Although born in the coal mining village of Whitwell, Derbyshire, on April 15th 1901, Joe was fortunate that his parents soon moved to the Queens public house at Whittington Moor, near Chesterfield, which housed a full size billiard table. Another fortunate coincidence was that the room had a 3 inch false floor, which allowed Joe to reach the table at a very young age. He made his first billiard century break at 11 years of age, and became local amateur billiard champion at 13.
At the outbreak of the First World War, with his father being called up to serve his country, Joe was taken under the wing of Ernest Rudge, who owned a billiard hall in Chesterfield. From there, Joe was used to "field the balls" for all the leading players of the day, witnessing what could be done on the table, which encouraged him greatly.
Early reports of his professional career gave a clear indication of his potential, and the success which was to follow. There were new, quite distinctive features in Joe's cue action, which held him in good stead when he turned his attention to snooker. For example, his method of sighting right down over the cue and his ultra rigid stance, were both considered worthy of note in the billiard press of 1923. Tom Newman remarked some years later, when Joe was getting the better of him in the billiards championships, that it was Joe's potting which made the difference, as much as 3000 points over a fortnights play.
Joe's first win over Tom Newman for the Professional Billiards Championship came in 1928 and his only defeat in the event was against Walter Lindrum in 1933 and 1934. Although quite capable of making century breaks, Walter never took to snooker. If he had maybe the record books would read differently today.
In 1924, Joe together with two billiard traders , first put forward the idea of a Professional Snooker Championship to the Billiards Association and Control Council, to complement the Amateur Championship which started in 1916. The idea was met with a marked lack of enthusiasm. The secretary of the governing body, the BA&CC, commented, " The suggestion will receive consideration at an early date, but it seems a little doubtful whether snooker as a spectacular game is sufficiently popular to warrant the successful promotion of such a competition."
At a meeting on September 1st 1926 however, it was finally agreed and in1927, the first professional championship was held.
There was 10 contenders for this first title, most of them far better known for their prowess at billiards; Tom Newman and Melbourne Inman being the most notable. Perhaps the relatively low entry was something to do with the 10 Guineas (£.50) entry fee demanded, half of which was to go towards the purchase of a suitably impressive trophy. As the first prize was a mere £10s (£50), no player made a fortune on the championship, but the title, trophy and prize money were duly won by Joe Davis. He beat Tom Dennis 20-11 in the final held at Camkins Rooms in Birmingham, making a top break of 57.
The following year, the championship was played on a challenge basis, with one player coming through to compete with the champion. Joe Davis successfully defended his title in 1928 against Fred Lawrence, winning 16-13.
The 1929 final was a repeat of the first tournament, Davis beat Dennis, this time by a margin of 19-14 and increased the top championship break to 61. The same pair also met in the 1930 final, with the same result over more frames: the winning margin was 25-12 and Joe's top break a championship record of 79.
With this record, it seemed almost inevitable that the only entrants for the 1931 championship were, yes, Joe Davis and Tom Dennis! It was staged in a back room at a Nottingham pub owned by Dennis. However home advantage did not help Dennis who lost 25-21. The following year saw three entrants for the championship, which was still run on a challenge basis. The New Zealander Clark McConachy won through to meet Joe, who together with Walter Lindrum and Tom Newman, were travelling the country, billed as the "Big Four" billiard players.
It was another famous billiard player, the great "all rounder" Willie Smith, who challenged Joe for the title in 1933 and again in 1935, while Tom Newman was the finalist in 1934. Joe won each time increasing the championship record break to 110 in 1935.
The whole basis of the championship changed in 1936, when it took on the regular knockout format that we know today. This new structure attracted 12 entrants, one of whom was the Australian Horace Lindrum, nephew of the great Walter Lindrum. Horace and Joe made it to the final, with Horace leading 27-24 at on stage, before the maestro, with his now customary final burst, turned the game round to win 34-27. Spectators crowded into Thurstons in Leicester Square, as snooker could at last be said to have overtaken billiards in popularity as a spectator sport.
Horace Lindrum featured again in the 1937 final, losing to Joe by the slightly smaller margin of 32-39. In 1938 and 1939, Sidney Smith won through to assume the runners up position. Joe beat him 37-24 in 1938 and 43-30 in 1939. Smith however, could take comfort from the fact that he had already won a place in the record books by cueing the worlds first total clearance, scoring 133 in a seperate event.
Fred Davis, Joe's younger brother, fought through some tough earlier rounds, to narrowly lose to Joe by the odd frame in the 1940 final.
The second world war prevented the staging of the world championship, just as it disrupted all sporting life. But in 1946, Joe Davis was back to take the title fir the 15th consecutive time over 20 years, by beating Horace Lindrum, in a closely fought final. The result was 78-67 and during this tournament, held at London's Royal Horticultural Hall, Joe made a total of six century breaks and raised the championship record break to 136. There upon he retired from future World Professional Championships.
On his retirement, many people in the game thought that Joe should have kept the trophy. Fortunately for today's champions, this did not take place, as a close circle of Joe's friends bought an exact replica, which was presented to him in 1947.
Joe wanted to retire undefeated, and probably saw his brothe Fred, as his main threat. Incredibly, over a series of games, Fred was the only one to beat Joe on level terms.
In 1947, Joe along with Sidney Smith and Bob Jelks, became a director of Leicester square Hall, formerly Thurstons. Ted Lowe was managing director. Joe of course was the top attraction at this new venue, and in 1955, against Willie Smith, did the ultimate, the first officially recognised break of 147. At this venue and others Joe raised large sums of money for various charities, and in 1968 was awarded the OBE.
It warms the heart today to think that Joe saw some of the benefits of his labours. This must have been evident to him during the 1978 Embassy World Snooker Championship, while watching his younger brother Fred playing his semi-final match. As Joe took his seat at the crucible, the packed audience rose as one to applaud him. Sadly, before the final Joe was taken ill and the man who for one whole generation embodied everything good about the game, died a few months later.