DOG SHOWS – 1936 to 2000

GRC President, Joan Gill reflects on showing past and present

I had my first Golden Retriever in May, 1936 and I registered
him as Simon of Brookshill. I had no intention of showing or breeding
until I met Mrs Morgan, of the Weyland Goldens. Simon was about
four months old and she said, “He is a beautiful puppy, but
you had better show him as soon as you can before he grows too
big”, which he did. She also said that if I wanted to breed
she knew of a nice bitch, so in August of 1936 I bought Speedwell
Dulcet from Mrs Evers Swindell. I entered her for a show. I don’t
know where it was, except that it was somewhere in London, or
what society, but I went into the ring, full of hope as Dulcet
had already won a Puppy Class with her breeder. Of course I had
no idea of how to show her, or what to do, so I stood there with
Dulcet on her lead and did absolutely nothing. Obviously I didn’t
get anything and when I came out of the ring a rather cross Mrs
Evers Swindell came up to me and said that I would never win anything
if I showed her like that, but she didn’t give me any hints as
to what I should do and there were no ringcraft classes then!!

1957 GRC Show at Sandford-on-Thames, Judge Joe Braddon


Joan Gill with Ch Simon of Westley
(BOB) and June Chamberlain with Chalice of Altarnun

Later Mrs Nairn, of the Stubbings Goldens, helped me a
bit and gave me some tips, but I wasn’t very good. In fact I was
very bad. Then Mrs Pilkington, of the Alresford Goldens, said
one day, “Let me have your bitch and I will win with her.
You have mine.” She won the class with Dulcet and I was second
with her bitch. I didn’t do very much showing, but I went to one
or two shows without my handling improving very much. I did enter
the Golden Retriever Club Show, I think it was at Maidenhead,
with Mrs Charlesworth judging. I had the ‘flu so my father took
her and he won second and after the class Mrs Charleswoth came
across and said that he could have won the class if he had handled
her better.

Dulcet had a litter in October 1937. I showed her at Crufts in
the following February, though, as the puppies were only four
months old, I shouldn’t think she had much coat, but I went anyway.
In those days it was in the Agricultural Hall at Islington, which
was a very dark and dingy place. You had to stay for two days,
whether you won anything or not. If you took your dogs home, you
had to pay a deposit. I don’t think it was very much, and you
had to bring them back the next day. You could leave them overnight
on your bench if you wanted to and there were people on duty all
night to see that the dogs were alright, but I don’t think many
people did that. I certainly didn’t. I only lived twelve miles
from London in those days, so I obviously went home and came back
the following day. I think the breed judging was on the first
day and the gamekeepers classes and some variety judging and Best
in show, on the second day. There were no groups then and all
breeds went in the big ring. I remember that Mrs Wentworth Smith
won Best of Breed with Ch Chief of Yelme, a big, fairly heavy
boned dog, not very dark, medium to pale. I saw Mr Lloyd win Best
in Show with Exquisite Model of Ware and I was absolutely fascinated
by how he handled her, he didn’t touch her. She just stood there,
looking up at him, standing perfectly and never moving. All his
cockers showed like that. How he did it I just don’t know. The
next show I went to Ch Anningsley Fox won the C.C. He was a rather
different type, a lighter build, smaller and very dark. Goldens
were always handled free then. The first person I saw “topping
and tailing” was Enid Minter (Stenbury) at one of the early
post-war shows, but it gradually became more popular. Necks were
not trimmed nearly as much as they are today.

I don’t know much about the wartime shows. I didn’t go to any,
as I was first an ambulance driver and then in the WAAF. Shows
were confined to exhibitors living within a 25 mile radius of
the venue, which continued for a short time after the war because
of petrol rationing. In 1945 we moved to the village of Westley,
near Bury St. Edmunds and I bought a puppy from Miss Dixon (Gazeon)
on the advice of Mrs Wentworth Smith. I lost my pre-war affix
of Brookshill as I didn’t maintain it, but was granted Westley
and compounded it for life for £7! I registered my puppy
as Susan of Westley and took her to all the radius shows and together
we learned what to do in the ring. I also trained her to the gun.

Championship shows were allowed in 1947, there were just 12 general
Ch Shows that year and 241 Specialist shows.

