The History of the Horti: Chapter 5

The seventies was not an easy time for the country as everyone felt the impact of high inflation, industrial unrest and economic downturn. It also seems to have been a difficult time for the Horti at the beginning of the decade.

The Struggling Seventies

During that period it seems that the drive for change and innovation, as seen during the previous two decades, was temporarily halted. This is evidenced by comparison of the Show programmes for this period. The Children’s Fancy Dress was held in 1969 but seems to have ceased thereafter; the Comedy Football Match seems not to have been played after 1970. There were no special attractions other than the Dog Show in 1972 and 1973. The possibility of reviving the Annual Supper was raised in 1971 but was dropped because of lack of support.

This is not to suggest however that the Village Show was not successful during this period. All the evidence is that it was well attended and a welcome distraction from the economic woes of the time. It also continued to make a profit as confirmed by well kept accounts. Popular long term features like the Tug of War (see photo below) and the (in 1970) 81 different competition classes for vegetables and fruit, flowers, cookery and handicraft, continued to be a central part of the day and the Horti’s activities. It was just that there was no longer the same desire for improvement and new ideas.

Committee Frustration

The Committee’s discussions at the beginning of the decade seemed to acknowledge the lack of new ideas. It was agreed at a 1970 meeting that the Committee ‘needed fresh blood’; they re-elected themselves with seeming reluctance and a commitment to approaching named individuals who might provide new impetus.

Some frustration regarding this issue is indicated by a curious paragraph in the Committee minutes after the 1971 show, presumably written by former Chairman and now Secretary Roy Parker. It read; ‘The Secretary gave a brief report showing that in spite of poor support for the Society’s Committee, the show itself continued to be well supported’. This was followed by a comment that ‘There was again no option but to re-elect the existing Committee en bloc’.

There appears to have been another crisis in 1974 when the Secretary Roy Parker and Treasurer Frank Hopkins both wanted to retire but no replacements could be found. The minutes reflected the frustration of the Committee as shown by the comment ‘All wanted the Society to continue’. In the end the situation was temporarily resolved when Roy Parker agreed to take on the role of Treasurer as long as David Winfield agreed to provide help with secretarial duties.

Parker seemed determined to lose the job as Secretary and made another attempt to resign in 1976; a compromise was the appointment of Derek Armstrong as General Secretary with Parker as Show Secretary. However Armstrong would only commit to a year’s appointment and this period was notable for the brief and minimalist nature of the minutes. Armstrong did indeed resign after a year and the more descriptive minutes – written again by Roy Parker – recorded that ‘the meeting ground to a standstill as nobody was prepared to take on the job of General Secretary’. The meeting was adjourned and members were asked to ‘cast around’ to find someone to take on the role.

The crisis seems to have been resolved by the appointment as Secretary of Alan Taylor in 1977 and this coincided with the momentous development that the word ‘Potato’ was finally spelt correctly after forty years of Potatoe! It is clear from the minutes that Roy Parker was, despite his obvious frustration, the one who kept things going and his contribution to the Horti was shown when there was a special vote of thanks at his final Committee meeting and the presentation of a cut glass Rose Bowl at the 1978 show.

Change at the Top

By that time John Chapman, Chairman and founding member who had served on the Committee for 40 years, had resigned. The circumstances of the resignation are a bit of a mystery, no explanation of the reason for leaving, no vote of thanks for such long service, a complete contrast to the departure of Roy Parker mentioned above. John Chapman was replaced as Chairman by Tom Chapman – not a close relation – who had not previously served on the Committee and who was to have a major impact on the Horti for the next two decades. His appointment was followed by a number of new developments and innovations and this will be no surprise to those who knew Tom. Conversations with those who worked with him on Horti and other village activities during this period recall his positivity and reassurances that ‘it will all be all right on the night’. The photo below shows Tom presenting a competition prize to Daphne Bateman, formerly Winfield.

One immediate development was that, after rejecting the idea of reintroducing the evening Dance in the previous two years, the Committee agreed to bring it back in 1977 and advertise it in the Bucks Herald. A pram race from Bromley to the Recreation Ground (with police notified as a precaution!) was introduced in 1979 as well as the highly successful Clay Pigeon Shoot. The latter was run by the new Chairman himself and he was proud to announce a profit of £51 on debut.

