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The late, great Jim Biss of Norwich .

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I was very sad hear the bad news of Jim Biss's recent death, I think the sport of pigeon racing has lost one of its greatest fanciers! I met him at his “Hillside” lofts in the mid 1990's when we were making a “Many Miles with Mott” video on fanciers in Norfolk and found him to be a perfect gentleman. I think Jim Biss was a “man's man” and was a great man to talk too about long distance pigeon racing, having a brilliant lifetime record, which was second to none. Jim was an original member of the British International Championship Club and gave it his full support in the 27 years, since it was formed in 1978. I think I'm right in stating he won the BICC 20 times, including 15 times 1st open Marseille and lifted the ‘2 bird average’ several times. A wonderful record put up by one of our greatest champions!

It was the weekend before the 1996 Pau Grand National when I visited Jim’s fantastic pigeon set up, at his home in Brundall near Norwich . His racing record in National, Classic and Federation events has been well documented through his 70 years in the sport, winning 1st open countless times. Jim started up in 1936 and the best performance that came to mind, he said was the 1993 Pau National Flying Club race, when he was 1st, 2nd and 7th open, plus several other useful positions. The 1993 Pau National had 5,427 birds entered and Jim's 1st open winner was the blue widowhood cock, “Vend”, which had also flown the 646 miles from Pau the previous season, which was a very bad race. A few minutes after clocking “Vend”, Jim recorded the dark chequer cock “Turban” to take 2nd open Pau , and this great pigeon's previous form in distance Nationals was outstanding. We handled these two great champions when we looked at Jim's team of breeders in his wonderful stock lofts, which housed 70 pairs. All Jim's old birds were paired up on 13th January and picked out breeders on their winning bloodlines, saying good pigeons are normally a good type. After 70 years in the sport he raced his own family of pigeons, based on his old English family of 1936 with different introductions through the years. A lot of his champion racers were bred down from a hen he had in 1939 and several generations of National winners have come down from her.

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Jim raced 90 cocks on the Widowhood system and was only interested in long distance racing. The racers were not broken down, but got a light feed in the morning and a heavy mixture at the evening feed. The birds got a few tosses before the first race, after which they flew out around the loft for one hour morning and evening. The hens were never shown to the cocks on marking nights, but the pairs were left together for about an hour on the cock's arrival from the race. Jim never flagged the cocks around the loft, as it kills their keenness, and he maintained you need fitness and keenness to win at the long distance. The Hillside loft bred 100 young birds each season to race and replace old widowhood hens. They were raced through to 160 miles and some cocks were stopped and set aside for the widowhood system. The babies were well trained up to 40 miles before their first race, but after that no training was given. Jim took no notice of young bird performances and considered these races for learning.

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On leaving Jim's Norfolk home in 1996, I shook his hand and wished him good luck in the Pau National the following weekend. Little did we know that he was going to win the race, with his partner, Tony Waite, at their loft in Whitchurch? Because of adverse weather at Pau the National convoy was brought back and liberated at Saintes on the Tuesday morning. Jim Biss recorded 14 birds in the open result at the Brundall loft and took 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th section H. A fantastic performance! The Sunday morning after the Pau / Saintes National saw me drive the 150 miles round trip to Coal Henley, a quiet little village, just outside Whitchurch in wonderful Hampshire to visit the latest National Flying Club winners, Jim Biss and Tony Waite. Jim bred all the Biss & Waite pigeons and Tony raced them to his home, which was set in the Hampshire countryside. From the Saintes National the partners clocked 27 birds at the Whitchurch loft to get into the open result and chalked up 15 birds in the first 50 open, including 1st, 4th, 15th, 17th, 21st, 22nd, 23rd,  33rd, 35th, 36th,  39th, 42nd, 44th, 48th  and 49th open, with 4,976 birds competing. A fantastic performance!