In 1948 there were 22 general and 76 specialist shows. Now there
are 26 general Ch Shows and I don’t know how many group and breed
club shows. Many of the 1947 and 1948 shows have lost their Ch
status over the years. Some that come to mind are Kensington,
Croydon (where I made up my first champion), Metropolitan and
Essex, Chester, Ayr and Stockton on Tees. A popular venue in those
days was London’s Olympia, where the catering by Lyons was extra
good! Crufts was held there until it was no longer available for
dog shows, so in 1979 it moved to Earl’s Court.

Charles Cruft died during the war, so the Kennel Club took over
the show and the name and it replaced the Kennel Club’s own show.
The first show was in October 1948 and I won the CC with Susan.
The previous Saturday she had won a Certificate of Merit at a
field trial, so I was lucky enough to win the lovely Gold Cup,
which was later won outright by Bill Hickmott. It was much easier
to have a dual purpose dog then as the split between show and
work was almost non-existent, but it became wider and wider. The
next Crufts was in 1950 in February, Crufts traditional date.

Shows then were much more relaxed with much smaller entries, one
judge, who always had a proper lunch break, and starting at 11am,
or even later, and finishing in time for us all to go and have
tea! There was no worry about leaving our dogs on the bench, we
knew they would come to no harm, but I wouldn’t leave them now.
There was a fixed removal time and an early removal time, an hour
earlier for people living over 50 miles away “as the crow
flies”. The removal time was usually 5.30pm, but at Crufts
no dogs were allowed out until 8pm.

The entries for all Ch shows got larger and larger and starting
times earlier and earlier and when the GRC show drew over 300
dogs for Mrs Wentworth Smith (Yelme) we realised two judges were
necessary for our club show. This was held for many years at Sandford
on Thames Country Club, a lovely ground where the dogs could swim
in the river afterwards. We were usually lucky with the weather
there. Fortunately we were for Mrs Wentworth Smith, and with the
help of efficient stewards and a collecting ring she got through
it very well. There was always a “party” atmosphere
at Sandford but sadly we outgrew it as entries continued to rise
until the 1980s.

Before there were motorways and many more dual carriageways Joan
Tudor and I often used to go by train. Mrs Cooke, from Kent, used
to organise these train parties and there was no trouble then
about driving into London and leaving your car at the station
for two nights. We had a reserved carriage, one with a corridor
and separate compartments and with usually, only two people and
their dogs in each compartment, we managed to get some sleep!
One of the SKC shows was held at Waverley Market, adjacent to
Edinburgh station. We arrived about 6am, but we were allowed to
stay on the train until we could get into the market, which was
one of the dingiest, most miserable venues I’ve ever been to.
The other SKC show was held at Kelvin Hall, Glasgow, which wasn’t
much better!

One year Joan and I decided to go by train to Manchester under
a judge who had done her dog and my bitch very well the previous
year. When we arrived we found the dog (lets call him Moss), who
had won the CC under this judge last time she judged, was entered
(something we all know is “not done”). The judge was
one who divided each class into two as she judged each dog, but
she didn’t always stick to the same side for the “ins”
and “outs”, which was confusing, but at least it kept
everybody optimistic until the end! Joan was in Open dog and was
put the same side as Moss, so we thought she was alright and were
rather shocked when that was the group sent out, but we decided
it served Moss’s owner right! When the same thing happened to
me we saw the funny side of it.

Birmingham National, Old Bingley Hall,

Dec 1957, Judge, Joan Gill


Miss Miriam Clarke with Ch Heatherdell
Gay Boy (BOB)
and Mrs Lucille Sawtell with Sh
Ch Pandown Poppet of Yeo

For some of the summer shows we would set off the previous evening
and sleep in the car somewhere along the way. To begin with it
was in Joan’s ordinary saloon car and then I had a sort of van
with windows, which I suppose was a very basic “people carrier”.
With all the seats down we could lie down properly and leave room
for the dogs. I remember we had some rather strange breakfasts
on those occasions! Later when we went to several shows in John
Tiranti’s camper van, with 4 people and up to eight dogs, we would
get to the showground the night before and have a sort of bed
and a proper breakfast. That was luxury! At that time they were
all one day shows, but ever increasing entries and the number
of breeds made the extra days necessary.

