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Dear Mr Chairman...
writes Frank Jackson


For a number of years my column on the page over there has audaciously presumed to offer well-intentioned, sage and usually, much needed advice to each new incumbent among the Kennel Club hierarchy. None have ever taken my advice and I have no real expectation that Ronnie Irving will do so. That does not deter me from trying to set him off in the right direction.


Dear Ronnie,

It comes as no surprise to learn that you have now been elevated to a position to which Solomon in all his glory could not aspire. I know that you will approach the job much as the Duke of Wellington approached his Prime Minister ship. He is said to have told his Cabinet what they had to do and been surprised when they then wanted to discuss it.

I welcome your elevation to the Chair not because I regard you as a friend, the job is not one I would wish on any friend, not even because you are a successful businessman and an excellent chairman, for which I am confident you still give due thanks to Harold Roper, but because of your long history of involvement in dogs and because you enjoy dog shows and being among dog folk. You have retained your enjoyment of dog shows for half a century.

That in itself is impressive when so many newcomers become experts in a matter of weeks and disillusioned in a matter of months. If you can inculcate your committee with the importance of enjoyment you will have done much to rescue the Kennel Club from itself. I hope you will choose your friends, as well as prospective members, with far greater care than does Tony Blair, you could hardly do worse.

I have known you for many years, since the days when you wore short trousers in order to reduce the cost of travelling by public transport and then changed into long trousers so that you could get into pubs. On matters such as of your involvement in a dog show brawl that would not have been out of place in a John Wayne movie during which you sustained a very impressive black eye and your ignominious and - may I say? - undignified retreat from injudiciously close inspection of hives of bees feasting on Scottish heather my lips will be forever sealed. Does this experience account for your reluctance to wear the kilt? 

The Kennel Club already has a lot of reason for pride. This is often achieved in spite of itself. Why doesn’t it tell the world what it is doing on behalf of dogs and their owners’? If it continues to behave as though what it does is of no interest or value outside the boardroom support from the paying customers will be increasingly and deservedly hard to come by.

Influence will disappear and the Kennel Club will become what many believe it already is, a swap shop for judging appointments and ring success.

Your first task must be to shorten the line of communication between yourself and the KC’s mouthpieces. You must ensure that the end product is sharp, to the point and is neither so dusty nor obtuse that it is inclined to give busy news editors a sneezing fit or a headache.

The Kennel Club must learn to promote and market itself not in the Blue Peterish style deemed appropriate to Crufts but as the hub of an interest in dogs that, in this country, involves more than ten million people.

The next priority must be to take steps to reduce the perception that dishonesty and the exploitation of influence is the order rather of day rather than the exception to it. Proof of wrongdoing is hard to come by but the balance of probabilities must, at the very least, influence the selection of members as well as curb the progress of judges to championship status.

The Kennel Club only needs more members if they are of a far higher quality than the present incumbents. Avoid rotten apples, wolves in sheep’s clothing and don’t set a fox to watch over the chickens. More pertinently you don’t want John to have to count the spoons every time certain members pay a visit to the club. It would not be at all difficult to subject the present and previous show and judging career of prospective members to detailed computer analysis. Encourage non-members to supply advice. Get dog folk involved whether or not they wear two tone green.

Make use of the Press.

The Kennel Club’s decision to increase the number of members to 1500 is welcome providing that the new intake is of the highest possible quality in terms of probity, knowledge and experience. New members must be put through a very fine sieve if they are not to repeat the mistakes and excesses of some of the present generation.

The Kennel Club is often made to look ridiculous and its authority is often ignored when its own members, as individuals and as show officials, choose to ignore its rules. They set an example that others follow. How can rules be implemented when the Kennel Club itself ignores or fails to enforce some of its own rules? It is difficult to think of anything better calculated to make the Kennel Club look silly. It is high time the rules had an injection of good sense.

Might I suggest that you set up a working party to consider whether working parties serve any worthwhile purpose? From where most exhibitors are standing they serve only to keep potentially troublesome individuals off the streets and their product tends to be more of an irritant than anything else.

Finally make it clear where your committee’s loyalties must lay - with the Kennel Club and not with their own, their friends or their spouses judging careers, not with show societies or commerce that competes with Kennel Club interests. The Kennel Club is not a private fiefdom flowing with milk and honey.

So, if Kate doesn’t object, write the list on your shirt cuff and it may have to go up your sleeve. Improve communications, improve the quality of the membership, jump from a very great height on the self servers and signed up members of the forty thieves guild, weed the rule book, get rid of all but essential working parties and conferences and remind each and every committee member that no man can serve two masters.

I have no desire to put ideas into your head but have you ever thought that the total absence of gongs, large or small, for Kennel Club top brass may be a reflection, perhaps even an accurate one, of suspicion that it and its members are undeserving. They do not rank alongside Sir Cliff, Sir Paul or Sir Mick, nor Dame Vera, Dame Thora or Dame Shirley. Nor do they rank alongside the lady from Somerset who ran a top quality Post Office or the one, from somewhere else, who delivered newspapers. Do members of the Kennel Club ever get invited to Buck House summer bashes? Respec’, man, that’s what the Kennel Club needs. 

But I must detain you no longer; you’ve got work to do. However expect further gratuitous advice from yours truly and even more from those whose involvement with dogs is largely the product of experience they never had.

Finally, beware of people who offer gratuitous advice.