JOE DAVIS was the father of modern snooker, winner of 15 successive world titles, but he is alleged to have controlled the game ruthlessly, blocking the progress of others, included a man reputed to be the game's greatest hustler.

What would he have made of the £230,000 prize for this year's world championships, and the bonus of £147,000 for a maximum break? Tomorrow is the 53rd anniversary of the first officially recognised 147, which Davis made in an exhibition at Leicester Square Hall, the Crucible of the day.

Billiards was more popular, but Davis won the inaugural world pro snooker title in 1927, and the world billiards title the next year - first to hold both simultaneously.

He was just 27, and large crowds flocked to his exhibitions at the London Palladium. He was responsible for popularising snooker, regarded until then as an inferior game by leading cue men.

Davis helped organise the inaugural world pro snooker championships. Ten entrants each paid 10 guineas (£10.50) to enter. Half of that bought a trophy, and Davis's first prizewas £6.50.

He scored his first snooker century in 1928 and when he retired in 1964 had made 687 of them. He set five record breaks, but the 147 in 1955 was the only maximum of his career, in an era when equipment was vastly inferior.

He was officially beaten on level terms just four times in his life, once by his young brother, Fred. Cynics claim he rarely played anyone, outside of championships, without giving them a few blacks of a start, thus ensuring his record would remain intact if he should lose.

Born in a Derbyshire mining village in 1901, he was 10 when his father took over a hotel which had a full-size billiard table. Young Joe was allowed to practise on it, and at 13 was the local amateur billiard champion. He turned pro at billiards in 1919 and never lost a world snooker cham-pionship. He kept that record intact in 1940 by beating his younger brother 37-36 in the final. Fred later won the world title eight times.

Joe (car registration CUE 1, and with a statue at Tussauds) was the doyen of the game, and responsible for selecting new professionals. Patsy Houlihan was a worthy candidate. Regarded as the greatest British hustler ever, he was tracked down by a Sunday paper in 2002. He claimed to have lost only once in five matches against Davis: "After that he wouldn't play me unless I gave him a start."

Houlihan won the prize for the highest amateur snooker break of 1953 and became a money-match ace, often behind-closed-doors. In one of these he beat world champion Ray Reardon, while in the English amateur champion-ship final he thrashed future world champion, John Spencer, 11-3. He also beat him in the final of the TV Trophy, one of the earliest televised events. He held the record for the fastest century, at under four minutes, later broken by Jimmy White.

But Davis disapproved of Houlihan and also tried to stop Alex Higgins turning pro. Clive Everton, doyen of commentators, ventured Davis "froze him out because of his criminal record . . . Davis put the dead hand on Hoolihan."

Houlihan had apparently once served four months for breaking and entering. Blocking him would surely have been challenged today on grounds of restraint of trade.

After Davis's death Houlihan, by then around 60, was still trying to qualify for world championships, sleeping under one of the tables.

Joe Davis died in 1978, at 77.