Helen Davenport-Willis asks the all-important questions:
Liz judging the BIS Crufts 1999, pictured with the winner Mrs Jackie Lorrimer’s
Irish Setter Sh Ch Caspians Intrepid
Liz, where were you born and what star sign are you?
I was born in Gothenburg, Sweden, Christmas l944. I am a Capricorn and in the Chinese year I am a monkey!
Did you grow up in a doggy family?
Yes, my father was more keen on obedience than the show scene but he did show his Boxers and a Dobermann to their titles.
When did you first become involved in dogs?
I saved up and bought my first own dog, a Pembroke Corgi when I was 13 but I had been going to obedience training classes and dog shows from toddler age with my father.
Who were your mentors and why did you choose them?
My father, Audrey Minto (I spent many happy months working as a kennelgirl in her Dreymin kennel of Beagles, Bassets and Corgis). Joe Cartledge of course, Ferelith Somerfield, Catherine Sutton, Margaret Barnes, Leonard Pagliero - none "chosen" but all have played an important part in my life in various ways, for their wisdom, friendship and knowledge.
What breed did you start off with?
Pembroke Corgis, they are and always will be my first love.
You became a penpal to Angela Cavill (as she later became) - how did this happen? When did you come to live permanently in the UK?
Through school our English teacher handed out names and addresses of girls/boys in the UK to become our penfriends. I got Angela Knowles and we corresponded for many years. Angela and her parents certainly helped to improve my English grammar (her parents were both teachers). The only problem with Angela was that she did not have a dog - only a cat! By this time I was showing Corgis and working as a ring steward at the main Swedish shows. However, things did improve when Angela met Dave whose parents had, wait for it, a Corgi!! I moved to England permanently working as a sub-editor for Dog World in January l967.
How did you and Joe Cartledge meet? Was it through the Abyssinian Hoghound Assn of which at one time he was the only surviving founder member?!
The very first time was at Orebro dog show in l966 where I stewarded. When introduced to him I curtsied and said "I am your steward, Mr Cartledge." Feeling very sophisticated using the word "steward", I had been to shows in England, read the English dog papers, so I knew this was the correct word, instead of "ring secretary" which was the direct translation from Swedish. Joe thought the curtsy was quite hilarious and never let me forget it! But that is what a well brought up Swedish girl would do in those days! Joe wrote a weekly column in Dog World called "A Word in Your Ear", but the Abyssinian Hoghound era was well before my time! We were married in l971 when I moved from Ashford, Kent, to his Ryslip kennels in Binfield, Berkshire, where I still am today.
Obviously, your prefix ‘Ryslip’ came from the name of the kennels in Binfield that Joe ran. What year was it registered with the Kennel Club?
The Ryslip prefix was first registered by Arthur Cartledge, Joe’s much loved uncle and mentor, in l924 when the kennels were situated in Ruislip, Middlesex. Arthur had applied for "Ruislip" but this was refused by the KC on the grounds that it was a place name. He was granted "Ryslip" instead which apparently was the old spelling of the town. The kennels later moved to Cippenham and then in l959 to Binfield retaining the established "Ryslip" name.
The Junior Handling Association was formed from the "failed" Dog Centre project which did not quite get off the ground in spite of support from a lot of influential people (Judy de Casembroot, Raymond Oppenheimer, the Curnows, Diana Hamilton, Terry Thorn, Eric Minns, Tim Harms-Cooke to mention just a few) What happened next?
Joe was Hon Sec of the JHA for many years and I have carried on looking after his "brain child" since his death in l982. Richmond championship show has hosted the JHA semi finals since the days of the late Group Captain and Mrs Sutton where hundreds of qualified juniors compete and are treated to a complimentary lunch. The l4 finalists (the winner of each age group 6-11 yrs, & 12-16 yrs, from the seven groups) then go forward to the Masterfoods Stakes finals held in January each year. The national Junior Handler of the year gets to represent the UK in the Crufts International Junior Handling event where in 2005, for instance, juniors from 32 countries competed. It is a very cosmopolitan and exciting competition where the sponsorship from Masterfoods is invaluable. It is a time consuming labour of love but I am lucky to have efficient help from my daughter in law, Jackie, who looks after most of the JHA admin, as well as additional support from some of Ryslip’s kennelstaff, plus Irene Terry and John Fothergill during Richmond show. Without Alec Pinkerton "site manager", at all three major events, who work endlessly and tirelessly without ever complaining, it would be quite impossible to put these shows on the road. Retiring is not an option, Alec!
Are you competitive by nature?
Oh, yes, most definitely. Aren’t all Swedes?
Have you ever bred on a large scale?
No, I have never had the time or inclination to do so.
Breeding, exhibiting and judging. Please put these three in the order of your preference and explain why.
