Interview by Helen Davenport-Willis
Marion Spavin is one of the UK’s top All Rounder judges. Born into a theatrical family (her parents were puppeteers, hence her name derived from her parents’ "marionettes!") she has been involved in the dog game since she decided, as a teenager, this was her chosen vocation. She has worked her way to the top and to quote Andrew Brace, "she is a breeder, exhibitor and judge of the old school!"
When, in the early 60’s, she established her Dialynne Beagle kennel, (in all probability, more of a strain than a kennel), it became a force to be reckoned with. At one time during the 1970’s, Marion was in partnership with the late Bryan Moorhouse who bred Manchester Terriers, under the famous affix, Manterr. Sharing each other’s passion for and interest in dogs, after Beagles, Manchester Terriers are the second breed that Marion awarded CCs in.
Three generations of Spavin females, Marion, her daughter Dianna and her grand-daughter Melanie, reside at the family home, Parkway Kennels in Solihull. This popular, busy establishment is also home to their partner, Stuart Milner and his parents George and Annice. Visitors - and there are many -are certainly assured of a warm welcome, with plenty of old fashioned hospitality. Stories of Annice’s culinary skills are legendary and are certainly much in evidence when sampling her excellent home cooking!
The kennels were once the home of another famous affix, that of Ron and Madge Bradbury and their successful Nortonwood Golden Retrievers. Today it houses Dialynne, which is run alongside a large, busy, boarding, grooming kennel/cattery where everyone has a role to play.
It is obvious that Marion is a true dyed-in-the-wool dog woman, since you only have to see her with her dogs to witness this. The stock are happy; young or old, champion or boarder, their contended look tells its own story. The dogs are housed in excellent conditions. Sporting cordial temperaments, the pack, including working stud dogs, rub shoulders amicably with up and coming youngsters, as well as established champions. Together with plenty of "rods in pickle", this kennel is brimming with top quality stock.
Marion is still a driving force behind this kennel’s success story. A vibrant cog in the Dialynne wheel; her story is one of hard work, steely grit and determined passion. On the judging front, she is still very much in demand in the UK, as well as abroad where she has judged extensively.
(Under FCI rules, she is among 15 top UK judges permitted to judge Best in Show competitions in FCI, CACIB shows. This also includes her being approved for the l90 breeds with CC status or without, recognised by the Kennel Club in the UK). At Crufts this year, Marion is to judge Basset Fauve de Bretagne and is to present the Trophy to the Winner of the Hound Group in the presence of HRH Prince Michael of Kent, KCVO, The President of The Kennel Club.
Marion did you grow up in a doggy family?
No, my family liked dogs but I was the only one who really loved them. As a small child my mother would buy a dog for me but unfortunately, a few months later, it would disappear. This made me very determined that when I was grown up with a home of my own, I would have dogs.
What age were you when you owned your first dog and what breed was it?
I would be about eight when my mother bought me a bitch, probably a terrier cross and she was lovely.
Who were your mentors?
I really do not think I had any mentors in the true sense of the word.
How did you start "in dogs"?
At 14 I left school and went to work in a Sealyham kennel. This was run by two sisters, who I was told, sold the famous "Axe" kennel of Mr & Mrs Dickinson, one of their foundation bitches. Here I learnt the rudiments of kennel work, whelping, rearing, kennel husbandry; as well as how to groom, strip and trim. This was a firm basis for me for my future life as a dog breeder.
What are the origins of your affix?
It is made up from the names of my two daughters, Dianna and Marilynne hence "Dialynne". It was registered with the Kennel Club around 1955.
Whose name is the Affix in these days?
Myself, Dianna and Melanie as well as our partner, Stuart Milner. Stuart was breeding Beagles under his own affix "Copewell" when he bought a Beagle from us and we became friendly with him. In l983 he came on board with a separate interest in the affix as well as a partner in the business.
What drew you to Beagles?
