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(Updated 9/6/01)

Armchair Crufts 2001

by John Williams


Well, it’s over! Those who made the trip to Birmingham on all four days of this late, great Crufts had plenty of time to see everything; those who did not were treated to nearly four-and-a-half hours of televised reporting. The former no doubt enjoyed every single minute of their days; but I wonder what the viewers of Crufts-on-the-Box thought of their offering this year?

Remember the letters of complaint which flooded in last year? There was certainly some justified criticism - not the greatest choice of ‘dolly bird’ presenter, too much time spent on non-Crufts topics, too few Best of Breed winners pictured, and such. A petition was drawn up, Crufts Committee made representations - and it would seem that the BBC/Animal Planet Co-Production team listened.

To be sure, no precious Crufts time was spent on visits to dogs’ homes which already are well catered for throughout the year, no walks in the park with dog walkers nor day trips with pets to France, although we couldn’t escape two or three sallies out of the NEC to be involved in topics of more general dog interest. But after all, why not?

The first evening’s programme, a short one of just over twenty minutes, was the taster. The new presenter, one Philippa Forrester, conventionally fair-haired and perky on her first ever visit to Crufts, introduced herself. The canine experts were there as before - Peter Purves, Jessica Holm, Frank Kane and Wayne Kavanagh - and presentable Shauna Lowry was there again to report on ‘the best of the rest’. In fact, just one change from last year’s team.

Reasons

Frank Kane explained what a breed standard is all about, what judges look for and some of the reasons for the differences between breeds, using, prophetically, a live Basenji as a demonstration model. And we met a few terriers and their owners out in the countryside before moving to the judging of the Terrier group by Monica Boggia Black. Well, not the whole group, of course. Even after all the protests and representations, that would have been too much to expect, but we saw the final eight and the group placings. That left just time to look at a few short, very short , shots of other activities, catch up with the final placings in the Hound group, and that was it - until tomorrow.

No cause for complaint on the second evening whatsoever. We were treated to a look at a few hounds with their owners out in the country before the show, a nice chat with Jessica Holm in another role, this time as exhibitor, revelling in the fact that her Grand Basset Griffon Vendéen had gone Best Bitch and Best Puppy in the breed the previous day, and that was followed by the judging of the short-listed hounds by Roy Metcalfe, which could not be fitted into yesterday’s programme.

Sealyham breeder David Winsley introduced Philippa Forrester and viewers to the wizardry of preparing a Sealyham terrier for the show ring, Shauna Lowry looked at half-a-dozen toy dogs out in the town with their owners, Toy group judge Terry Nethercott, having chosen the eight breeds for his short list, was seen making his placings and we saw a dozen terriers and hounds not seen when their group was judged the day before.

Then after a chat with a family in the Discover Dogs who were trying to decide the right breed of pet dog for them, and a short dip into terrier racing, Flyball and a little tomfoolery with a Charlie Chaplin look-alike and his dog in the main ring, it was on to the Utility group, first to meet a few specimens at Kenilworth Castle and then back to the main ring for the judging of the chosen short-listed eight by Joyce Mann. Altogether a most satisfactory day for chair-bound Crufts buffs - not a glimpse of the Dogs Home Battersea nor of London park dog-walkers throughout the programme.

The first serious Flyball and Agility competition came on the Sunday, the third programme, with Peter Purves challenged and succeeding in keeping up with superactive dogs in the semi-finals of both disciplines.
Amid all this came the judging of the Gundog group, a task carried out by Frank Kane, he of the television commentary team, and, again to partially at least satisfy the breed addicts, came some sixteen previously unscreened dogs of the Toy and Utility groups as they were judged the day before. Indeed, one could say that at least fourteen of the breeds in each group this year were seen showing their paces in the main ring. Not enough, you may cry, but doubtless an improvement on last year.

The final day’s events were granted a mammoth two and a quarter hours of prime time, with something for everyone. We first saw Margaret Everton elegantly judging the Working group short-listed dogs and selecting the equally elegantly handled Siberian Husky, one of the 100-odd Continental qualified dogs which made the Channel crossing for this year’s Crufts with significant success. This was followed by one of the few non-Crufts items, showing the work of a black Labrador of the Fire Investigation Canine Support Unit of the Surrey Fire and Rescue Service. Interesting stuff. This Lab can sniff out a room to detect a source of fire in four or five minutes, an operation which would take a day if carried out by detection equipment.

