Albert Wight (Sharval) talks to Helen Davenport
Albert at the Northern Counties Shetland Sheepdog Club show in 1969
Albert, if it is not too rude a question, how old are you?
I am 66.
Did you grow up in a doggie environment, when did you own your first dog, and what breed was it?
Our first dog was acquired as a result of a freak incident which changed my life. Although a dog and animal lover from whenever I can remember, we did not have a dog or a cat - just a budgerigar! I was the youngest of four children and following a period of severe ill health and being hospitalised on several occasions, I finally returned home early one Winter.
I recall there being lots of snow, it was cold and from having been an outdoor lover I became afraid of the outside and coldness, fearing it meant my illness would recur and I would be returned to hospital.
My maternal grandfather, who was a widower and living with us at that time, suggested my parents get me a dog as that would certainly make me forget my fears and I would willingly take a dog out!
My father somehow knew a man whose wife had recently died and he was going to live in London near to his only daughter. He had an Alsatian dog ‘with a pedigree as long as your arm’, it was 18 months old, house, lead and car trained and unless it could be found a home it was to be taken to be destroyed as it certainly could not go to live in a London flat.
Against my mothers’ wishes the dog was brought to our home, it was love at first sight (at least on my part) and so ‘Prince’ (already named and totally unoriginal) came to live with us and remained there until he died when 11.
How and when did you first become involved with the world of Pedigree Dogs?
For several years I played truant from school every Autumn when the SKC Ch show was held in the Waverley Market in Edinburgh. I suppose it was a real mucky hole but to me it was Utopia. Seemingly endless hundreds of dogs of every shape and size, litter classes with gorgeous puppies, sawdust covered rings, lots of terrier handlers in white coats with the mandatory hat and their ring number in the hatband. And what would today’s hierarchy think of the clouds of white chalk which appeared every time a white or partly white dog shook before moving?!
This was mostly before we had Prince so I just loved every dog on show. One which does stand out was a beautiful Chow owned by the late Willie Robb, called Ch Bbormot Esau. I can’t recall how old I was but I do remember being almost hypnotised as I watch Mr Robb preparing the dog for the showring and I thought the dog looked divine. Although just ready for the ring, Mr Robb spoke to me, told me about the breed, let me stroke Esau and afterwards (he won BOB of course!) told me about the breeds character - thrawn!! (A good Scottish word meaning awkward and self willed).
I first showed Prince (a son of Thelma Gray’s Peregrine of Rozavel) at the behest of my grandfather. He had seen an advertisement in the local evening paper (pre telly days almost everyone had a morning and an evening newspaper) which announced that The South of Scotland Alsatian Association was to hold a 20 class Open show in Edinburgh on October 5 1952. I think the prize money was £1 for first, 10 shillings (50) for second and 5 shillings (25p) for third. I believe the entry money was half a crown (2/6d or 121/2p) for each class if you were a member. My pocket money wouldn’t stretch to the entry fees (nor registering Prince with the Kennel Club) but my grandfather stumped up for all that. The Club Secretary was extremely helpful. I called at her home, she filled in the entry form for me and a KC registration form, we chose a name for Prince, he was entered NAF and I attended an Alsatian evening handling class the Wednesday night before the Saturday show date. There I met my first mentor, Miss Clephane, who owned the 5th post war Alsatian Ch In Ch Hillsman of Ivel. She patiently showed me how a dog was shown, we went through the ring procedures then Prince & I practised at home over the next 2 days. At that show Prince won two 2nd prizes under a well known breed specialist judge. A month later grandpa stumped up again and Prince won 2 firsts & Best of Breed at the LKA of Scotland Open show under a Mr Johnson from Carlisle. And here I am now - still at it and enthusiastic as ever.
Who were your mentors and why?
