Tony Bath - In Memoriam

Tony Bath, 1926-2000. Wargamer.
Founder of the Society of Ancients.
Editor, Slingshot, 1965-1969.
Life Vice President, 1969-2000.

By Phil Barker

Without Tony Bath, there would be no Slingshot for us to read, Ancient Wargaming would not have become the most influential and popular branch of the hobby and the art of Wargames Campaigns would be much less richly developed. If his name is less well known among the wargaming fraternity than, say, that of Don Featherstone, it is because his great ability was combined with extreme modesty.

I first met Tony back in the days of pre-history. I had recently joined the Birmingham War Games Club as its third member and we had taken a modern warfare demonstration game down to the very first war games show, organised by Don Featherstone in London. A small quiet man was looking after a small display devoted to Ancients and I had a long enthralling conversation with him before being struck moderately dumb by realising this was someone whose name had appeared in a Book. I had been enthralled by the 30mm ancient flats on display (probably Deryck Guyler's; Tony was not a brilliant painter) and had asked how I could get some. Tony told me how.

I was thus introduced to a life of crime. The only ancient figures available then in the whole world were German flats and the German manufacturers refused to export to Britain, considering it too much trouble. And that is why the British figure industry today exports all over the world, and the Germans sell a few flats to collectors. All the 20 odd Ancient players in Britain got their figures from Tony, who obtained sample figures from British servicemen in Germany and pirated them with plaster of paris moulds and a lead/solder mix melted on the kitchen stove. No one, including Tony, was happy about this, but the dreadful alternative was to do without.

Having acquired and painted a Byzantine army, I needed an opponent, and it turned out that Tony was the closest, only 3 hours away in my first car. Every month or so, I would drive down at the weekend and play a couple of games, sleeping at a local B&B because the Bath's hadn't room. On the table, Tony was a master of misdirection and timing. I only ever won one game, and that was because of technical surprise. His rules made provision for cataphracts, but not having any of his own, the effect of mine on one glorious occasion caught him off-guard. More often, I got caught out by his cunning deployment or trampled flat by his elephants, an arm of which he was the great master. "Pachidermi Horrendi Antoninii" his opponents used to call them.

The next step was when Tony formed the Society of Ancients. Because of Tony's American contacts, this was international from the start. Deryck Guyler became President, I became Secretary when the bloke elected to the post vanished from view and Tony took care of all the real work as Treasurer and Editor of Slingshot. In those days, the editor did not loll in sybaritic luxury in front of a computer screen. The duties included typing out every word on a stencil in a manual typewriter, putting that stencil into a second-hand, primitive and messy Gestetner spirit duplicator, turning the handle, hanging out the sheets to dry, collating and stapling them and despatching them by post. Luckily, when you got Tony, you got a superb team including Mary and their pretty daughter. As well as being an expert typist, Mary was once voted by the AGM to be the perfect wargamer's wife, the clincher being when it was learned that she put the figures away for Tony after games, which with flats involved removing them from playing bases and fitting them into storage cards. This was not her only influence on the development of wargaming. As another example, when I brought along the first ever wargames table cloth, she insisted on hemming it.

Tony's other great innovation was the campaign. His "Hyboria" postal campaign involved most of the leading ancient wargamers of the day. Thanks to its journal, "The Shadizar Herald", it incorporated not only tactical and economic factors, but politics, crime, skulduggery, gossip, slander and even some quite respectable epic poetry. It set the standard for all subsequent campaigns, its mechanisms being made available for all in a book that has only recently gone out of print.

Tony also introduced the weekend players convention. Every player who could make it would converge on Southampton, staying in local boarding houses and playing in a church hall. Saturday was spent in playing games towards the Society's wargames league and Sunday was devoted to a tongue-in-cheek free for all on a single huge table. This was great fun if you could keep your troops out of the brewery. The idea was taken up and similar SOA meetings were held around the country, of which those at Worthing were the most notable. At that time, the only other wargames convention held in the UK, and the only one with trade stands, was the Nationals, put on each year by the club that won it the previous year. Each of six regions fielded a team, one member of which competed in each era, so only the 6 top Ancient players in the country could take part. The local club conventions with demo games and trade stands but little competitive element came along later and were originally intended as show cases for recruitment. The direct descendants today of the Tony-style conventions are the network of DBM pairs competitions, intended like his for ordinary players to have fun rather than for the primary benefit of "top guns".

Tony's table top rules with their simple elegant mechanisms remained the standard until the advent of three-dimensional figures, firstly plastics from Airfix which were often modified with great skill to increase variety and then metal figures from Minifigs and later others. They could have been modified to suit the new figures of varied frontage, but Tony had no intention of replacing his collection of flats and saw no personal need. His rules had never been a commercial venture for him, being given away free or at cost. Others accordingly filled the gap.

