Much is written about the rules of Mornington Crescent. Some is fantasy; much concerns parlour game variations never played on air; some even claim there are no rules.
As someone who remembers the first radio broadcasts of the game I thought it was about time
the record was set straight.
I have never seen a copy of NF Stovold's much vaunted Mornington Crescent: Rules and Origins - I'm not even sure it exists. (If you know otherwise please email and I'll add your information to this web page.) It is said to define not only the rules but also the variations that have evolved over the years. Quite why a whole book is needed to document such a simple game I can't imagine.
Some say when the game was first played it was based on the 1952 pocket A-Z and a simple formula dictating to which pages one could move and to which pages one could not move. The art of the game was to make a move that made it impossible (ideally) to move to one of the pages on which Mornington Crescent appeared on the next move or in three moves time, or even in five moves time (brains of a Grand Master required!) - i.e. to stop the opposition arriving at Mornington Crescent.
The original (in) joke was that listeners were not told what the rules were so had no idea what was going on. Later the panellists realised that since nobody knew what the rules were there was no point sticking to any sort of rules - so they didn't.
The game became a bit of a free for all and players like Willie Rushton invented gambits to justify their departure from the straight and narrow - or should that be the Circle Line. Eventually any rules that might have existed were so often ignored that they fell into total disuse and the game became somewhat surreal.
Recently the idea that there are no rules has gained ground amongst some listeners so it is rumoured that someone, possibly Jon Naismith, is insisting that some sort of rules be followed, if not quite the original rules - yet. So latterly, in an attempt to bring back some structure, before each game you will usually hear the panellists agreeing (loose) rules that will govern the playing of that game.
At the beginning of the series before last the panellists are said to have devised a set of Armitage rules - i.e. guidelines really - which they christened SouthEast (no doubles, no shuffles, no Nidd). They apparently played the first game of the series by their own "rules" and although they seemed to have difficulty remembering any rules (let alone sticking to them) it did re-introduce the in-joke element which amused the panellists. Since the audience seemed to enjoy it too further rounds in the series were played by more or less the same rules.
But since nobody seems to remember the original, simple rules I wonder if it would
perhaps be an idea to go back to playing the game as originally intended?
Hats off to Jack Dee who is quickly mastering even the more obscure variations with
which some of the old hands are trying to bamboozle him
(though you might want to brush up on the effect of the Mortimer Variations on Nidd, Jack).
The idea that the game has been played since 1567 is, I believe, untrue. As far as I know the game was developed and codified for I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue (based on a simpler game devised by Barry Cryer and others) and only subsequently were similar or similar sounding pre-existing games (such as Tun Crescent) co-opted into a spurious lineage.
The 'international incidents' ascribed to disputes arising from playing Mornington Crescent in the 19th century are nothing to do with Mornington Crescent. Many of these arose from the French game "Eclu" popular when duelling was all the rage. Some pundits have retrospectively renamed this game Mornington Crescent again to seek to substantiate the lineage. (Does anyone know the rules of Eclu? (Or how to show the accent on the E?))
Nobody knows how many Mornington Crescent Rules Committees there are in UK and elsewhere.
However, these have nothing to do with the BBC Radio 4 programme. These committees may well
set rules for their local jurisdictions but ISIHAC ignores them, even disdains them for
overcomplicating what is after all a fundamentally simple game. Perhaps if the various
Committees could get together to agree a common set of rules ISIHAC might acknowledge them
but since what committees seem to enjoy most is hurling rocks at each other, this seems unlikely.
Somewhere in my attic I think I may have a handwritten copy of the original rules. These were not
from published sources, but the rules I worked out from knowing the basic principles, listening to
the show and having a copy of the 1952 mini A-Z. I'll have a rummage to see if I can find them.
If you have any questions to ask or information to contribute about Mornington Crescent or its rules please email. But please: no explanations of weird and wonderful variations that only you and one other person have ever played; please, no mud slinging about rival Rules Committees; and please no 'interesting' stories about how you once played a game that lasted several thousand moves...
Contributions from BBC insiders welcome (contributions will be published anonymously
if you wish).
This section has now moved to its own page, please click here:
Mornington Crescent Rules Forum
Mornington Crescent - Rules Contributions and FAQs
Mornington Crescent - List of Web Sites
Mornington Crescent - Annual Get Together
Mornington Crescent - Rules Suggestions
Mornington Crescent - Annual Get Together Rules Questions
Mornington Crescent - Rules