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

The Field - - Comment -

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

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