The afore mentioned Miss Clephane - almost a governess in her approach. Super critical, never gave praise lightly, and I must have sat through thousands of classes of various breeds being judged, almost nit picking each dog, and being told in no uncertain terms how I was wrong whenever she disagreed with me. Of course there were no early removals then. Usually 9 till 4.30 or 5, so you saw everything being judged - and enjoyed it! One thing Miss Clephane did was instill in me the need to see and appreciate virtues as well as recognising what could be improved upon. “A negative judge is never a happy judge. Look on the bright side. “Every dog has it’s good points, even if it is only its temperament.” I have tried to apply that psychology throughout my judging career. Then there was the wonderful Frank and Rose Lichfield from whom I learned an awful lot. I met them when I was 16 and they almost became an aunt and uncle to me. I had bought my second GSD from them, and thus started a wonderful lifelong friendship. they had GSD’s, Afghan hounds (including the wonderful Ch. Bletchingly Zelda’s litter sister, B.Zara), and latterly they had Pekingese. They bred the last Loofoo Ch peke for Mrs Jones (Ch.Rosalind). They initially lived in the old village of Cold Ashby in Leicestershire - so central for dog showing pre motorway days, and they introduced me to so many famous people, MacDonald-Daly, Leo Wilson, Fred Cross, A J Chandler, Joe Braddon etc; the list is endless. Also so many of their doggy friends were famous in different breeds so I got the chance to “lay hands on” some famous dogs. Although he would be regarded as de rigeur these days, I adored Mr Carver’s Ch. Avon Prince of Alumvale (Alsatian), not only as a show dog, but as an animal. He was a wonderfully natured, intelligent dog. Another which sticks in my mind is the lovely Dachshund of Nina Hill’s Ch. Hawkestone Matelot, and there were so many others.
In the mid sixties the late Jim & Barbara Currie became very close and much loved friends, and they treated me like the son they never had. They schooled me in the world of poodles when the breed was in it’s hey day. Just think of the prefixes like Braeval, Frenches, Montemartre, Beritas, Montfleuri, Tiopepi, Barsbrae, and of course Vanitonia and Miradel (both still going strong!). Also through Jim & Barbara I learned about toy breeds, principally Chihuahuas, and saw the first UK Champions, Ch.Rozavel Dias and Ch. Bowerhinton Isabella being made up. Jim was among the first people to award CC’s in the breed. All these people made a huge impact on me, and I hopefully absorbed some of the great knowledge they had to impart.
What are the origins of your affix and what year was it registered?
My prefix has no romance to its history. Shortly before buying my first house I was living with my late brother-in-law and my sister. For weeks I had been trying to conjure up some catchy meaningful “word” like a trade name to have as my kennel affix. Clearly I had prattled on about it just once too often, as one day my brother in law picked up a jar of Sharwoods Green Label Chutney, plonked it on the table in front of me and said “You love that stuff so much - call your dogs SHARWOOD.” It was my first choice, the KC refused it, but I was given my second choice SHARVAL (we lived next to a wood - hence Sharwood - we were also in a valley, which was abbreviated to val, thus SHARVAL). Unexciting as explanations go, but quite true.
Did you research before purchasing your first puppy?
Yes...I did heaps of research, but then I was serving my National Service commitment at that time, so I had the best part of 2 years in which to indulge my thirst for knowledge. I read everything I could on the breed, built up a library of reams of pedigrees, with the various families all charted out from the two remaining male lines (CHE after Chestnut Rainbow, and BB after Butcher Boy), two very influential stud dogs in the very early days. Once demobbed I spoke to Stanley Dangerfield (who always had a soft spot for a Sheltie), and he said the words which had a huge effect on where I bought my foundation bitch. “I’d go to Exford if you want a good body and conformation, and Riverhill if you want a beautiful head.” Having been weaned on Alsatian lore, I decided a good bodyshape must come first so I wrote to the late Constance Sangster whose Exford kennel was world renowned for their soundness. From her I acquired my beloved Blue Girl of Exford, who was a gorgeously coloured blue merle (the colour was much rarer in those days than it is now), she became slightly up to size with the usual large merle ears, but she was ultra sound and proved a wonderful brood bitch for me - as well as winning a ResCC. And all for the cost of 25 guineas - a price my mother could never quite grasp!
How did you establish your lines?
By studying every breed class at Ch shows that I could get to, watching the entire breed judging, taking notes in the catalogue on each dog exhibited, what I liked and disliked about them, then drew out many pedigrees to see what common factors there were, ie what lines and combination of lines were mostly responsible for what I was admiring, and aiming to better. it was a method I used right up until I stopped breeding.
When did you make up your first champion?
My first ambition was not just to breed a Champion, but to breed and own Scotland’s first ever blue merle Champion, which I was lucky enough to achieve in my second litter. I did a merle x merle mating (not recommended by the breed experts of the day), but I mated Blue Girl to Ch.Rockaround Blue Gamble (BOB at Crufts) and it worked. Two beautifully coloured blue merle puppies. The dog became a Norwegian Champion (S.Baroque), and the bitch Ch.Sharval Burlesque.