Interspersed among the Agility and Flyball finals on this last day were a few more non-competitive side-dishes, including Roger Mugford, dog psychologist, shown dealing with a dominant dog; Jan Fenell, canine communicationist (sic) on how to control an unruly dog; Gwen Bailey, the Blue Cross’s animal behaviourist, giving hints on how to train and socialise puppies; and Julie Hindle, dog trainer, who teaches dogs how to do tricks.

Splendid

There were two splendid displays of the Obedience tests given separately by the winners of the Dog and Bitch Obedience Championships - coordination and cooperation between dog and human at its finest. And there was a most enlightening interview with Greta Rombout, a Dutch breeder of Yorkshire Terriers who, having attended Crufts for the past twenty years, at last fulfilled her great ambition to show her dogs here. Her account of fulfilling all the requirements of immunisation, identification, examination and so on, along with the paperwork demanded by bureaucracy, made one realise just how enthusiastic she was - and it all paid off with a heart-warming 2nd prize in Open Bitch. She was over the moon! KC General Committee member, Ronnie Irving, told us to expect a lot more overseas entries in 2002. It seems that no fewer than nine went Best of Breed this year!

We were entertained by Frank Kane as he told us how, as a prospective Group judge, he had spent the previous day before stepping into the main ring to do his stint - he was briefed, walked around the show, refereed a BOB when two judges could not quite agree, had lunch with the Chairman of the Kennel Club and mentally prepared himself for the task ahead. Jack Bispham, judge of the Pastoral Group, had probably had a similar day before stepping into the ring. We now saw him judge his short list and select the Pembroke Welsh Corgi as Best of Group, with the super Beardie in second place.

The programme was dotted with other brief snippets from around the show - duck herding, terrier racing, Shauna Lowry shopping, a chat with James Newman, from Ireland, the winner of the International Junior Handler competition, and such. There was, too, a delightful interview with Miss Sybil Churchill, the retiring chairman ( not ‘chair’ or ‘chairperson’ for Sybil! ) of Crufts Committee - “My birth certificate says I’ve got to step down,” she confesses, adding that she will really miss all the chat and the gossip. “This is what the chairman’s job is - if you like, chatting everybody up!” After six years in office, Sybil Churchill, her style, her hats and her practical common sense will be missed. “A very special lady,” says Philippa Forrester, and that nobody can deny.

Special

Then followed a very special piece of television - the Ginger Rogers of the dog world, Mary Ray, on this occasion dressed as Fred Astaire, with top hat and tails and cane (no white tie), with her Border Collie, Quincy, performing to the music of Irving Berlin - a catchy tune called “Piccolino” , if my memory of youth serves me right. Fantastic, I thought. They were both so obviously really enjoying it. “Wonderful! What a performance!” said Jessica Holm, who was providing the commentary. “Don’t ever wipe this tape,’ pleaded my wife. “Keep it for ever!”

And so to the finale. Live television at its best. The main ring lit dramatically. Crufts lasered in a pattern on the green carpet. Fanfare from the trumpeters of the band of the West Midlands Police. KC Chairman Peter James escorts BIS judge Ann Arch into the ring and she gets down to judging.Television is kind to the armchair spectator, with close-ups of the six finalists as they are gone over by the judge, close-ups of movement as they go round the ring and then up and down. Out come the stands. It is the Basenji, the first ever at Crufts for the breed. The Hon Judge David Merriam, Chairman of the Board of the American Kennel Club, makes the presentation Philippa Forrester comes on to interview - “What treat is he going to get tonight?’ “Anything he wants,” replies the Basenji’s happy owner, Paul Singleton. In the background the measured tone of Crufts ringside commentator, Bernard Hall., can be detected - “We come to the end of Crufts 2001......I wish you all a safe journey home.”

And that was it for now. I say, as I did last year, it was thoroughly enjoyable. Agreed, dogs at Crufts may well resent presenters referring to them as ‘tykes’ or ‘pooches’, the accompanying music may well have seemed a little too fast and furious at times and giggly chatter from the young non-specialist presenters may have jarred on the ears of more mature dog show veterans. But the team of Purves, Holm, Kane and Kavanagh did their stuff admirably, as did the dogs. And millions of dog lovers of all sorts and sizes saw it on television and must have loved it. That is good enough for me.