Ms Harrison..can i ask?
Elaine Everest is a freelance journalist and author of several canine books.
Here she gives us her own inimitable thoughts on ‘that’ programme...
Like many dog owners on the evening of Tuesday 19th August I prepared to sit and watch what I expected to be an hour of interesting television on my favourite subject – dogs. Yes, I’d been aware of rumblings in the hallowed halls of Clarges Street that all was not what it seemed. Beware the producer from hell – she eats dogs for breakfast – well, breeders anyway.
But no, this was the BBC friends to all things doggy; they give us days of Crufts coverage; Ben Fogle eating dog biscuits and Peter Purves getting excited. I had my notebook ready, well I’m a writer and should always be prepared, plus there would be discussions on the Our Dogs online forum later and I wanted to remember what happened – middle aged female syndrome.
Within minutes I realised that this was not to be a dog friendly programme let’s face it anything where Beverley Cuddy surfaces brings shrieks of anguish from pedigree dog lovers. Gradually the programme became an X-rated movie, Cavaliers having their skulls removed, a boxer dog screaming as it threw fit after fit and large German Shepherds dragging useless limbs behind them before being awarded red rosettes and prize cards. I hid in fright, my popcorn and cola left untouched as tears fell down my cheeks. Who was to blame? Wes Craven? John Carpenter? This was no Hammer House of Horrors, it was Dog Breeder from Hell produced by a lady called Jemima Harrison. Assisted by such luminaries of the dog show shockers Beverley Cuddy, Emma Milne and the complete cast of the RSPCA! Jemima set to scaring elderly ladies in twin sets and pearls, ‘talk to me, talk to me’ as she chased them across Westminster Bridge. Nothing so frightening has happened since the toilet block blew away at Blackpool Championship show.
Gradually Jemima worked her way through dog shows pointing out miscreants, a shocked Cavalier King Charles Spaniel breeder confronted with a microphone as she left the show ring after winning Best in Show was accused of breeding from a dog with syringomyelia. Unable to reply, her fate will be sealed when she is thrown to the peasants at the next general championship show. Onwards and onwards she cut through the unsuspecting masses with her scythe of doom. Two cheeky chappies Charters and Caldecott played aptly by Ronnie Irving and Bill Lambert, caught unawares at a fun dog show grinned cheerfully to the camera before realising they were not in Carry on Crufts after all. For the rest of the film they looked furtively left and right worried by every word they spoke, hoping to be rescued by Caroline Kisko.
Who were the baddies at the heart of this film, who should we be booing and hissing every time they appeared. Why the show dog breeders of course. How many of them you cry? Well all of them actually – all tarred with the same brush we lock away our little treasures only bringing them out to torture them at dog shows before forcing them to have sex (sorry wrong film) before forcing them to have untold litters of unhealthy puppies who were doomed to have thousands of pounds spent on them before dying a horrible death. Then the breeders put the dams and sire back into the show ring, but not before having them surgically enhanced like Hollywood starlets to ensure they won every prize.
Whoops hold on a moment stop the film...
There’s something wrong with the scriptwriting, continuity has messed up. Rewind, ‘Er Ms. Harrison would you mind retaking the shot where you set up the scene with the fitting boxer, how long did you have to wait to tape that scene? Can you assure us that it was not set up – the dog was given his pills wasn’t he? Why did the film crew not step in and help the owner when he couldn’t hold his sickly dog?’ What was that? Oh that doesn’t make good TV? OK carry on...’
Cut, Ms Harrison can I ask, you’ve been accosting show dog breeders at the ring side, you blame them for the bad health of the nation’s dogs. Where were the breeders of the sickly dogs you filmed? Surely you would have named and shamed them? Made them perfect examples of how bad the show dog breeders really are? Oh I see, you don’t know who they are? Could it be that these dogs were not bred by the dog show people at all? Don’t shrug your shoulders Ms Harrison it doesn’t make good TV. Do you not think that it’s rather underhand to put the blame onto the show dog breeders? Oh I see one breeder is much the same as another – hmm, yes, I suppose you’re right the general public wouldn’t know the difference between the decent dog show folk and a few back yard breeders. Do you think you should mention that the Kennel Club do in fact have a barrage of tests and health schemes already in place for many of the pedigree breeds? I see it doesn’t make for good TV...’
About your co stars Ms. Harrison, why were they cast? Miss Cuddy – oh refused a stand at Crufts, her spot taken by a disinfectant company you say? Understandable! What about Ms Milne, oh yes the docked breeds – not her best friends, again understandable but then the RSPCA, why do they have it in for pure bred dogs surely these are the people who organised fun days and raise money for their charity? The dog show people are fed up with the RSPCA’s interfering ways you say, they are not supporting them anymore, they give their hard earned cash to other charities – very sad. Oh yes and there was that problem with being invited to leave Crufts over the ‘pile of dead dogs’ campaign. Well yes I can understand why the RSPCA want to have a go at dog show people. Oh and the KC have a better head quarters – that’s true! Well Ms Harrison I think we can say the film’s in the can, with your careful editing no one will see the cracks let alone the joins.
I was still reeling in shock from the Jemima Harrison version of Nightmare on Clarges Street and pouring myself a bottle of wine to recover when we were told to tune in to BBC Radio Five Live where the film would be discussed with Jemima Harrison in the studio and Bill Lambert in a call box somewhere in London. ‘Phone in give us your views,’ invited Richard Bacon the presenter so I started dialling.
Earlier in the day I had telephoned a contact at the radio station to remind him to be nice to the dog people, as I thought we were going to be set up. Being a BBC employee he was not really very helpful. But while stopping to rub the circulation back in my dialling finger that evening the telephone rang. Answering with one hand – the other frantically tapping messages to the already buzzing Our Dog forum - I heard the voice of a BBC producer. What did I think of the programme? Words like sensationalism, fabrication, lies and victimisation hit his ears.
‘I assume you’d like to talk on air? Hold the line please.’
The next moment I was there sharing the airwaves with the woman who could single handedly ruin my hobby and my great love – dogs. A red mist covered my eyes and I told her what I thought of her ‘facts’ and how she had with held the truth of their only being a handful of breeds needing extreme changes and that with over 200 breeds registered many were well and fit. I wanted to say that the majority of dog breeders and owners were caring loving people and like me they had dogs that lived for many years, had birthday parties and went on holiday (or is that just my dogs?) But it was time for the news and we needed to be told about credit crunches and increases in utility bills.
Bill Lambert was performing well; he obviously had a pocket of loose change for his payphone as he was on air for the full hour. Listener after listener phoned in, the majority supporting show dogs and breeders and telling Jemima Harrison how wrong she was.
I like to think she has no idea what she has started, no doubt she will move on to attack the tortoise fanciers or the peacock pluckers perhaps win an Emmy or an Oscar for her fantasy films. But a small part of me hopes there was an angry mob waiting outside the studio and she was lashed to a grooming table before being wheeled to windswept hill and stuffed inside a wicker dog where slowly a match was lit by the ladies from the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel committee...
The next morning I was back on the forum, new members were flooding in all want to discuss that terrible program. New dog owners are asking questions, there’s a buzz in the air. We will survive this and move on because unlike the film producer from hell we have a united bond – our dogs and we will do what is best for them and yes we will seek out the few who let us down one miserable night in August 2008 and ensure they follow what most of us already do – care for our breeds and look after their future.