She won her crowning CC and BOB at Birmingham National under the late Mrs Cynthia Charlesworth (Dilhorne), one of the most influential people in the breed at that time. Burlesque was not a good brood bitch, and eventually (after 1 litter), went to a friend as a household pet. I fulfiled my other ambitions by owning Champions in all three main recognised colours (sable, tricolour and blue merle). Being awkward, I had to start with the most difficult one - the blue merle which was much less commonplace at that time, in fact almost a rarity.
What year did you first judge/ which breed and where?
1967 - six classes of shelties at the Caledonian Canine Society Open show. The following year I judged the Scottish Shetland Sheepdog Club Open show and then....in 1969 at Paignton.
What were your hopes and ambitions then?
When I first began judging breeds other than Shelties, I suppose my pipe dream was that one day I might judge Best In Show at Crufts!! Fortunately fate was kind, and that fantasy became a reality when I stepped on to the green baize at the NEC in 2003 before x millions of TV viewers world wide to judge BIS at the Crufts Centenary show. I was lucky that I had some lovely dogs to choose from. Others before me were less fortunate - and that from their own lips. One told me that he had walked in to judge BIS at Crufts knowing that he did not like any of the six group winners, and simply had to pull out the best of a poor bunch. How sad, and what an anti climax to an internationally famous judging career. Me? I was lucky to have that outstanding Pekingese Ch.Yakee A Dangerous Liaison, with the stunning Kerry Blue Ch. Torums Bunde Bayo as runner up.
What year did you first award CCs?
in 1969 at Paignton. My third judging appointment - I awarded CC’s in Shelties. It could never happen today!
How many breeds/Groups do you now award CCs in?
Somewhere around 65 breeds across the Pastoral, Working, Utility, Terrier, Hound and Toy Groups.
What do you feel are the requirements of a Ch show judge?
An understanding of breed type, knowledge of a breeds history and function. Integrity, and never forget what it is like to be an exhibitor. And never delude yourself that you know it all. I always re-read the breed standard for whatever breed/s I am next to judge. When caught out whilst judging (just occasionally one questions one’s memory - were mouths supposed to be that undershot?), and I have no hesitation in stopping whilst I check the appropriate section of the breed standard which I carry in my brief case. That allows me to continue with a clear conscience, and doubt free.
Has any particular dog impressed you over the years?
This one could land me in hot water as I have been privileged to judge many, many outstanding dogs and bitches. it is hard to compare the great loves of one’s life which were from different eras, and consequently never met.
However I am sure I will be forgiven if I mention Danny, the Crufts BIS Peke and the Kerry Blue Ch. Torum’s Scarf Michael as superstars. Scarf
Michael won the Pedigree Champions Final under me, and a couple of weeks later I made him BIS at Manchester just before he went on to BIS at Crufts. But there have been dozens of british super stars, and it would be offensive and unkind to give a long list of “great showdogs,” and risk leaving out some dogs I truly adored but have momentarily forgotten.
Overseas I will never forget the black Miniature Schnauzer Ch. Ulf von Havenstad winning the Ch. of Champions contest in Finland, nor the fabulous Pyrenean Mountain Dog
Int. & Japanese Ch. Aldo of Chita Mochizukisow, a previous winner of BIS at the Asian International in Tokyo (the Japanese Crufts). I absolutely adored him on sight - one of the few dogs in my life time which have truly given me goose bumps the instant I laid eyes on him in Tokyo. I recall mentioning him to Michael Coad - whose connection with the breed goes way back to the halcyon days of Mme J Trois Harper Fontaine. He had also seen Aldo in the flesh and DROOLED! He agreed with me that had Aldo been shown here he would have won Best in Show at Crufts. the dog was fantastic! His owners kindly sent me the most wonderful painting of him - almost Monetesque - done by their artistic daughter, and it is a constant and superb reminder of a magnificent dog.
Of your own dogs, which have been your particular favourite(s)?
