No other show has played such an important part in the affairs of the Lizard Canary Association as the National Exhibition (1). Sponsored by Cage Birds magazine (as it was then known), it was the ‘National’ that gave the nascent LCA the opportunity to demonstrate to the world its determination to save the oldest breed of canary from extinction. 75 years later it remains, in much altered form, still the best public showcase for the Lizard canary in Great Britain.
The LCA was formed on 13 May 1945 with just four people attending the inaugural meeting. One of its first tasks was to conduct a census which “as nearly correct as possible . . . revealed that there were probably no more than 30 true pairs left alive in the country” (2). Its next task was to offer patronage to cage bird societies as an incentive for breeders to exhibit their Lizards. It did not get off to a good start.
The first patronage show at Downham attracted only four entries. It was the National Exhibition, a few weeks later, that gave the LCA a much needed boost. No less than 45 birds were entered by 18 exhibitors. Admittedly two-thirds were over-year birds (3), but no one could doubt the strength of support for the Lizard canary. By the end of the year the LCA’s membership had risen to 25, including William Scott, John’s father (4).
For the remainder of the 1940s the National Exhibition was held at the Royal Horticultural (New) Hall, London, but the show outgrew the space available, and the decision was made to move the 1950 event to Olympia. Olympia is located in Kensington, just about the last place you would try to organise a bird show nowadays because of the access and parking restrictions. 1950 was a different world though. Most birds and their owners travelled by train, and a central location in the capital with excellent rail links to the entire country was a big advantage.
Olympia proved to be a success and the show stayed there until 1966 when increasing pressure on space forced a move to the Alexandra Palace (5). Its greatest advantage that can be seen from the photographs is the natural lighting; the hall was (and still is) blessed with fully glazed gables and generous roof lights. It was perfect for judging and viewing birds. A weekend away in London with your bird-keeping pals must have appealed too.
Another benefit of Olympia was that it could offer the LCA a meeting room for its AGM, but in 1950 the Association had no need for it because, bizarrely, it had never held an AGM (6)! For the first seven years Robert H. Yates, the Association’s chairman and founder, had undertaken most of the Association’s administrative duties himself. No AGM had been convened because “it was thought it would never be representative of so scattered a membership and it would be unfair to bind members to decisions made at a meeting at which they could not possibly attend” (7).
For all his good work, this was clearly undemocratic and unsustainable. A major overhaul of the administration of the LCA was conducted in 1951 (8) and the first AGM was held in 1952. The natural choice of venue was Olympia.
Thus a formal bond between the LCA and the National Exhibition was created. The arrangement was enshrined in the Association’s constitution and remained in force until the last of the ‘old’ Nationals (still sponsored by Cage & Aviary Birds) held at the Birmingham Exhibition Centre in 2003.
This gave the ‘National’ a status that no other show could match. Even though the Club Show (9) invariably attracted a bigger entry, the ‘National’ became the most prestigious event of the year. Where else could a breeder become National champion? Where else could he or she have a say in how the Association was run?
Most photographs of the event feature people rather than their birds. We see judges and stewards conferring, winning owners standing stiffly with cage held in hand, and to give the event a touch of glamour, attractive young ladies posing with parrots or mynahs. We rarely get to see close-ups of the winning birds.
A rare exception, particularly for a Lizard canary, is a photo of the Best Silver Lizard benched by Eric Southwick in 1958. Fred Snelling, in his review of the National, described it as “an excellent broken cap, full of work and of really grand colour”. Mr. Southwick was clearly proud of this bird because he repeatedly referred to his Best Silver in his sales advertisements even though he had won Best Lizard at the 1957 National with a clear cap silver cock (10).
Here are the National champions during the 1950s:
- 1950 L.G. Wood
- 1951 F.W. Snelling
- 1952 F.W. Snelling
- 1953 no show (moved from November to January)
- 1954 L.G. Wood
- 1955 Miss O. Branch
- 1956 Miss O. Branch
- 1857 E.E. Southwick
- 1958 R.H. Collins
- 1959 F.W. Snelling
The list includes some illustrious names from the Lizard pantheon, but surely the greatest result was achieved by a breeder of whom you have probably never heard: Mr. R. H. Collins. His gold cock not only won the award for Best Lizard but also for Best Unflighted Canary, a feat that no other Lizard has achieved (11) as far as I am aware. Fred Snelling described it as ‘a grand broken cap gold cock, full of work and colour, a real Lizard if ever I saw one – a great win for a grand fancier’.
Here is the tribute from the LCA’s General Secretary, Terry Dodwell (12):
“It is with great pleasure that we publish this note of congratulations to Mr. R. H. Collins upon his magnificent win of the ‘National’. To win the major award of Best Unflighted Canary is surely the triumph of a lifetime, and every member is delighted this award should have gone to a Lizard canary.
Our pleasure is all the greater that it should be Mr. Collins who won this award of which we can all be proud, for no better sample of a true fancier could be found. Joining us as long ago as 1946, he has always accorded us the fullest support yet without achieving any special distinction. At this year’s Club Show he travelled all the way down from King’s Lynn, leaving immediately he came off duty, (Mr. Collins works on the Railway) and returned in the afternoon again to go on duty almost at once! (13)
It was typical of the man that, amidst all the congratulations on his win, he pointed to Miss Branch and said “There’s the young lady who supplied me with the stock from which I bred the winner”. A nice unselfish gesture. Again, congratulations Mr. Collins!”
Two worthy tributes and a generous acknowledgement; they show the Lizard fancy at its best. I have deliberately resisted the temptation of describing the 1950s as “the good old days”, but we can see here the spirit of friendly competition and mutual respect that we can still enjoy in 2020. It was also the decade that created the framework by which the LCA still operates today. The legacy of the 1950s lives on.
- Most of the information for this article has been derived from the Scott Archive, but I would also like to thank Paul Dodds for his generous donation of Cage Birds collected by his father in law, Frederick Quatermaine, in 1952 and 1953.
- The show’s official name changed to the “National Exhibition of Cage and Aviary Birds” when Cage Birds, its principal sponsor, changed its title.
- “The Years of Progress” published in The Lizard Canary Fancy, Vol 1, No 9, March 1958. The article is unsigned, but was almost certainly written by the LCA’s General Secretary, Terry Dodwell, who was also editor of The Lizard Canary Fancy.
- “The first twenty five years” by John Scott, Lizard News autumn edition, 1995.
- John Scott joined the LCA, in partnership with his father, in 1946.
- A history of the National Exhibition and its venues can be found here.
- No balance sheet was presented in the first four years either. “The Years of Progress” as (2) above.
- “The Years of Progress” as (2) above.
- The administration of the LCA was divided between two committees known as the North and South Sections. This arrangement continued until a decision was taken at the 1959 AGM to revert to a single national committee known as the Council of Management.
- The Club Show was usually held in conjunction with various CBS shows until the LCA Classic was established in 1992.
- I find it intriguing that Eric Southwick never claimed the credit for his victory in 1957. He emigrated to Canada in the 1960s.
- Bill Davis came close, with another broken cap gold cock, which was awarded Third Best Canary in 1999.
- “Congratulations Mr. Collins!” The Lizard Canary Fancy, Vol 1, No 9, March 1958.
- Mr. Collins’ career echoes that of a much better known Lizard fancier who worked on the railways: Stan Bolton.