and her dancing dark eyes? Please email if you know.

And were any of your relatives in strange variety acts, like the chap we told of last week who appeared at the Darlington Hippodrome with Rondart? He had no arms but shaved volunteers from the audience live on stage using a razor held between his toes.