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Jim and Tony formed their very successful partnership in the early 1990's and won several National races in Hampshire. Jim bred all the birds from his champions in Norwich, and although the birds won the Federation in sprint races, the main aim each season was the National and long distance events. The partners raced both widowhood and natural, with the main team being 72 widowhood cocks. Yearling cocks were raced natural and not put on the widowhood until they were two years old. The 60ft widowhood loft had a pantile roof and open door trapping, with six sections, four for the racing cocks and two for their hens. The nest box fronts were the same as Jim's at his Norwich lofts and the lofts had grille floors. Tony started to pair up in mid- March and paired one section each week, so that the birds' condition was staggered through the racing season. The natural old birds and young birds were housed in a second loft, with pantile roof and “super” trapping. Biss & Waite had 20 natural pairs and Tony told me, he liked hens sitting for the long distance events. This loft had a wire flight in front, as Tony maintained fresh air was most important, and I must say the partners pigeon looked in brilliant condition on my visit to the loft, the weekend after the National win.

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Cyril Galyer of Wallington: 1978: 1st open BICC Barcelona.

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The British International Championship Club was formed in 1978 and in the years after, started a real serious interest in International pigeon racing in this country. Cyril Galyer of Wallington was the first fancier to win 1st open BICC Barcelona in the 1978 season and my late friend, Joe Bradford, took me to meet this long distance fancier the year before he won the Barcelona race. On our arrival, Cyril, took us down to his neat, self-built loft which was in a wire compound to protect the inmates from cats. The two main families kept were Hansennes and Allcock of Scotland, with several other good crosses. Cyril started up on his own in 1960, before that he was loft boy for the late Wing Commander Lea Rayner OBE from 1948 to 1959. Lea Rayner was in charge of the RAF lofts during the 1940/45 war. Cyril told me he visited many great lofts with Lea Rayner, who lived a few yards up the road from the Galyer house.

The first pigeon we handled on my visit to the Galyer loft was the “ace” mealy pied hen, “Belinda”, winner of 1st  club, 2nd Federation, 5th Combine Nantes, 3rd section, 3rd open BBC Palamos in 1977, winning ‘Smart Trophy’, ‘Whiffin Trophy’ and ‘Harkers Trophy’. She was a nice type of hen, handling medium apple-bodied and was sent to Palamos sitting four day old eggs. She was dam of Joe Bradford's 23rd open BBC young bird Rennes 1977, which was a dark chequer hen, that Cyril bred for him. Cyril Galyer's full performance flying in the British Barcelona Club in 1977 was: 3rd, 64th, 84th and 102nd  section A, 3rd, 133rd, 181st and 225th open Palamos; 8th, 39th, 65th, 70th and 132nd section A, 8th, 42nd, 70th, 79th and 157th open young bird Rennes. A great performance! He was runner-up in the Channel Average in 1996 and 1997. Next to be inspected was a handsome Hansennes dark pied cock and he had won a stack of red cards in the show pen as well as 5th British Section, 208th open Pau International, 205th open BBC Palamos and 2nd club Niort . He was the dead spit of his sire, who I handled next. He to, was a dark pied and was one of the main breeding cocks in the Galyer loft. He had flown Bergerac, but Cyril found his youngsters flew better so he put him to stock, where he bred many winners including the Joe Bradford 's 23rd open Rennes hen. Cyril had won many firsts in the shows with his Hansennes and liked to see a good width between the pigeon's eyes, and also liked a nice long cast pigeon, saying at the time these are the ideal type for long distance racing. The other main stock cock was a 1971 red chequer bred by Don Allcock of Stafford and he was the same way bred as Don's 1st  open MNFC Nantes winner. He had bred many good distance winners and Cyril told me this pigeon was his ideal type. Cyril's favourite pigeon was a blue chequer hen bred by R. Emrys Jones of Sully and she won 7th open BBC Rennes for the Galyer loft in 1976. Cyril had a good year racing in the BBC in 1976 recording 88th and 126th open Palamos, 3rd and 7th open Rennes.

