Interview with George Lancaster

This article was first published in Wagging Tails (the NEFRA newsletter) in Spring 2002.  George was our first NEFRA President and helped the association really find its feet in its early years.

After more than 50 years in the show ring George has decided to hang up his judging badge. As George says “I am not retiring from the dog world but just from judging as I don’t want people to say ‘look at that silly old man, he doesn’t know what he is doing’.” Hopefully this article and the answers to the questions posed will give you an insight into the charismatic figure that is so well known in gundog circles.

George was born during the first world war and has been around dogs all his life as his father was a manager of a Hackney stud farm and when exercising the horses on the road he had two Dalmatians to run. On leaving school he went into motor engineering and at the outbreak of the second world war he served in the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC) for the duration as a vehicle mechanic.  In 1950 he joined Rolls Royce as an engine tester and remained with the company until he retired in 1981.  On leaving he then became gamekeeper at Crewe Hall where he had been involved as a beater for the previous twenty years.

His very first dog was an Irish setter, which he rescued from a police officer.  When he was discharged after the second world war he purchased his first golden retriever, a dog that cost him twelve guineas, not a lot of money you may think but at the time it was three weeks wages. This dog died of kidney problems when he was only four years old.  He then purchased a seven month old golden retriever bitch, Lady Christina, that the breeder insisted was shown.  At her first show she won ‘Best Gundog other than a cocker’.  He also at this point has an affix of Sandcroft which he let lapse.  His current affix is Oakmoss, and Halstock Juliet produced his first champion Oakmoss Ambassador. He only breeds a litter when he wants a new dog and has never owned more than two or three dogs at a time.  His wife, Mavis, keeps Sussex spaniels.

How did you come to have a flatcoat?
I was at a show with one of my golden retrievers sitting at a ring next to Mrs Grew Broadley and a bitch that she was showing put her head to my knee. That bitch was Ch Rungles Witch. I then went to Birmingham National to look at the breed and ordered a puppy from Mrs Lock, that was my first flatcoated retriever in the March of 1963, a bitch called Halstock Black Dahlia, for twenty five pounds, which was again the equivalent of three weeks wages. My next bitch was Halstock Juliette, my all time favourite flatcoat.  I worked and showed her obtaining one CC and twelve reseve CCs.  She won open bitch at Crufts and the field trial dog/bitch class.  She beat nine champions but failed to get the reserve ticket.

How long have you been judging at dog shows?
I started judging in 1951, starting off with simple matches, moved onto sanction shows, followed by limited shows.  My first open show was at Ashby-de-la-Zouch, where I judged all the terriers, Dalmatians, variety classes and also best in show.  My first championship show judging appointment was twenty eight years ago. It was the second National Gundog show (1973) held at Kempton Park racecourse when I judged Sussex spaniels. My last championship show was the City of Birmingham show (2001) when I judged large Munsterlanders. (George is actually qualified to judge ten different breeds of gundogs).  My first flatcoated retriever judging appointment at a championship show was the third National Gundog show when a young whippersnapper called Audrey Forster won the bitch ticket.  I have judged abroad, with my favourite being the Scandinavian countries where the standards of exhibits are high.

Do you have a memorable show that springs to mind?
Yes, a Flatcoated Retriever Society championship show when I had fifty-three bitches in post-graduate.  Whenever there are two judges for the breed I always seem to end up with the bitches (but George has always been one for the ladies!)

What do you look for when judging flatcoats?
Shape, the dog has got to look like a flatcoat.  An example of that was when I judged at the City of Birmingham show there was a bitch, Gemswin Perhaps Love, a super dog that totally looked the part.  I could not fault her so she got the bitch ticket and best of breed; the poor handler was totally overawed as it was her bitch’s first ticket.

Any memorable quotes that spring to mind?
Yes, two. The first was when I was at Macclesfield show with Halstock Juliet. Fred Dempster (the judge), a terrier man, came up to me and said ‘George, you’ve got a cracking bitch there but you move like a bloody pansy!’. The second was at my first ever committee meeting for FCRS held at Dr Nancy Laughton’s house.  At the time I was a heavy smoker and to be honest overawed by being at this meeting with Brigadiers and the like. Nancy always provided lunch and after lunch she said, ‘Have a cigar, George.’ I was shy then and replied ‘No thank you doctor’. She said ‘Go on my lad, then I can have one!’. Nice gesture and it put me as one of them. When my name came up to go on the judging list I was sent out of the room for what seemed like ages. When I went back in, Amelia Jessel said what had taken the time was whether to put me on as an all rounder or a breed specialist. I ended up as breed specialist.

What societies have you been involved with during your career?
I now limit my time to NEFRA, North West Counties Spaniel Club and the Sussex Spaniel Association but I have served as Chairman of the Flatcoated Retriever Society, Chairman of the Sussex Spaniel Association, Chairman of the United Spaniels, Chairman of the Spaniel Council of Europe, Chairman of the Stoke Gundog Society and President of the Potteries Canine Association.  I have served on the Kennel Club breed liaison for flatcoated retrievers as a delegate.  Mavis has also served as an officer with most of these societies as well.

Could you be tempted back into the ring?
I am on the ‘roll-of-honour’ with the National Gundog Show and if they asked me to judge Best In Show I would consider coming out of retirement.

What are your hopes for NEFRA?
I am one of the founding members and have seen it grow over the years. I would say to keep the atmosphere at shows as good as it is at the moment, if the show is enjoyable then people will come again.

What do you plan to do now?
I will still go to championship shows, but just to watch. As you know I enjoy cross-stitching, I am currently doing a ‘Camargue Horses’ sampler.

Any last thoughts
I have enjoyed the whole world of dogs whether it be show, obedience or field trials and I have made many friends worldwide.  I would like to thank everyone for all the pleasure they have given me over the years. All the best for 2002.