Another impossible question as each of my showdogs lived as part of the family. All house dogs, they were each personalities as diverse as can be, and each totally individual. If my arm was twisted, I suppose I would have to choose Greco (Ch. Sharval The Delinquent), as he was the dog which gave me credibility (or was it notoriety?). An almost black dog with little white to add glamour, and very little tan. He was not eye catching in the showy sense, but he was a magnificent sheltie. I was literally unknown when he came onto the show scene, and I owe much of my success in dogs to him. Stanley Dangerfield once confided that he thought Greco was unlucky not to have won Best In Show at Crufts in 1972 and later, in an Our Dogs Christmas annual he wrote an article naming the six best dogs he had ever judged. Greco was not mentioned, but the tailpiece to the article was to the effect that “perhaps the greatest dog of them all was an unfashionable breed and never quite made it. He was just the wrong colour.” He told me that dog was Greco
As one of the UK's Top Allrounder judges, how often do you judge abroad?
My dislike of flying is well documented but I force myself to go overseas. I accept 1 or 2 appointments each year. Despite that restriction I have enjoyed the honour of judging in all five continents.
Do you think we can learn from our fellow breeders abroad?
Of course we can. Talent and knowledge is not a prerequisite of the British, and we can learn from people who share out interest regardless of where they live. If they prove they can breed good dogs, try to find out how they approach it! You may learn something that can help you.
I was schooled in education, education, education long before it became the spin doctors vote catching slogan for the incumbent government. There is so much good literature out there from breed specific books written by specialists who know their breed inside out, Club handbooks which can be a mine of information, photographs, pedigrees etc; the Dog Annuals (some of the ones from the 40s and 50s don’t half show how many breeds have been altered dramatically!). The English Shetland Sheepdog Club handbooks were my bibles as they gave three generation pedigrees and, almost without exception, a photograph of each CC winner giving date of birth, breeder, owner, and where CC’s were won as well as giving the Family lines. One could spend hours extending pedigrees and matching up specific sires or dams and noting which points one admired in current showdogs and assessing if they could be attributed to particular combinations of breeding. it worked for me - with that previously mentioned touch of good fortune!. The era of long established kennel strains with recognisable types have all but disappeared, as have the dyed in the wool breed authorities who would be perfectly happy to discuss/advise the pros and cons of the breed in depth. Provided you asked them at the right time.
Seminars I keep an open mind on. they depend upon the quality of the tutor, the depth of their knowledge, and their ability to communicate it. And clearly their delivery should never be coloured by kennel blindness. I have a very close highly successful friend in a specific breed, and if we both gave a seminar on that breed, one am, and the other after lunch, the assembly would be totally baffled by the end of the day. We interpret the standard sufficiently differently to admire totally different types. Naturally, we both think we are right!
On the seminar theme. I am a trifle concerned that by attending a Group Development seminar and critiquing five dogs to the majority satisfaction of a panel, potential judges can leapfrog up the ladder of CC advancement. A pass with credit halve the number of dogs and classes the prospective judge has to have judged before being passed to award CC’s in that breed. My concern is that judging five fairly disparate dogs should be comparatively east to anyone who knows even a little about show dogs. So does it seem right that having achieved that with five dogs, you can then be let loose on 105 with CC’s? However I will defer that I have no alternative answer to the claimed dearth of group judges in the UK.
In the world of Pedigree Dogs, what has been your biggest thrill?
Oh.. so many as one starts at the lowest rung and, hopefully works ones way up. All my attainments have meant a lot. My first ever prize cards (the two seconds with the Alsatian “Prince”), my first BOB, my first CC, first Champion, first Group, first BOB at Crufts, first BIS or the winning first time out with a new puppy. They were all meaningful and the cause of great happiness at the time, proving that all the love and dedication to my breeding programme was worthwhile. Judging wise it has to be the 2003 Best In Show at Crufts.
Surely it has to be the ultimate, and just a wild dream for most but which for me became a reality. Think of the many thousands who participate in our hobby, and of the handful who reach that pinnacle. Again, good fortune played a major part in that appointment.
Another thrill for me especially, is following the careers of puppies which I have done well by in stakes classes, and which go on to dizzy heights. It is probably egotistical, but I do derive much pleasure from watching the success of others, particularly if they are novice owner/breeders who were totally dumbstruck on the day of their big break
Equally, what has been your biggest disappointment?