One change which perhaps illustrated the different approach of the new regime was a letter to village residents in 1977, asking them what they wanted from the Show and the Horti. It was very open in admitting that the number of entries had dropped sharply in recent years and showed a desire to revive interest and recruit more members. This led to a special meeting followed by the enrolment of a number of new members and a significant increase in show entries in 1979. The letter outlining this new approach was signed by the new Secretary Alan Taylor.

The other noticeable change after the new Chairman’s appointment was the introduction of a number of new Horti activities in addition to the Show. A film show, and a winter meeting at which a horticultural expert gave a lecture, were both introduced in 1978/9 with apparent success.

The Doughnut Challenge

We would not have heard about the doughnut eating competition but for the discovery of an old newspaper cutting. There is no mention of this important event in the minutes of meetings or in the list of delegated tasks which was arranged each year. The Newspaper report in 1986 – probably from the Bucks Herald – revealed that the competition had been organised each year since 1972, with Atkins Bakery supplying the doughnuts and awarding a prize of six free doughnuts each week for a year to the winner.

It was also revealed that the winner in every other year of the 1970s was the same person, a Mr Michael Cheney of Tring, who established the extraordinary record of seventeen doughnuts in a minute. They say that you shouldn’t believe everything you read in the paper and this record does seem to be pushing credibility. We will describe in the next chapter how the champion’s title was taken away from Cheney in the 1986 Show by a challenger, now a well-known resident of Long Marston. And how things may have been slightly exaggerated!

The Celebrity Search

The desire for a celebrity to open the show continued to be a feature of Committee meetings. Ambition still tended to exceed reality as requests to well-known equestrian commentator Dorian Williams and musical star couple Johnny Dankworth and Cleo Laine came to nothing. There was the same response when the Countess of Essex was invited.

There was however success in 1978 and 1979, achieved by a return to the formula that had worked once in the 1960s; target the Soap Stars. This was the time when ‘Crossroads’ serial was at its peak popularity with 15 million viewers and the 1978 show was opened by actors Carolyn Jones and Jeremy Mason. This led to coverage in the Bucks Herald and, building on this success, Crossroads stars came again the following year. The photo below shows the opening taking place as Chairman Tom Chapman stands nearby, either covering his eyes from the Sun or feeling the strain!

It will be interesting to see in the next chapter whether the Crossroads success was to lead to more celebrity invitations.

The VP Decline

The numbers of Vice Presidents dropped sharply during the decade, particularly after the change of Chairman, and the minutes no longer showed the same desire to recruit more. As mentioned in the previous chapter, the numbers had declined to twenty by 1970, to only sixteen by 1976 and twelve by the end of the decade. And in 1979, the names of the VPs were not shown in the programme for the first time.

Perhaps this was due to the new management team’s opinion about the benefit of maintaining this group. In the previous chapter we mentioned that the desire for donations seemed to be the main purpose of their appointment and there is an interesting reference in the Treasurer’s report in 1970 that he had ‘overlooked a VP’s donation for the sum of £1’. Maybe this level of donation was not enough to justify the time spent on recruitment. A further factor may have been that, despite the ups and downs of this period, the financial situation always seemed solid, with surpluses each year and over £500 in the bank at the end of the decade.

Scope for more change?

One area where there perhaps wasn’t enough change was in the production of the Show programme. A comparison of the 1970s versions to those of the early 1950s shows no major difference in content or quality. The process as revealed in Committee papers was to take the previous year’s edition, alter the year and make changes to the list of Committee members and VPs.

This may have been one of the reasons why the heading still showed ‘Schedule’ and ‘Annual Exhibition’ even though these terms was never used in discussions and other communications; this was the identical wording to that first introduced by Gordon Savage in 1936. It is also interesting that when new Secretary Taylor wrote the letter to villagers as mentioned above, he asked for suggestions for improvement to the ‘Annual Show’.

The next chapter will reveal the extent to which the 1980s was to be a period of change in this and other areas. Would the new momentum following Tom Chapman’s appointment be continued?

Next chapters:

The History of the Horti: Chapter 1

The History of the Horti: Chapter 2

The History of the Horti: Chapter 3

The History of the Horti: Chapter 4

The History of the Horti: Chapter 5

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The History of the Horti: Chapter 5

The seventies was not an easy time for the country as everyone felt the impact of high inflation, industrial unrest and economic downturn. It also seems to have been a difficult time for the Horti at the beginning of the decade.

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