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Neville - A New Double Champion at Newbury

Norman Murphy Reports

For some years now, the Society has sponsored the Berkshire Pig Breeders Club Champion of Champions competition at the Royal County of Berkshire Show. This meant that, on 18 September, while most of you were rubbing your eyes and wondering if the Sunday papers had arrived, our chairman Hilary Bruce and husband Robert, and Elin Murphy, official Society photographer for the day, and husband Norman, were driving down the M4 so as not to be late for the judging which was timed for 9 o’clock.

The Newbury Show is a very big affair but we all found each other in time to coo over the ten delightful little Berkshire piglets on display in an enclosure beside the main show ring (actually a large rectangle), before the first class of the morning.

The first event was the Inter-Breed competition in which a number of assorted pigs, including Tamworths, Durocs, Saddlebacks, Gloucester Old Spots, a Berkshire, a Kune Kune and others, solemnly paraded slowly round the ring. (With the best will in the world, the woolly coat of the Kune Kune always makes me think it is really a very odd sheep in disguise. But what do I know?) There were some lovely animals there and it took some time for the judge to decide on a winner.

Perhaps this is the moment to comment on the headgear worn by judges at county shows. Stewards and other officials wear flat caps or riding caps or go around bareheaded, but judges dress properly. The men wear a bowler hat with a dignity appropriate to their importance, and the lady who judged the Inter-Breed competition today wore a hat of such elegance that even mere males commented on it. She was a judge of great experience and her choice was warmly applauded, especially by your Society representatives. The winner she chose was Neville, a splendid Berkshire boar, handled and owned by Suzanne Westron of Arundel.

Who's a pretty boy then? Neville, resplendent in his Champion's sash

After that righteous Berkshire triumph over lesser breeds, we were agog for the next event, our event – the competition to find the best champion among the champion Berkshires paraded before us. As ‘the sponsors’, the four of us left the plebs behind and made our way past the barriers and ropes to a spot beside the commentator to enjoy the sight of sixteen superb Berkshires coming into the ring. The commentator told us what the judge was looking for: good legs, a straight back and a good underline (don’t ask). Now, this judge – tall, thin, bowler-hatted  – had a problem. These were all champion Berkshires, they had all won prizes elsewhere and they looked it. So, how do you decide which is best?

Well, let’s just say, it took him a long time to decide. So long that the commentator had the time to enthral the audience with information about PG Wodehouse and his special connection with Berkshires and about the Wodehouse Society sponsoring the competition, not once, but five times. He also had time to tell us that the Berkshire’s popularity in the late 19th century was due to Queen Victoria having a herd at Windsor which lasted till the 1950s (also five times); and that Beatrix Potter had a Berkshire herd (four times). Using a copy of Wooster Sauce providentially provided by our chairman, he then went on to regale us with news of forthcoming Society events, the Emsworth Weekend, the next meeting at The George, the forthcoming Convention at Dearborn, even the dinner in 2012. The poor man was getting desperate but, at last, at long last, the judge made his decision. It was Neville – champion again!

Left to right: Neville triumphant; Suzi Westron;
and Hilary Bruce weighed down by the winner's silverware

This was when our chairman came into her own. Resplendent in a black creation similar to, but carefully chosen not to outshine that of the preceding lady judge, Hilary sailed across the ring to present Suzie Westron with her second championship trophy of the day. Our chairman is clearly getting good at this sort of thing. The trophy was presented to Mrs Westron, the red rosette was handed over, the judge was thanked for his hard work, Mr Westron was also congratulated and then the moment came we all look forward to – applying the sash to the winner’s back.

I say ‘applying’ because I can’t think of a better word. In theory, the sash is put across the animal’s back and then tied underneath so it can’t fall off. However, Hilary has learned that even the most lovable and amiable of Berkshires do not like their nether regions (the ‘underline’ that is so important in competitions) constricted by tapes applied by strangers to whom they have not been introduced, and a respectful draping of the sash across the broad championship back is all that is really required. And that is what happened, leaving everybody – the judge, the owner, the chairman and the champion – perfectly content that things had been done the right way.

(Of course we are all secretly hoping that, one day, Hilary will be faced with a restive Berkshire who doesn’t want the sash anywhere near him/her and Hilary will have to chase him/her round the ring before performing a splendid Rugby tackle, throwing the pig on its back and tying the sash round its legs as cowboys tie up a recalcitrant steer.)

And then there was the Reserve Champion, the delightful and splendidly named Dittisham Lady Seventy, who showed equal equanimity with her trophy for second place while her proud owner, Sue Fildes of Dartmouth, Devon, looked on.

Reserve Champion Dittisham Lady Seventy, owner Sue Fildes
of Dartmouth, and Hilary Bruce

So, the new double champion Berkshire this year is Neville, who celebrated his triumph by having a good lie-down on a pile of straw. It would be nice to think he was just tired out after all the excitement, but he clearly took it all in his stride. Another day, another championship, he said to himself as he went to sleep.

– Norman Murphy