I was showing Cocker Spaniels and enjoying some success at limited and open shows. I became a great admirer of Mrs Clayton’s "Barvae" Beagles; the breed is such a happy independent, yet lovable dog. I was married with three children and a home to look after and thought that both breeds were similar in size and type, but with a lot less work and preparation for the shows with Beagles. When I started in the breed, there were many successful kennels already dominating the ring. For example, the "Rossut" kennel of Catherine and Beefy Sutton, the James’ and their "Wendover" Beagles, Leonard Pagliero with his "Forradon" hounds, Gladys Clayton’s and her "Barvaes", the Appletons with their "Appelines" etc., It was not easy, but I thought that the healthy competition kept us all on our toes and I knew that my dogs had to be that bit better than the rest to get past the big names. Anyway, for my own satisfaction I wanted the best dogs.
How did you establish your lines?
I started with a bitch, bred by Fred Watson, called Derawunda Vanity. She was born in 1957. Not terribly typey, she was beautifully bred, a daughter of Best in Show winner, Ch Barvae Statute, ex a Barvae bitch. I hoped that with her breeding, she would breed on for me and she did! (She is behind most of the UK’s top winning Beagles today.) I also purchased Barvae Tamar, a daughter of Ch Barvae Paigan and she became my first Champion.
Which of your own dogs has been your particular favourite?
Ch Dialynne Huntsman, born in the early 60’s sired by the Canadian import, Barvae Benroe Wrinkles (himself a father/daughter mating), ex Vanity, he was my first home bred Champion. He was most handsome, a great showman with a wonderful temperament. He sired five Champions and by line breeding back to him, the kennel produced a really strong line which has bred on, with equally successful dominant stud dogs.
Your kennel Dialynne is world famous. The prolific studs Ch Dialynne Gamble, and his son, Ch Solomon of Dialynne started a line which spread all over the world. Briefly tell us about them.
I did a half brother/half sister mating of Ch Dialynne Ponder to Dialynne Shadow, (they were both sired by Ch Huntsman). The result was Ch Dialynne Nettle, a lovely lemon and white bitch. As she was tightly bred I decided to use an outcross on her so I chose the import American Ch Appeline Validay Happy Feller. I was trying to improve heads a little, depth of muzzle and keep the soft expression. "Feller" was not a big dog but he had a beautiful head and lots of qualities including a lovely temperament. Two puppies resulted, a dog and a bitch. We kept the dog, who was to become the illustrious "Gamble". He won a CC at his first Ch show, aged 7 months, gained his title in l971 and in time went on to win 26 CCs. He was truly a prepotent sire, producing 26 Champions to all types of bitches and his influence upon the breed was felt world wide. His son, Ch Solomon of Dialynne was born in l983, when he was 12 and a half years old! Out of a bitch called Kittoch Garland, she was a daughter of Ch Beaucott Buckthorn and great granddaughter of Gamble. Bred by Aileen Kirland (Kittoch), I chose him as my pick of litter at 7 weeks old. Soloman too was a prolific sire, his tally of 26 champions included five out of one bitch, a Record in the Breed that still stands today. He did well in the show ring from a puppy and won his first CC at Crufts in l984 aged 22 months. He too went on to win 26 CCs.
Which dog, not owned or bred by you, would you have love to have owned?
The Beagle Ch Jondor Crocus, owned by John Emmerson. I tried to buy her several times but without success.
Your daughter Dianne and your granddaughter Melanine have obviously inherited your flair and passion for dogs. How do three generations of women agree at one time?
Melanie leaves most of the decisions to Dianna and myself. Most of the time we all agree on matings and who to enter at what shows, which puppies to run on etc., All the dogs are in Melanie’s name and the affix is owned by us all. Melanie, now on the threshold of her own championship show judging career, does the handling these days as she loves it. It makes sense with Dianna doing more and more judging. This year, Dianna is to judge Beagles at Crufts and has her first Group Appointment in April at the Hound Assn. of Scotland. She awards CCs in 19 breeds across three groups, Hounds Toys and Utility.
How does Stuart fit in to all this?
