Last year, Crufts was in favour at the BBC with Ben Fogel, Clare Balding and Peter Purves its star presenters. It attracted 14 million viewers. It was over four nights but, to give it context, the FA Cup Final attracts only half that viewing figure. Pedigree Chum was the sponsor and an outfit called PDSA (which I thought had something to do with Children in Need) smiled benignly on it.
Then in August BBC1 ran a documentary, Pedigree Dogs Exposed, which claimed that intensive breeding of pedigree dogs has led to health problems in some breeds. It featured boxer dogs with epilepsy, pugs with breathing problems and bulldogs that could not mate or give birth naturally.
Wailing about the wheeziness of Pekinese knocked me off my comfy chair. What gall the BBC has to think that it can be an arbiter of taste of dogs that pre-date by two millennia. What intolerance the BBC displays. What a harping, harpy, national broadcaster we have. The Pekingese breed is more than 2,000 years old and has hardly changed in all that time. It was being revered by the Chinese imperial court while the ancient Britons struggled with shades of woad. The pug first appeared in the 17th century and the boxer in the 19th.
I have never been partial to pekes, ever since I was bitten by the one owned by my horrifying Great Aunt Cicely. It is the only dog that has ever bitten me in anger. I was three years old and pulling the poor animal's peculiar curly tail but the event coloured my view of pekes in particular and lapdogs in general. What's the point of a dog that doesn't do anything? I'm glad to say that the BBC has changed my opinion. That programme turned me from a BBC-supporting lapdog loather to an anti-BBC chihuahua cheerleader. At last, lapdogs are doing something useful: converting people like me to the greatest dog show
So what if Pekes wheeze. Labradors are prone to hip dysplasia – should they be destroyed? I wheeze when I go near cats. Should I be put down? (all right – quiet in the cheap seats).
Pedigree Chum ceased as sponsor of Crufts, PDSA went off the event, presumably to save a child somewhere. And for the first time in 40 years, the BBC pulled out. This year's coverage of this massive event looks like it is going to take place on the internet.
Happily the BASC Gamekeepers' Ring, sponsored by that excellent dogfood manufacturer Chudleys, is still going strong. Gamekeeper classes take place on Saturday 7 March. You can watch out preview of Crufts in the week running up to that. Thaen we will get our programme about it out by the evening of Monday 9 March. So don't watch Eastenders - watch FieldsportsChannel.
Even with gundogs (and even without the BBC), Crufts will still be a bit fluffy. But that's part of the joy of it.
If you see one, do get a copy of the Punch Book of Dogs. First published in 1984, it is abut 150 pages of the best dog cartoons there are. The US version of Punch, The New Yorker, produced a similarly excellent book of cat cartoons in 1990 which, I reckon, shows one of the main differences between Britons and Americans. In the Punch book, there's a cartoon of a bitch in a basket with a ribbon round her neck saying languidly to another dog: "I'm enrolled at the Kennel Club – whatever a kennel is…"