The very nice four section loft was “L” shaped and 36ft long with a sharp sand dressing on the floors. This housed 18 pairs of racers and about 50 youngsters were bred each year. The nest box fronts were made of hard board to give the in mates peace and quiet, and the birds were fed as much as they wanted to eat in their nest boxes. The bird’s diet was beans, turkey pellets and linseed, with plenty of minerals, grit and clean water. The birds were trapped through drop holes and Cyril was only interested in channel racing in the National and Classic. Only four pairs of stock birds were kept and were housed in a 6ft x 4ft stock loft. Cyril bought a whole year's supply of corn in advance and maintained the most important thing in good loft design is dryness. Training started in April from Brighton, working eastwards to Dover and Folkestone. The young birds had one race from Blandford, to get them used to the transporter, then into the BBC Rennes race. Cyril maintained the best pigeons he had ever owned had never had a race as a young bird.

When I asked him who he looked up to in the sport, he said, most of the old school that have now passed on, including Fear Brothers, Eric Cannon and Mr. Cook of Morton. The birds were paired up in early March and eggs from the Palamos birds were reared by the yearlings, then the Palamos birds reared their own second round of eggs. Cyril liked to show his pigeons and thought eyesign was rubbish. He was dead against the money side of the sport and said at the time too much money breeds bad feeling. Cyril's wife, Lola, did most of the training, but she only timed in once and left a pile of feathers. The build-up for the Palamos birds was Seaton, Rennes and coastal training tosses, then, into the Palamos race. A great fancier!

Doug Bartley of Ashvale: 1984: 1st open BICC Barcelona.

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British International Championship Club members have put up many outstanding performances in the open International results since its formation and probably one of the best in the early days was put up by Doug Bartley of Ash Vale in 1984. His blue pied Delbar hen, 'The 37 Hen', recorded 1st open BICC, 154th open International (10,030 birds) and was unpaired in 1984, but paired up for the Barcelona race. This fantastic hen nearly won the BICC from Barcelona in 1981 recording 2nd open BICC, 808th open International (13,500 birds). This champion distance racing hen handled really well, being of medium size, apple bodied and had an excellent eye. Apart from her two great Barcelona performances she had also won 4th club Avranches, 4th club Nantes and 4th club Rennes.

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Doug Bartley first started keeping pigeons at the age of 13, with birds obtained from a friend who was packing up pigeon keeping. His first racing pigeons came from two fanciers in Wokingham, and didn't really have much success with them. Doug said that on reflection he thinks it was because he had too many to manage properly. Mick Walker of Camberley came to his rescue, putting Doug on the right road and it wasn't long before his pigeons started winning cards. In those days he was interested in most sports but his main interest was middle distance and cross country running. He left the pigeon racing sport in 1968 to return in 1977 to be beaten by 2ypm in his first race back. His first pigeons were a mixture of Vandeveldes, Barker and Delmotte, which performed well, especially across the Channel from 1956 to 1968. In those days he raced in the old Camberley club which was South Road. He said his main problem with his early days was never having patience enough to hold a few pigeons back instead of racing them out and losing them. He well remembered in 1955 his team of youngsters had scored in all but one young bird race so he sent almost all to the final St. Malo race and never saw a pigeon home.

His first loft was made from a load of slab timber purchased from the sawmill for £5. His Ashvale loft was 24ft long and about 12ft wide. It had an abundance of ventilation, with floor to ceiling louvres on the loft front, and the birds were trapped through open doors. One of Doug's best racing cocks was the Delbar mealy pied cock 'The 13 Cock' and he won 2nd BICC Open Guernsey in 1984 after sitting out on the loft. He was paired to the ‘Barcelona Hen’ in 1984 and won many other top prizes including 1st club, 3rd Federation (4,175 birds) Guernsey, 29th open Nantes NFC, 8th section, 112th open Lamballe NFC and 55th section Nantes NFC. Most of Doug's best performances were from Channel races and another of his ‘ace’ racers was the De Baere dark chequer cock '98' and he has a long list of prizes including 1st club, 19th Federation (2,721 birds) Dax, 1st club, 19th Federation Avranches, 1st club Plymouth and 1st club Dax.

Doug had often wondered why some fanciers never visit the prize table and having handled quite a lot of pigeons at club marking he said some fanciers feed far too heavily. He said you have to get the protein and carbohydrate to the right balance and some fancier's mixture is too heavy. Other fanciers don't seem to know how to condition a pigeon and then of course you have to create that love of home, a bond of trust between fancier and pigeon. Doug said his birds often just stand looking at him with complete trust and at times he had to step over them, they are so trusting.

