After months of research, The Game Fair’s original founding father – the late Nigel Gray – has finally been tracked down ahead of the event’s 60th anniversary celebrations this year.
Mr Gray’s family have kindly donated a black-and-white portrait photo of him at the very first Game Fair in 1958 which will be on display at the onsite museum being curated to celebrate the history of The Game Fair and country sports in general when the festival of the great British countryside returns to Ragley Hall in Warwickshire from Friday, 27 July to Sunday, 29 July.
The Game Fair concept dates back to the mid 1950s when gamekeepers used to gather on the second day at Crufts each year for the gundogs but yearned for a festival to call their own. Mr Gray was a senior advisory consultant at the Imperial Chemical Industries Game Research Station, a forerunner for the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, when he came up with the idea to bring the shooting community together to discuss ideas and promote the sport. When the Country Land & Business Association agreed to become a sponsor, The Game Fair was born and grew from there.
The Game Fair was held for the first time in the Cambridgeshire village of Stetchworth. It proved to be far more successful than Mr Gray and his fellow organisers had hoped for, with 8,000 visitors coming through the gates over two days.
“My father was always interested in the development of the land,” said Mr Gray’s daughter, June Watkins. “He was a great fly fisherman and had a great interest in fishing and shooting. He sadly died at the age of 67 in 1985, partly as a result of his trials and tribulations in the war.
“I have some memories of going to The Game Fair when I was young. He certainly would never have imagined that The Game Fair would be still going strong 60 years after the first one. I’m thrilled to have found this picture of him at The Game Fair in 1958 and look forward to seeing it taking pride of place in the museum.”
For regular visitors to The Game Fair and fieldsport enthusiasts, The Game Fair Museum at this year’s event will be a blast from the past. Showcasing paraphernalia of yesteryear, it will be curated by writer, broadcaster and gun historian Bill Harriman, who has been director of firearms at the British Association for Shooting & Conservation since 1991 and practices as a firearms forensic examiner. A specialist on the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow, he looks forward to sharing his passion for firearms and their place in history to a wider audience.
A host of individuals, groups and companies have pledged to make intriguing contributions. They include London gunmaker Holland & Holland, a long-standing exhibitor at The Game Fair, and the antique fishing tackle collector Victor Bonutto, who will be exhibiting for the 30th year in a row this summer.
Bill Harriman commented: “There is lots of enthusiasm out there for this project. Some things at The Game Fair have changed drastically over the years, while others have stayed much the same. I’ve had a very positive response and some of the items that could potentially be on display are bound to attract a lot on interest from the real enthusiasts in their field who know their history.”
The Game Fair® is being held at Ragley Hall in Warwickshire, Friday 27 to Sunday 29 July 2018.