About 1967, when Joan had a roomy van with windows, we were joined
by Hazel Hinks to go to Paignton, which was then actually in Paignton.
It was on a Thursday and the plan was to go back to Hazel’s house,
which was in Cheshire and have a good night’s sleep, a quiet day
on Friday and go to a Ch Show in Scotland on Saturday. Unfortunately,
as we left the show, we had a severe thunderstorm with torrential
rain and flash floods. We kept finding roads impassable and on
one occasion got stuck in the water and had to push the car out.
We eventually found ourselves somewhere outside Bristol with water
all around us, but we could see at the top of the hill, a pub
on dry land. The storm was still raging, but I decided I would
“paddle” up to the pub and see if we could stay there.
Fortunately the water wasn’t too deep, but when I got there the
landlord said we couldn’t stay there, not even in the bar just
to keep dry. Then a very kind girl behind the bar said we could
stay the night in her caravan, which was in the car park. Joan
had managed to get the van up to the pub and when we got to the
caravan found the calor gas cooker full on, with the door open,
to warm us up and dry our clothes. We were so grateful. Eventually
with the help of the cooker and some brandy we got warm enough
to get some sleep. The next day was fine, but we found road after
road flooded and had to go as far as Banbury before we could start
going north. We didn’t get to Cheshire until evening and after
a few hours sleep got up at 4am and went to Scotland. We must
have been mad, but at least, I remember, we all did well at the

I usually stayed with Elma Stonex for Paignton and on other occasions
(Taunton used to have a Ch show) and I learned such a lot from
her. We used to sit up very late looking through all her scrap
books and records. One night, at about 1am, we heard her kitten
crying and discovered she was at the top of a tall tree and couldn’t
get down, so I climbed up the tree, with Elma shining a torch
to light my way, and rescued the kitten. That was about 40 years

Before the days of motorways with their services and Little
Chefs (who for many years closed at 7pm) it was very difficult
to find anywhere to get even a cup of tea, especially on Sundays.
On one occasion, coming back from Scotland in John’s camper van,
we were all very anxious for something to drink and we searched
the whole of Kendal for a cafe but nothing was open. Eventually
we found a shop, but all they could offer us was a bottle of Dandylion
and Burdock, a very strange drink that
we didn’t like very much and most of it was spilled all over the
floor of the van.

Occasionally I went by coach and after one show it became very
foggy and we stopped at a transport cafe for refreshments. We
were told the “Ladies” was round the back, so we groped
our way through darkness and thick fog until we found a building
and we all trooped in. As we were getting ready to go out and
find the coach a lorry driver came in and was very shocked to
find a crowd of women in the “Gents”!

Now we have motorways and by-passes, which means we rarely have
to go through towns, and plenty of services, but we also have
a lot more traffic and traffic jams, early starts and huge entries.
We have ringcraft classes, gundog training classes, seminars and
plenty of books and articles to help us learn about all aspects
of the dog world, but in the course of “progress” older
exhibitors agree that shows have lost something, perhaps they
are more competitive and less of a social occasion than they used
to be. However, I still enjoy shows, especially when I come without
a dog and can watch more of the judging, but even that was much
better when we had one judge and could watch both sexes. Field
Trials were also more fun, but that is another story!

Judging has also changed over the years. Judges always wore hats,
even the men. Jimmy Garrow, a famous Scottish all rounder, always
wore a very large brimmed hat and Bill Burrows always wore a bowler.
I never liked wearing hats, so when Rene Parsons, of Torrdale
fame, judged without one, I decided that if Rene could judge without
a hat, so could I, and I’ve never judged in one since.

Another thing that so many judges used to do, was to pull
out their winner, line them up and then proceed to change them
all round. At one Ch show, the judge had “rounds”, she
lined them up, moved them round the ring and then changed their
positions. In one class, after the 4th round she finally placed
them and the poor girl who had stayed first all the time was put
down to VHC. I feel judges should make up their minds before placing
the dogs and then leave them alone. Fortunately this is the normal
method now.

One thing that isn’t so good now is that some judges are describing
dogs of 23 inches at the shoulder as too big. So many dogs are
at the lower end of the standard (and I suspect some are under
22 ins), that anything nearer the middle to top height appears
too big to some judges. There are maybe a few bitches that are
over 22 inches, but it is a long time since I saw a dog over 24″.
I think there should be some proper measures available to check
the correct height. Tape measures and such things are useless.
It doesn’t matter if the dogs are at the top, or bottom, of the
standard as long as they are balanced, but goldens with short
legs and exaggerated depth of body (and often length of loin as
well) are not!

So many changes have taken place in the 60 plus years that
I have been involved with showing, breeding and judging, but one
thing has never changed – the beauty, the character and the charm
of the Golden Retriever.