The Game Fair tradition
Much has changed since the Game Fair was founded 60 years ago; retaining its fieldsports DNA is the key to continuation, writes Editor Jonathan Young
TS Eliot’s J Alfred Prufrock measured out his life with coffee spoons, a timescale seemingly embraced by the majority of the populace given the ubiquity of barristas on the high street. But most of my earthly presence has been marked by Game Fairs, having tramped round every one since 1982. This year will be no different, and we look forward to welcoming visitors to our stand [A14] as The Field did in 1958, when we attended the first Fair.
Sixty years ago it was an amateurish affair in the best sense. Stands were mostly trestle tables manned by ladies wearing pearls buried in battleship bosoms and chaps in ties. in fact, every male present wore a tie and hat. Fieldsports dominated, with guns, gundogs and rods at every turn. And so it continued for many years. Those wishing to buy garden furniture, luxury cars or sticks of liquorice looked elsewhere.
inevitably, the Game Fair grew and as it did the number of stalls aimed at a more general audience increased. Some lamented the change but most reasoned that it gave fieldsports an annual opportunity to showcase our worth to a public unused to the delights of ferreting and ignorant of the contribution we make to the countryside.
These considerations were, i admit, lost on me back in the ’80s. While we were all happy to do our slog on the stands the Game Fair was mostly about fun. i don’t know who propelled the first sardine-paste sandwich at one post-fair party but i know we were the more accurate. And why a platoon of estate keepers pitched up at a barbecue wearing tight skirts and fishnets also remains a mystery; but, at the time, it seemed as reasonable as the hijacking of the press office buggies by the staff of a St James’s outfitters in order not to miss the fizz flowing on the other side of the showground.
The Country landowners’ Association, may the lord’s blessing be ever upon it, countered such frivolity with Brigade of Guards’ formality. owners of errantly parked cars would be summoned by the tannoy to “remove said car immediately” and those attempting to storm the members’ enclosure unbadged were repelled by an army of ex-warrant officers. The Cla’s greatest castigation, however, fell upon those moronic beings who left their dogs shut in vehicles on hot days. And rightly so. it was such a problem that one senior lady, married to a director of a fieldsports organisation, patrolled the car parks with a half brick wrapped in a towel, with which she cheerfully smashed offenders’ windows before leaving her business card with an explanation of her actions should they wish to take the matter further. No one ever did.
Nor did anyone raise a complaint about the brief romance consummated by a young virtuoso gun engraver with an enthusiastic Glaswegian waitress behind the breakfast tent, the wooing compressed into the time taken to request an extra rasher. or about the clouds of feathers drifting across Game Farmers’ Row as contestants strove for the accolade of World Champion Pigeon Plucker. (My 34 seconds was distinctly average.)
The Cla’s ex-soldiers took the view that such shenanigans and raw expressions of the real countryside were as much a part of our world as the panamas and blazers that comprised members’ uniform on the Friday.
Sadly, money began to erode this light-hearted attitude. As the show grew bigger, landowner hosts demanded more rent to compensate for damage to land and loss of farming income. The admin costs grew as the Fair mushroomed and stands became more expensive, partly as a result of overheads but also due to the more polished presentation of wares and the additional staffing needed. it no longer became a case of being at the Game Fair to fly the flag – you had to make damn sure you made a profit.
inevitably, there were going to be tears and threats of legal action when the CLA had to cancel, at short notice, the 2007 and 2012 shows following torrential rain. Attendance was falling and that, coupled with insurance costs, prompted the CLA to announce that the 2015 Fair would be the last.
Yet the Game Fair survived, to be resurrected under new management in 2017. it’s not the 6oth Game Fair, as some were cancelled. it’s certainly not the 60th CLA Game Fair, as some would have us believe. But it is the 60th anniversary of the Game Fair’s founding and we should be grateful for its survival as a unique gathering of the clans, far greater in scale than anything else in the world.
its continual survival, however, will depend on retaining the fieldsports DNA it inherited from that first tweed-and-brogues occasion back in 1958. There is a multiplicity of other events that now specialise in shooting, fishing and hunting while scores offer locally and more cheaply a “family day out”. Being all things to all men is not the formula for success, as the example of the Royal Show demonstrated all too clearly.
What will ensure the success and continuity of the Game Fair is the very human need to meet up with kindred spirits in a convivial setting and share our joint passion for fieldsports and the countryside. And if there’s a sprinkling of hurled sardine sandwiches and a little light buggy piracy, consider them part of its rich and sometimes unruly tradition.
We should be grateful for the Game Fair’s survival as a unique gathering of the clans