He wintered about 14 pairs of stock birds, up to 28 pairs of racers and bred as many as 50 or 60 youngsters, but he decided to cut down on numbers a bit. He used to pair the stock birds on 14th February, but he had so many good birds he could be selective with the birds he bred from and he paired up the second week in March. In 1984 Doug flew completely widowhood flying both cocks and hens, with some first class results. He had found flying widowhood the birds were so much fitter and almost always in perfect condition. The only time they saw each other was when they return from the race and Doug said the ‘Barcelona Hen’ was treated the same way as the other widowhood pigeons. He was a self-employed painter and decorator and sometimes was so busy he barely found the time for his pigeons. He maintained that a pigeon that scores from a certain race point will do so year after year from that same race point. The main team was Maurice Delbar, with a fair sprinkling of Delwiche, Burger, Bostyn and De Baers. The Delbars were the most successful flying from short distances through to Barcelona. Another outstanding Delbar racer was the two year old blue hen '37' and she had two firsts from Nantes and Berwick. Another double winner was the strawberry mealy '10' and he had won from Rennes and Weymouth.

Doug said his most thrilling experience was seeing '98' come from Dax on the day to win 1st club, 19th Federation in 1984. One would think timing a BICC Barcelona winner would have been, but Doug said he didn't see her come, which is the thrill. His wife fed and sometimes trained the birds, and if he was committed to work she would time them in. In 1982 she clocked the winner on three occasions. He liked second and third season pigeons to fly as far as possible and yearlings race up to Nantes. The youngsters raced through to Guernsey at least. He always mixed his own feed normally a mixture of beans, peas, tares, wheat and maize, varying the mixture day to day and Doug fed quite a lot of barley during the year and some condition seed, from time to time. He didn’t normally give old birds much training just a few tosses at 20 miles and a couple at 40 miles then into the races. Yearlings had a little more mostly at different points of the compass and youngsters were trained slowly up to 60 miles, but were started at all points of the compass. Doug considered that eyesign needs to be studied in conjunction with every other aspect of pigeons and he liked to see plenty of strong colour in the eye. Doug said in his opinion Eric Cannon of Wormley was the top local fancier, his performances were second to none and he had the dedication to succeed. I hope my readers have enjoyed this insight into a great BICC champion!

Ian Benstead of Capel.

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The Dorking loft of Ian Benstead won 1st open British International Championship Club from Lourdes in 1986 and although he has been out of the sport many years, his name lives on, with many premier long distance fancier winning with his pigeon today. I first visited Ian in 1977 when my late good mate, Dick Brooker, took me to his Capel home to report on his Niort Combine win. When you visited his loft, which was set in the wonderful Surrey countryside, you were lucky to see the pigeons, as they had an open loft and roamed the fields all day. If the pigeons would stay in the trees, Ian said, he wouldn't bother with a loft. Ian Benstead was a natural flyer in the truest sense of the word, with his brilliant long distance team of pigeons spending most of their time in the trees and fields. I revisited Ian again in 1986 when he had a wonderful season racing in the British International Championship Club, recording 1st, 5th, 6th, 23rd, 25th and 26th open Lourdes (555 miles), 2nd and 13th open Perpignan (603 miles), 3rd and 19th open Pau (537 miles) and 4th and 11th open Marseilles (603 miles).

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Ian started in the sport in 1949 with a stray blue chequer hen from a fancier in Carshalton and that game pigeon broke his novice status from Seaton the following year. Ian had trapped the hen, so he took it back to the man on his bike, who thanked him very much and gave him half a crown. On his return home, Ian found the hen had already returned there, waiting for him. Next day, he returned the pigeon once again to Carshalton but the man presented it to him and thus started him up in the sport. When Ian went into the army he gave the hen away and she bred many winners before she died at a ripe old age. He obtained 30 July bred; latebreds from Ron Sheppard in 1964 and these were the base of his champion long distance family.