Stuart, likes a quiet life, so he prefers to leave it to us. Until recently he has handled the Beagles with Dianna. They have also piloted four Tibetan Terriers to their titles as well as a Miniature Schnauzer. He is approved to judge 10 Hound breeds and the Group. As well as being Chairman of the Beagle Club, Stuart is on the Committee of City of Birmingham Ch show and the Hound Association. He is Chief Steward at both and is also a Group Steward at Crufts.
Marion, you seem to be very much a hands on dog person; is that true?
Yes, it true, I am a firm believer in correct rearing for puppies and careful management during their development. We feed well and there is no substitute for this. It is important to watch puppies and check them as they are growing. Careful rearing is the key. Many a promising youngster is ruined by poor rearing and inadequate animal husbandry. I am fortunate in that I have always been able to keep dogs on quite a large scale. I have always had the space and facilities to do so. Therefore I have been able to run on puppies and older stock to select the best. Dogs need space and an opportunity to free run and I have always been able to do this.
How many champions have the kennel and across how many breeds?
We have had more than 70 Beagle champions in the UK alone. So, at a guess, not far off 100 across five breeds including Tibetan Terriers, Manchester Terriers, Cocker Spaniels and Min Schnauzers, with many in countries around the world.
Tell us how and when did you start to judge?
When I started, in the 60’s it was not like it is today. We cut our teeth at sanction shows and matches where we had ample opportunity to judge lots of dogs of all breeds. Fortunately for us, top breeders did show at these type of shows, so we were able to go over top quality dogs, many of whom were champions. It does not happen now. This was a great apprenticeship for up and coming all rounder judges we were able to "get our eye in" from the beginning. The natural progression was to Open shows and then to Ch shows and a first appointment in CCs. Back then it was easier to get approved for CCs as there were not the number of dogs and classes required as today.
When did you first award CCs?
My first CC appointment was in Beagles was at Richmond Ch show in l966. I gave the CC and Best of Breed to Ch Deaconsfield Renown with the bitch CC to Cornevon Pensive.
As one of this country’s top All rounder judges, how many breeds/groups do you judge?
I am fortunate to have awarded CCs in breeds across all seven groups. In total I award CCs in 61 breeds, and I am passed for 5 out of the 7 Groups (Hounds, Utility, Working, Pastoral, & Toy) as well as 2 breeds in each of the Gundog and Terrier groups and of course, BIS. I first awarded BIS in l988 at SKC.
It is true to say you are still very much in demand overseas, how often do you judge abroad?
Whenever I can really! This year I have appointments in Denmark, Finland, Germany, Holland, Sweden and later in the year, in Japan.
As a fellow Scorpion do you think your personality/character has helped you survive in dogs?
No, not really, although it is true, I am my own person and I like to speak my mind, which I am well aware, does not suit everybody! Whilst most of the dog fraternity love a laugh and enjoy a joke, there are the exceptions. From my early days as a youngster, I have always loved a good story, and I loved telling them; having a good memory certainly helps.
Your sense of humour is renowned and one of your hallmarks. When did you first begin public speaking?
I spoke at seminars and different breed clubs for many years, giving advice on showing, rearing, etc., Then, I started doing my "Evenings with Marion" about four years ago. The have been very popular, I am happy to say and have raised a lot of money for different charities, which was the original idea.
Have you any unfulfilled ambitions?
Yes, to judge Best in show at Crufts.
When not involved in the world of pedigree dogs, what other interests/ hobbies do you have?
I have no other hobbies. Dogs and the dog world in general are the only ones. I am proud to say that I President of Humberside Hound Club and Four Counties Beagle Club as well as Vice President of The Beagle club. I have attended dog shows, most weekends for the past 40 years, so I have not had much time for anything else really!
Have you any advice to pass on?
If you want to be an all round judge then concentrate on one Group at a time. Always do your own thing, judge the dogs and not their owners.
Finally, Marion how would you like to be remembered?
As a cheerful, happy person with a good sense of humour and a mind of her own, a Real Dog Woman!