That is easy - judging, breeding and exhibiting. But I should like to put "owning and living with dogs" as my Number One priority well ahead of the other three. If I had to choose one category, there would be no contest. Having had dogs around me from a baby, I cannot imagine living in a house without one, two, or maybe three or four! My house dogs travel with me around the country when I am away judging. They follow me around the house and in the office. I recently lost two old faithful Pem Corgis at 17 and 15 years so I am currently down to two Lancashire Heelers at home. They are my best friends, very good company and best of all they never criticise anything I do! Hilda now nearly 14 makes a very good hot water bottle too! Judging has fascinated me right from the start: it is interesting, challenging, sometimes very difficult but nearly always enjoyable. I have loved dogs with a passion all my life and get a lot of pleasure just being in their company, whether they are mine at home, or the ones I judge in the show ring. Breeding too is fascinating. Having bred Norfolks, Swedish Vallhunds, Japanese Spitz and Lancashire Heelers as well as Pem Corgis, I should like to have more time to devote to breeding but with me it will always be on a rather small scale. Exhibiting - I used to like showing in Sweden but after Joe told me that I was quite hopeless at handling, I lost my bottle! And it is that time factor problem again...
Currently, how many breeds of dog and what breeds do you own?
Six Pem Corgi bitches plus three Lancashire Heelers.
When did you first judge and what breed? At the last count, I think I am right in saying that you award CCs in 88 breeds across the seven groups, including BIS. Is that correct?
In 1968 I judged Finnish Spitz at Maidenhead Canine Society Open show. I did not have an inkling then that one day I would be the Society’s Patron! 88 breeds, that is correct: BIS and all groups except gundogs at ch show level.
Obviously, you have a great involvement in the family business, Ryslip, whose slogan always fascinated me, "Our business is going to the dogs". Do you get much time to judge abroad?
Ryslip kennels with its various departments is, of course, a full time occupation. Jane Miller (Brio Scottish Terriers) joined the kennels as a young girl in the late l950’s and is still going strong. We are a family run firm but I tend to forget that the "boys" John and Clemont have actually passed the 40 year mark! Altogether there are around 24 of us, full and part time, involved with the running of the business. With loyal and competent staff, it is possible for me to accept judging appointments both at home and abroad quite extensively.
What has been your biggest thrill in the world of dogs?
At the time (1982) I did not believe there could be a greater thrill than awarding CCs in Pembroke Corgis at my favourite Windsor ch show but then being asked by the late, great Catherine Sutton to join Windsor Committee was another "high". Judging a wonderful terrier group at Santa Barbara in l988 probably became my next big thrill, followed by a 2 day Corgi National in Adelaide, Australia, which I will never forget. Those four special happenings span, a 20 year period. Winning a first English Challenge Certificate with my first Norfolk, Nanfan Wedding Present and then making her up, was very exciting and seemed like very special moments at the time. Fast forwarding to 1999 and my ultimate "big moment" judging Best In show at Crufts - if I had to make a final choice that has to be THE ONE.
Equally, what has been your biggest disappointment?
If I may be permitted to change the word "disappointment" to sadness it would be losing my husband Joe so prematurely to the evil cancer in December l982 on my 38th birthday. He still had so much to give - he was a great dog man, a lovely husband and family man. I often wonder what he would make of the dog world as it is today. I have an idea that he would not be too impressed!
Have you any advice to pass on?
How long have you got? The trouble with a lot of the "new" people coming into dogs is that they don’t want anybody’s advice - they instantly know it all! It is very important to try and keep things in perspective. Dog showing should be first and foremost an enjoyable hobby, not many people seem to remember that these days. I regularly see exhibitors load up dogs and crates immediately upon completion of their class being judged; they are on their way home at 11am!
What hope is there of these people ever learning anything at all with that kind of attitude? Please, be a little patient and do not be in such a tearing hurry to get to the top of the ladder. No matter how clever and talented you are, or think you are, you will never know it all. Show some respect and listen to the old timers in your breed. Many of them maybe are no longer judging or breeding dogs but they have a mass of wisdom and knowledge to pass on if you will only give yourself time to listen. Also always remember that we are only tiny cogs in large machinery and in the big wide world outside we do not even make a ripple.
How would you like to be remembered?
Steady on, I have only had my Senior Rail card since January 2005 so I am planning to be around for quite some time yet! Seriously though, as a fair and straight judge who enjoys what she does. Through her dedication to the Junior Handling Association to have contributed in some small way towards young dog people’s progress in the world of dogs.
Finally Liz, when not involved with dogs what other hobbies or pastimes do you enjoy?
I read in the bath, on trains and planes, enjoy Windsor Theatre; travelling/holidays to sun and sea and sampling local sea food, shellfish, exotic fruits etc. Just being at home, relaxing in the garden and watching the house dogs potter about takes some beating too.
(Thank you Liz, you have been a most interesting and fascinating subject! Helen Davenport Willis)