Possible the tardy, slow manner in which UK multi breed judges are so slowly brought on. One looks world wide and sees other countries producing scores of all breed judges (over 300 breeds), and in a comparatively short space of time. here, after 52 years in the hobby, I do not award CCs to any one complete group. I award none to any Gundog breed and in fact it is highly improbably that I can judge five or more classes of any Gundog breed at Open show level, as I am not on Club lists. And Gundogs are surely the most straightforward Group of dogs we have. Not for them the vagaries of the pekes head and body shape, with that individual action. Just straight forward construction. Yet one is expected to attend breed specific seminars for each new breed, then judge hundreds and hundreds of dogs to get onto an A3 list!! it takes longer to get these qualifications than it does to scale the heights in many fields of academia.
In five years you can be a doctor, in seven years a Surgeon, in 10 years an atomic fuel scientist and can send men to the moon, but having achieved all that, if dogs were your hobby, you would most likely still be awaiting your first Club Open show appointment. And your first appointment to award CC’s would be light years away!! It borders on the farcical.
I learned in school where talent was acknowledged and encourage by ones elders, and it goes against the grain to follow the Kennel Club edict which suggests that judges should self promote by ASKING to be placed on Club judging lists. At one time knowledge was a prerequisite. Now it seems if you have the time and the money to do the seminar tour as well as show and breed your dogs (finding the time to work to earn the money to support your cause will help!), the world is your oyster. And knowing the right people who have huge influence can be an enormous help. So forget British reserve. If you wish to succeed in the judging world here, have a brass neck and be pushy and cultivate the best of friends.
How do you see the future development of dog shows?
With so many things to amuse and engross we humans, dog showing as we know it today will decrease. Nowadays overseas travel is so easy that many other activities are easily accessible. Ski-ing, rock climbing, water ski-ing, mountaineering, sailing in all it’s forms, diving sports of every conceivable variety, care, DIY, gardens, computers, digital this and that, and t’other all have mass appeal. It is no wonder that people find diversions or distractions out-with the world of dogs.
Hopefully, there will always be dog shows though I believe the number of promoting Societies will gradually decrease, as will the numbers of non Championship shows.
I still believe that CCs should be available for all breeds at General Championship shows. it takes many years to have judges approved that surely it should be expected that they could be relied upon to with-hold a CC if nothing was present of sufficient quality to merit the award. I would have no problem with that (I have already done it several times), and I know of several well known persons who agree with the sentiment and, would also have no qualms in with-holding if they deemed it necessary.
The fact that we are now moving to an era where in some of the less popular breeds there will only be 1 CC to be awarded at certain shows, causes me concern. With the huge costs involved in campaigning a dog, who in their right mind is going to spend hundreds of pounds going up and down or across the country when there is a big winning dog or bitch being campaigned - possibly with Dog of the Year in mind? Another Res CC or a long weekend on the slopes or in the sun? I know which I’d choose!
Have you any unfulfilled ambitions in dogs?
No. I am away from home so often that it would be impractical to have a dog at this stage in my life. But when eventually I give up judging, I will hopefully obtain another canine companion.
Away from the world of pedigree dogs, what other interestes do you have?
How much space do you have? I love my garden. Small but a real cottage garden with so much crammed into it. I also love hill walking, bird watching, National Trust properties, the Edinburgh Festival, amateur photography, the opera, the theatre (both stage plays and musicals), and spending free time away from dogs with various non doggy friends. I also love certain things on TV, good food, good company, and I just love a good book.
Do you have any advice you would like to pass on?
Be yourself, be honest, study whatever breed you have thoroughly, and breed only when you have a reason to do so. Be selective when choosing a stud dog, be ruthlessly honest with the resultant litter, and try never to see a swan when you know you are looking at a duckling! Cute perhaps, but never going to shake the show world. Steel yourself to part with it - it can be loved equally well by someone else. Over the years I have seen too many people who have kept adding and adding to their numbers until nothing ends up being cared for properly, and some of the dogs spend their lives as virtual prisoners in a row of kennels. As a dog lover that offends me, and it need never happen. That’s the depressing side! The good side- smile in defeat...there is always the next show where the judge SURELY CAN’T BE ANY WORSE!
Finally, Albert, how would you like to be remembered?
As a brilliant dog judge, smart and witty with a touch of style, liked by all and admired by many!!
(Well I am allowed to fantasise!). So I’ll settle for one word, FONDLY.
Thank you Albert for taking the time out from your very busy schedule, to give us an insight into a life in dogs.