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Ian's best performances in the SMT Combine were 1st and 2nd open Niort in 1972 and 2nd open Nantes in 1975, although many other positions were won. He hadn't competed in very many Pau N.F.C. races, but recorded 2nd section,15th open, 9th section, 34th open, 4th section, 142nd open and 6th section, 259th open. Ian's Niort combine winner, “The Combine Cock”, was still in the loft at that time and looked fantastic for his 18 years of age. This handsome old white flight cock won the SMT Combine in only the second race of his life. Ian rated Eric and Pat Cannon of Godalming the best long distance fanciers in the Surrey area and had a lot of admiration for John Goodwin, the NFC convoyer at that time. He said John was second to none and when he liberated you knew the birds would home well. He thought good loft ventilation was most important and said a horse is likely to catch a cold when you bring it in and not when you put it out in a cold field. When the birds are exposed to the elements they come to hand naturally, with the seasons. He said he thought the old bird races started too early and finished too early. Ian had never introduced another bird into his loft since he started with the Sheppards in 1964. The loft was creosoted inside and out, and Ian thought there was nothing finer. He said it doesn't hurt pigeons, as a hen drunk some one day and she didn't bat an eyelid. Ian always said he would bet odds on a short flier in regard of over fly as the further the bird fly there is always another wire and another gun, and the further fliers have a hard job. His loft was 20ft x 12ft and the birds were trapped through open doors. Ian built the loft himself with wire floor and the droppings are cleaned out from under the loft. Wire windows were on all four sides so the wind blew right through the structure and the nest boxes had no fronts, so the intruders could be rejected without much fuss or damage. He liked the birds to be subjected to the weather and maintained they were better for it. He told me, one day he put a handful of grit on the nest boxes and the wind blew it straight out the window at the back of the loft. The birds had an open loft all day, in any weather, and nested in anything, including cardboard cartons.

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The 1986 B.I.C.C. Lourdes winner was a very nice blue chequer hen called, “The Lourdes Hen”, and was a classic long distance type, being medium sized, with good length in the body. This game hen won the Lourdes event in only the second race of her life. Ian's 5th open BICC Lourdes winner was the blue cock, “Double One”, and he also won 3rd East of England Continental Club from Orleans (246 miles). Ian told me the cock was for the future. Another of Ian's stars was his blue chequer cock, “The Marseilles Cock”, which had flown Marseilles four times with the BICC, recording 4th, 7th and 9th open and Ian flew 603 miles from this race point in the south of France . He liked a medium apple-bodied pigeon and said it took three year for his to mature and Ian liked to see the eye placed in the centre of the head. He used to be a race horse trainer at Epsom and a lot of his pigeon management was based on his horse training days. He didn't race inland and the youngsters were not raced or trained in the year of their birth. One hen in the Benstead loft was sent over 600 miles for her first race of her life and returned safely. The birds were not parted in the winter months and were put down to breed in March. Training started the first week in May and was mostly from the south coast, including Bognor, Worthing or Brighton. Sixty old birds were housed and 30 youngsters were bred each season and if anything looked wrong with a squeaker or egg it was disposed of without delay. He said pigeons are easy enough to breed so why waste time on sub-standard goods?

The birds were hopper fed on beans in the winter and a good mixture when racing, but didn't like rearing on beans. A pigeon that caught my eye was the blue chequer cock, “The Bergerac Cock”, which had won in 500 mile show classes. This handsome cock was getting on in years, but had a wonderful racing record, winning 1st club Bergerac and 6th open BICC Barcelona. One of Ian's favourites was the light blue chequer cock, “The Two Way Cock”, which won 1st club, 11th Federation Thurso (530 miles) north road, as a yearling. Ten days later he was sent to Lourdes (555 miles) south road and was recorded on the winning day. A wonderful family of long distance racing pigeons!

After my visit to Ian Benstead's loft in 1986, the loft went from strength to strength and Ian is one of the most respected long distance fancier in the sport. One of his best performances in recent years was in 1992 when he won 1st open London & South East Classic Club Dax. A brilliant fancier!

Well that’s it for this week! I hope my readers have enjoyed this look back at four British International Championship Club champions of yester year. We will be looking at some more very soon. To view some old video footage of some of these fanciers and their birds go on to my YouTube channel. I can be contacted with any pigeon matters on telephone number: 01372 463480 or email me on: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.