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A Life in Dogs- Jack Lester (Appjon)

YOU’VE NOT been to a show until you’ve met Jack Lester. That’s what we at OUR DOGS say to our new recruits preparing for their first foray into the world of showing pedigree dogs! Jack is the man the word ‘character’ was invented for; larger - or at least, taller - than life, a born comedian (everyone has their favourite ‘Jack Lester’ joke, even if most of them are older than him). Nonetheless, his friendly, lighthearted approach can never disguise his ultimate professionalism, and a fund of canine knowledge garnered over a life in dogs. Helen Davenport-Willis asks the all-important questions:

1. Jack, when and where were you born?

Wigan, Lancs on 6th December 1929. I was born two weeks early as I wanted to be home for Christmas! (Ed. You are a Sagittarian then Jack, and your ruling planet is Jupiter!).

2. Did you grow up in a doggy environment?

Yes, my grandparents had boarding kennels in Wigan so you could say I was more or less born into dogs.

3. When did you first become aware of dogs?

Well really when my grandfather bought me a Rough Collie for my 10th birthday. She was sired by the legendary producer (if my memory serves me correctly sired over 30 champions), Int Ch Lochinvar of Ladypark who was BOB at Crufts at 10 years of age. Later on in my life, during my Army service, I rescued a GSD that had been left abandoned and chained to a post. It was in distress. When I was transferred to the Regimental Police I became his handler and he became a very good working police dog. So began my love of German Shepherds, or Alsatians as they were known by us all in those days.

4. Who were your mentors and what are your reasons for choosing them?

In my early years they were top judges for whom I had a great deal of respect and from whom you could learn. For example, Stanley Dangerfield, Leonard Pagliero OBE as well as Joe Braddon, who always dressed smartly, judged very efficiently and drew large entries. Equally today, I have the greatest respect for Terry Thorn and Ellis Hulme.

5. When did you decide to go into dogs?

During my army service wherever I was stationed I would go to dog shows. Sometimes I was asked to handle elderly people’s German Shepherds as they could not run them properly. (Today I am told, so called professional handlers, make a fortune. At one show in the 1980s I was stewarding for Dobermanns and I witnessed one handler earning £200!).

6. What are the origins of your affix and what year was it registered with the Kennel Club?

It derived from the letters in my name John and that of my stepfather whose surname was Appleton. It was registered in about the 1950s.

7. Are you ambitious by nature?

Not really but I always dreamed of breeding and exhibiting good dogs.

8. What year did you first judge?

I suppose I started in a small way in the l950s at Sanction and Limit shows, with my first love Rough Collies. I first awarded CCs at SKC 1990, it was GSDs and I did both sexes with a record entry and finished in plenty of time for my BOB to compete in the Group. After my stint as I was going for my lunch I bumped into Peter Mann who was surprised that I had finished in such good time as in previous years two judges had taken much longer to get through the entry!

9. You have stewarded on many occasions - tell us about your stewarding career.

In l948, on leave from the Army I was attending Manchester Ch show, at Belle Vue and watching Joe Braddon judging Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. I knew one of his stewards, Mary Chadwick, 1st lady pilot in the 2nd World War. After the lunch break the other ring steward who was working with Mary did not return so Joe Braddon asked me to steward and help Mary out. I duly did and nobody missed their classes that day! As a former Drill Sargent Major, they heard me three rings away!

After the judging had finished the audience gave Mary and me a round of applause! In my opinion to become a good judge you do need stewarding experience. Not only the 12 shows that the KC requests but at least 20. In my time I have stewarded at least on 60 occasions as well as giving lectures on the subject. I stewarded for 45 years at Crufts and have worked on the Our Dogs stand for 40 too! I also stewarded in Amsterdam for the late Lilly Turner and my old friend Joe Braddon!

10. Have you any pet hates?

Not really except for some exhibitors telling me what winning their dog had done! On one occasion I answered a exhibitor in my Lancashire Military accent at which the lady concerned became very embarrassed!

11. Which of your own dogs have been your particular favourite?

Ch Appjon Arran who came from the first litter I bred. As a result of having deep vein thrombosis I was not longer able to gait GSDs properly so I looked around for a small breed and became captivated by Swedish Vallhunds. I rescued a bitch, then at a later date purchased a half brother.
In my first litter of Vallhunds there were three puppies born and one became a champion, Arran. Later on I bought a puppy bitch, sired by the same sire as the other two and produced three champions in a litter of six. Ch Appjon Belisima was BOB at Crufts in 94 and 95. Her litter brother Bruno was the dog CC winner in l994, I sold him to Mrs Wendy Fry when he was ten weeks old. I must just mention here that for 40 years my friends Steve Hall and Mr & Mrs Forshaw took me and my dogs to shows, never taking any money for petrol and I could always rely upon them. If it had not been for friends like these I would never have made my dogs into champions. True friends indeed!

12. Which dog not owned nor bred by you would you love to have owned?

I was awarding CCs at Manchester Ch show a few years ago when I saw Int Ch Gayvilles Nilo. (Although the entry was not a Quantity one it was a Quality one, the majority being the correct type as laid down by the British and German breed standards). Nilo was my eventual CC and BOB winner and he became the Breed Record holder.

Prior to this, his owner/breeder David Hall told me that he had not intended entering under me as he had thought I may not appreciate Nilo’s qualities! How wrong he was. I thought him outstanding and would love to have owned him.

13. What changes have you seen in GSD over the years?

Not a great deal really but I believe backs have become firmer (hard backs) and movement and size have improved slightly, especially from those dogs people refer to as "Germanic type." (Of course, there is no such thing as "Germanic type" but a few could be called "Rheumatic type!").

14. How many breeds do you award CCs in?

German Shepherds, Vallhunds and Lancashire Heelers. I am also on the A list for Newfoundlands.
15. If you had not been involved in the world of pedigree dogs, what would you have done?
I probably would have carried on in the Army and finished with a larger pension as I was a Battery Sergeant Major in the Army. (In Artillery you are known as a Battery SM and in Infantry, a Company SM).

16. Do you have any unfulfilled ambitions?

Not really as I never pushed myself. I am a Life Member (and one time Chairman) of Wigan and District Canine Society, a Life Member of Ashton in Makerfield Canine Society, (one time President), a founder member and Life Member of the North West Canine Society, as well as being a Life member of The Northern Newfoundland Club.

17. Have you any advice to pass on?

To thine own self be true!

18. How would you like to be remembered?

As a steward who did his best to make the judge and the exhibitors relax, by letting them suck my balls! (Uncle Joe’s Mintballs of course, made in my home town of Wigan!).

(Editor’s Note: Jack Lester has raised over £40,000 for Wigan RSPCA over the last 30 years. He acknowledges the contributions from many people who have readily given money, prize cards, rosettes etc., as without this assistance it would not have been possible.)