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Peter Adolph - Inventor of Subbuteo

Peter Adolph 1916 - 1994

Peter Adolph was the inventor of the table football game Subbuteo. He was born in Brighton in 1916, the only child of Albert Adolph and Gladys Broderick. He served in the RAF during the Second World War, and after being demobbed he went to live with his widowed mother, who by now was living in Langton Green near Tunbridge Wells.

He was a keen ornithologist, and after walking out of a bookkeeping job at the Pensions Office following a row with a superior, he earned money by dealing in rare birds’ eggs, which at the time was legal. However this was not a fulltime job, and searching for a business opportunity, Adolph came upon the idea of inventing a table football game. Newfooty, another table football game had been invented in the 1920s, and Adolph improved on the figures used in those games by making them lighter and more manoeuvrable. His first prototype figure had as its base a button taken from his mother’s coat. He named the game Subbuteo, after the Eurasian Hobby, Falco Subbuteo, a bird of prey. The game was patented in May 1947, and after advertising in the Boy’s Own Paper, orders quickly began to flood in.

Subbuteo became a very popular game, particularly after England won the World Cup in 1966. Early production of Subbuteo centred on Langton Green, but to keep up with demand further manufacturing and distribution centres opened in Paddock Wood, Chiddingstone Causeway and Tunbridge Wells. At the height of its popularity the company employed hundreds of people, many of them home workers who hand painted the small moulded plastic figures.

In 1969 Peter Adolph sold Subbuteo to toy manufacturer’s Waddingtons for £250,000. He stayed on as brand director, but soon left due to the corporate culture at Waddingtons. The headquarters and production remained in Warwick Park, Tunbridge Wells until 1982, when it moved to County Durham. The building in Warwick Park is now a hotel, and a Royal Tunbridge Wells Civic Society plaque commemorates the Subbuteo factory.

Peter Adolph married Pamela Whelan in 1954. In 2006 their son Mark Adolph wrote a book, Growing Up with Subbuteo: My Dad Invented the World’s Greatest Football Game, telling his father’s story and the invention of the game.

Peter Adolph died in 1994, and Waddingtons sent a three foot high floral tribute to the funeral in the shape of a Subbuteo player wearing the kit of Queen’s Park Rangers, the football club he supported. On his headstone there is an engraving of the hobby falcon, Falco Subbuteo. In August 2023 the English Masters Subbuteo Tournament was held at the Amelia Scott in Tunbridge Wells, and Tunbridge Wells will host the 2024 Subbuteo World Cup.

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