His next influence on ancient wargaming came with his employment until his retirement by the expanding Minifigs as a manager. During this time, the initially Horse & Musket based enterprise introduced a huge range of Ancient and Medieval figures in both the traditional 25mm scale and the then new 15mm scale.

Lastly, Tony acted as returning officer for Society Elections. This was because no one could conceive of him acting anyway except honestly and for the good of the Society. He will be missed. A nicer bloke never lived.

Paul Szuscikiewicz added:

"Is that how one says it: As simply as that. The soup is hot. The soup is cold. Antony is living, Antony is dead. Shake with terror when such words pass your lips for fear that they be untrue, and Antony cut out your tongue for the lie; and, if true, for your lifetime boast that you were honoured to speak his name even in death. The dying of such a man must be shouted, screamed! It must echo back from the corners of the Universe!"

Thus the Shakespearian tones of Roddy McDowall, playing Octavian, in the epic film Cleopatra. His sentiments, apart from the violent character attributed to Antony, apply equally well to the sad news that Tony Bath has passed away.

Tony Bath is the most important individual in the history of Ancient wargaming. Without Tony Bath, there might be no Slingshot, no Society of Ancients. Perhaps another would have started the two, under other names and in a different form. But we live in the world we have, and Tony Bath was the person who accomplished these things in this world.

I never met him, even though I lived in his home town, Southampton, for three years. How, in later years, I wished I had! I did exchange several letters with him when I took over as Editor of Slingshot in 1990. I desperately wanted him to contribute. I felt that the Society had lost its way during the controversial years after the difficult 1987 annual general meeting, and that it needed to re-establish a connection with its past if it was to recover a sense of its direction. I can only offer an appreciation of Tony Bath as he seemed to me through the words he wrote in his letters and in his contributions over many years to the magazine he had founded.

Tony kindly agreed to contribute to a new column, Rules Forum. Read those contributions again, from the 1991 issues. Listen to the voice coming through the unpretentious prose. He describes, simply and clearly, how a number of problems were dealt with in creating a game to be played with figures and set in the era of warfare before gunpowder. I have a set of his rules, published by Athena Books during the 1980s. If you have a set on your bookshelves, take a look at them. They are the same: unpretentious and straightforward.

If you are fortunate enough to have copies of the first three years of Slingshot, or if you possess a copy of the CD-Rom archive of Slingshots, have a look at those issues. They have those qualities I have attributed to Tony. They are a vehicle for a group of enthusiasts to share the knowledge that they are painstakingly assembling from various published sources. There is discussion and description of what they are doing when they play their games, and there is a powerful sense of a community.

Thirty-five years have passed since Tony Bath founded Slingshot, and with it the Society of Ancients. Take a moment to think about the changes that have occurred in that time.

  • Tony started wargaming at the age of 31; today most people have stopped playing games with toy soldiers at that age.
  • Tony played with 30mm flats; we play with round figures at 25mm, 15mm, 5/6mm, and other sizes.
  • Tony wrote his own rules, played in his own house, frequently with the same opponent; we play with rules written by others, in large halls, with people we might never meet again.
  • Tony played face-to-face table-top battles; we have had megagames, mugger games, games that are about supplying a Roman army, even the tongue-in-cheek grotesquerie that was "Conycatcher".
  • Tony constructed and ran a play-by-mail campaign set on the map provided by Robert E. Howard's Conan books; we play by e-mail, on computer-generated terrain that might be based on the exact identification of a battlefield by archaeological research.
  • Tony Bath moved on with the times a little; he was an early enthusiast for 5mm figures, and his set of rules Peltast & Pila (published in 1978) made some concessions to developments during the 1970s. But mostly he remained true to the style he adopted when he embarked on this hobby. It was a fomula that worked for him, and that was all he asked from his games.

There was no sense of smugness about Tony Bath's handful of contributions to Slingshot after he stepped down as Editor (and became the first Life Vice President). He never set himself up as an expert, or employed a royal "we". Instead one reads the words of a self-effacing writer, delighted that there are plenty of other people enjoying the same hobby as he is, in their own way.

There was no bitterness about his rules being replaced as the standard used in championship and tournament games. Communities change over time, and Tony Bath seemed content to let the rest of the Ancients world march to the tune of a different cornu.

The only animus toward Tony Bath that I have ever heard about was when his friend and fellow Sotonian and pater patriae of the wargaming world, Donald Featherstone, expressed annoyance that Slingshot would draw contributions away from his own publication, the fabled Wargamer's Newsletter. It does not seem important now. Wargamer's Newsletter has ceased publication for twenty years, perhaps because Donald Featherstone did not let go of it, while Tony Bath's Slingshot has passed through the hands of nine more editors and currently easily reaches 60 pages an issue, six times a year, on the same regular schedule he created.

We no longer have Tony Bath around to cherish, but we can honour his memory by persevering with the Society he founded, in the spirit with which he served it.