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‘Armchair’ Crufts 2002
says John Williams

For a chap whose daily TV fix is confined to Countdown, the four days’ coverage of Crufts 2002 were welcome additional rays of sunshine. And especially this year.

You will recall the furore which followed the Millennium Crufts two years ago - complaints of too many extraneous pieces totally unconnected with the show. Who, you asked, wants to see Battersea Dogs’ Home, hear about professional dog walkers in London parks and discuss hunting with dogs when this programme is supposed to be about Crufts, the world’s greatest dog show?

Strong feelings expressed, to put it mildly. And due note was obviously taken. last year’s presentation was immeasurably more acceptable to the cognoscente. Or so it appeared. I saw no complaints in the dog press.

And my guess is that this year’s television presentation will satisfy even more. Whereas just a few unconnected items, such as the Surrey Fire Service sniffer dogs and dog psychology, were slipped in last year between the action at the show, Crufts 2002, so far as I could see, was shot entirely within the NEC, apart from the use of Chatsworth House and estate to show off some of the breeds in each group prior to their exhibition. The result was pure Crufts, the dogs, the people, events, the entertainment - the lot.

So how did it go? Well, we had the same ‘popular presenter’ as last year, Philippa Forrester, no longer a greenhorn and highly presentable. We had, too, the usual steady team of dog specialists - Peter Purves, Frank Kane, Wayne Kavanagh and Jessica Holm. If it works, don’t fix it, I say. And Melissa Hilton, a young ‘new girl’, enjoying her dash around the halls each day, enthusiastic (who wouldn’t be?) and appealing.

Best of Breed, Best in Group in order to enter the ‘big ring’ and perhaps become best in show. Frank Kane, this time using Pinschers as his models, describes breed standards and points to observe.

And now we are off - first to Chatsworth House for a look at some breeds in the Working Group, followed smartly by some of the best of breeds in the main ring, with judge Jack Bispham in action. He selects his eight-dog shortlist and unhesitatingly (or so it seems) pulls out the Giant Schnauzer. One down, six to go for the final on Sunday. (And for those looking for their own breed, we have seen at fair length no fewer than 16 of the 21 breeds in the group). Meanwhile, Melissa Hilton has been visiting Discover Dogs, the Good Citizen Dog Scheme ring (I think) to the judge, who, would you believe, accepts.

Next comes the Pastoral Group, with a look at half a dozen dogs at Chatsworth, a few more in the main ring, the shortlist selected by judge Derek Smith and his final choice of the Old English Sheepdog, so reminiscent of other masterpieces presented by Christina Bailey at other times. And for those counting, we saw some 18 of the breeds in the group, many of which are not classified anyway, and quite a change from previous years.

So ends the first half-hour of Crufts 2002 TV presentation, we had our money’s worth. Not even time left for the credits to roll, Philippa Forrester just had time to announce that tomorrow is Hounds and Terriers. Can’t wait!

The same pattern was followed the following evening, with the bulk of the half-hour being taken up with the dogs and the judging of the two groups - off to Chatsworth to meet a few terriers and hounds, returning to the NEC for the judging of the groups, Terriers by Geoff Corish and Hounds by Jill Peak. And at this point one begins to realise just how well the dogs from abroad are doing this year. The Continentals have brought some good ones over this time.

And it was good to see Miss Sybil Churchill, who last year vacated the hair of Crufts Committee, doing a stint as judge in the Border Terrier ring and thoroughly enjoying her twentieth appointment to award CCs in the breed. Full marks too, to the sleuths who discovered the youngest and the oldest exhibitors in the show - six-and-a-half Lily Nelson and 100 year old Constance Wilcox respectively, although it has to be said that we were not treated to the sight of either of them in action in the ring.

All too soon it was all over for the day, but there was still plenty more to come. Saturday, the third day, brought a whole hour of Crufts, from 8.00 to 9.00pm, peak TV time for sure.

The toy group had been judged, by Albert Wight, and it had a fair exposure, with around twenty breeds being presented either in the grandeur of Chatsworth House or that of Crufts ‘big ring’. We had a good look, too, at the Obedience Championship (Dogs), with the informative commentary of Jessica Holm - she certainly knows her ropes when it comes to obedience. In fact, one can sometimes learn more about dogs and dog shows from the armchair than by actually being there - but it’s not half so much fun!

There was an interesting little interview with Gerald King, a senior Kennel Club Field Officer, who told us what he looks for when he goes around the shows to ensure that all is being conducted properly - no hair spray, no eye make-up, ‘just water’, he checks exercise areas, benching and ensures there are no dogs in distress. Even Crufts, it seems, comes under this eagle eye. But no Flyball or Agility today. Peter Purves informs us that we must wait until tomorrow.

The Utility Group gets the same treatment as the others, with judge Terry Thorn picking out the white Standard Poodle, a visitor form Norway, as his choice, whilst dotted throughout the hour are little snippets, all connected with the show - foreign exhibitors say ‘hello’ and nice things about Crufts; an introduction to Heelwork to Music, ‘the fastest growing competitive sport in the dog world’ says Peter Purves; a look back at the faces of some of the previous Crufts BIS winners - remember Cassie, the Beardie, and Brenda White? the young Marita Gibbs and her Afghan? the young Chris Amoo and his Afghan? and the English Setter Starlight Express and ecstatic Val Watkin? and the then Sh Ch and later Ch Shargleam Blackcap, the Flatcoat? Ah, memories, memories.

Comes Sunday evening, gundog day and a mammoth to hours, 7.00 - 9.00pm, dedicated to dog-watching. Peter Purves and Jessica Holm explain once more how to get through to the final line-up for Best in Show. Stanley Dangerfield used to do it in black and white but he took it much more seriously, with diagrams.

We get a glimpse of the International Junior Handler Competition, the semi-finals of Flyball, a few of the Obedience Championship (bitches) exercises and some high-powered agility, all interspersed with reminders, just in case you might have forgotten, of the judging of the six groups on the previous days. Then it is on to the next stage of the main business of the evening - the judging of the Gundog Group, carried out with practised composure by Ferelith Somerfield. She conforms my armchair appreciation and chooses the positively riveting Flat Coated Retriever, thus completing the line-up for the BIS contest.

But there is much more entertainment and excitement to come before that - the Flyball final, the agility final and completion of the obedience final; then a preview of what promises to be a really impressive piece of competition at next year’s Crufts - the Breeders’ Stakes, where kennels will each parade several examples of their dogs and progeny. Terrific spectacle, terrific television. But that is not all. Now comes the spellbinding Heelwork to Music of Mary Ray, immaculately performed with first one, then two of her canine partners, all to the smooth, rhythmic melodies of the Glenn Miller Orchestra of the ‘thirties. I may have some personal feelings about the time spent by the dogs on their hind legs only, but they obviously enjoy the whole thing, as do the audience, and it adds up to impeccable Obedience.

So to the grand finale, now honed to perfection with the fanfare from the trumpeters of the band of the West Midland Police, the entry in the spotlight of the Best in Show judge, Pamela Cross-Stern, poised and faultlessly groomed - when has she ever not been? escorted by KC Chairman Peter James, obviously thoroughly enjoying this duty. Then come the seven Best in Group dogs, a really fine line-up. ‘The best seven for a few years’, remarks Frank Kane and one can but agree wholeheartedly.

Pamela Cross-Stern does her job with elegant assurance and delights the crowd with her choice of the Standard Poodle for Norway. She is obviously right, but I shed a small tear for the Flatcoat. The Keddell trophy is presented, Philippa Forrester interviews the winning handler and, for this year, that is THE END.