Simanaitis Says

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STEPHEN POTTER (not related to Harry) was a British academic, writer/producer at the BBC and most revered for putting self-help books in their place. He originated the Theory and Practice of Gamesmanship, a motoring subtext of which is Carmanship. I am a follower of both.


Stephen Potter, 1900 – 1969, academic, writer/producer at the BBC and, most famously, satirist of self-help.

One of Potter’s earlier attempts at gainful employment was as a London elocution teacher advertising “Cockney accents cured.” He attracted only one pupil, the progress of whom is unreported.

Potter then tried academe in writing D.H. Lawrence: A First Study. Intended as literary criticism, it unfortunately appeared within a few days of its subject’s death and fell flat when read as a memorial. The book gained notoriety, though, by a misprint which rendered “Sea and Sardinia” as “Sex and Sardinia,” which grew by rumor into “Sex and Sardines.”

In more or less logical progression, this led Potter to writing The Muse in Chains: a Study in Education, a satire on the academics of English Lit. This turned out to be his métier, and a career with the BBC ensued.


The Theory and Practice of Gamesmanship or The Art of Winning Games Without Actually Cheating, by Stephen Potter, illustrated by Lt.-Col. Frank Wilson, Henry Holt and Company, 1947. An amazon-com link:  The theory & practice of gamesmanship;: Or, The art of winning games without actually cheating

It’s said a ten-day loss of power at the BBC gave Potter the hiatus (and frame of mind) for his first study of Gamesmanship, with several to follow. He defines Gamesmanship as “polite psychological warfare.”


Clothesmanship. Image from The Theory and Practice of Gamesmanship.

On game attire: “If you can’t volley, wear velvet socks…. The good-looking young athlete, perfectly dressed, is made to feel a fool if his bad shot is returned by a man who looks as if he has never been on a tennis-court before.”


One-upmanship, Being Some Account of the Activities and Teaching of the Lifemanship Correspondence College of One-upness and Gameslifemastery, by Stephen Potter, illustrations by Lt.-Col. Frank Wilson, Henry Holt and Company, 1952. An link: One-Upmanship

Potter said modestly (but honestly), “This book is, in essence, identical with the two which preceded it, Gamesmanship and Lifemanship—themselves difficult to tell apart.” What differentiates One-upmanship is its motoring instructions summarized as The Carmanship of Godfrey Plaste. Those of a certain age (and a closet full of old Road & Track magazines) may recall its appearance in the March 1958 issue.


Plaste’s placid salutation. Image from One-upmanship.

Plaste invented a means of getting himself through the most outrageous driving behavior by a placid salutation. “In essence, this was a simple raising of the hand, an inclination of the head, and a grave smile. Instead of a scream of rage one would expect from the oncomers, they would actually salute back.”

Riding with another driver, Plaste applied Back-seat Drivership (the Beastly Passenger Ploy). Potter notes, “Long before it was necessary for me to brake, he would fidget with his feet, but slightly…. If we approached a child under the age of twelve walking quietly along the footpath, he would first wince, then draw up his knees, then say, ‘Toot toot’ quietly under his breath.”

Plaste’s car, a non-descript one of no known make, was festooned with “a string of tin medals out of crackers which Plaste referred to as ‘Médailles d’Honneur Club Belgique.’ ” It also carried tire chains “with special spikes for the Courboise Pass… Monte Carlo Rally.”

Another of the Plaste Ploys was the dummy ignition switch on the car’s dash. He’d fiddle with it briefly then say, “Never mind, half a jif.”

The real starter switch was under the car’s bonnet. “Got it,” Plaste would say as the engine fired up. Then, Potter noted, the female passenger “exclaimed with admiration at what appeared to be a miracle of mechanical comprehension, deftness and male mastery.”

Yes, I shall adopt this one directly. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2014


  1. Greg Brown
    August 23, 2014

    Not to mention the brilliant “Lifemanship, Or the Art of Getting Away With It Without Being An Absolute Plonk” and “Supermanship: How To Try To Continue To Stay On Top Without Actually Falling To Pieces”

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