“SHOW RACER WORLD” – Number 1.
Valerie Viccars of High Wycombe.
We are going to feature a lady who has been a good worker for the sport for many years and has now taken more of a ‘back seat’ in recent years. I was looking forward to visiting the High Wycombe lofts of Tony and Valerie Viccars for some time and I finally achieved the visit on a cold, frosty, Saturday morning, in the depths of winter. Tony raced in the local club with outstanding success, but the purpose of my visit was to see Val’s show racer team, after her outstanding performances in recent seasons.
Val was born in Uxbridge, Middlesex, and lived there until she and Tony got married, when they moved to the High Wycombe area, where Val was a secretary for a firm of solicitors. Initially Tony kept a few racing pigeons in 1983 on moving into their cottage, bought a few fantails for the garden. This went down well with the neighbours, so after a couple of years Tony bought stock birds from Louella and started racing with the Wycombe Coly. In December of that year they went to the Old Comrades Show at the N.E.C. Birmingham and Val was immediately interested in the show birds on display. They got talking to one of the judges, Reg Price of Worcester, about the sport and the Show Racers, and he agreed to sell Val two pairs of stock birds. A couple of weeks later they picked them up from Reg and paired them up in one of the sections in Tony’s racing loft. The following year Valerie met up with top show man, Bill Meader of Rainham, Essex, and his colleague, Tommy Jones, who gave her a great deal of help and advice, and provided her with some excellent stock birds. Bill and Tommy, and their wives became very close friends of the Viccars.
In 1985 Val bought her own Show Racer loft off the late Ted Hills of Tonbridge and Tony built on to the original loft and finished up with six sections. Four sections had wire bays, each with a concealed bath which drained to the outside of the loft keeping the inside nice and dry. Val was a member of the Midlands Show Racer Society of Shipton on Stour, where she won the Points Trophy for several seasons and was the Society Champion. The Society was run by Angela and Alan Noyce who did an excellent job of organising five club shows each year, followed by the Championship event in January. Val’s local show was the R.P.R.A. Southern Region Show, which she attended most years and in 1989 she won B.I.S. with a young Mosaic hen. In 1992 she achieved B.O.S. at the London Show at Edmonton, with a three year old Silver Mosaic hen. She won several firsts at the Old Comrades and in 1994 had two firsts, one of which won Best Young Bird in Show. The Viccars pigeons won first and best through the wires at the Louella Classic in 1990 and at the first R.P. Southern Classic at Bournemouth, she won two firsts, with her good Grizzle hen winning reserve Best in Show. To finish off a great 1996 season Val won two firsts in the Inter Society classes at the B.H.W. Blackpool Show and with other cards, she picked up the trophy for Most Points in the six Inter Society classes. Valerie was the secretary of British Show Racer Federation for several years, with John Robilliard as chairman and Doug McClary president.
The show team was made up of mainly ten pairs and the three pairs of stock birds were paired up two weeks after the Blackpool Show. Val told me, when pairing up she tried to concentrate on the colour and size, and liked to house only two pairs in a section in the loft, to stop fighting. She usually had an 80% success rate with hatching from the first two rounds, the second being better than the first. The number of youngsters was then reduced over the next few months, to about 25 before their first outing, which was the Thames Agricultural Show.
Val fed the same corn all year around, which was a 50% / 50% mixture of Versele-Laga Super Widowhood and Star Brand Super Junior. At the weaning stage youngsters were given extra maple peas and as a treat all the birds got a little Red Band two or three times a week. As far as the water was concerned she added garlic once a week and minerals twice a week. The show team got one bath every week, normally two days before the event. She tried to keep the birds in good condition all the year round, but more effort went in during the week before a show.
Sandra Williams of Camborne.
When you are looking for one of the very best pigeon fancy press scribes, you need not look any further than Sandra Williams of Camborne, our own ‘Celtic Lass’ of the British Homing World. Sandra has raced pigeons very successfully for many years, in partnership with her husband, Graham, but what she is mostly famed for is her wonderful writing and the great success she has achieved with her team of Show Racers.
Sandra married Graham in October 1970 and has three children, and six grandchildren, which she says are the love of her life. At that time they raced Greyhounds at the St. Austell, where they met Bob and Ecla Penfold, who raced Greyhounds, but also were pigeon fanciers. The Williams started up in pigeons in 1975, with some Vandevelds and Champion Major pigeons, the old black pieds, which they obtained from Bob Penfold. More or less from their outset in pigeon racing, Graham and Sandra won club races and averages, but had some good luck in the late 1970’s, when their acquired their famous “Dutch Pair”. This champion stock pair bred countless winners, racing and showing, for the Williams loft. Graham says, these days the partners concentrate manly on the long distance channel races, with the N.F.C., B.B.C. and Cornwall Continental Flying Club, where the partners won 1st. open Lamballe in the 2005 season. They race 24 cocks on the widowhood, but dabble a bit with some natural birds and maintain that their best performances are mainly with natural hens.
Having been involved with pigeons for most of her married life, early one morning in 1995, Sandra received a telephone call from Jack Bolitho (Cousin Jack) of the British Homing World, asking if she would like to take over his column in the fancy press. Jack had been suffering some bad health and was finding it very difficult to produce a column every week. She was flattered that Jack had considered her for this important job, but was also terrified that she was up to the task and to follow in ‘Cousin Jack’s’ footsteps. Sandra told me, having always lacked self confidence in herself, she nervously said, ‘I will think about it Jack’. She thought about it and decided to give it a go, and after a while found she was enjoying the writing. It was getting her out of the house more, giving her a new lease of life and a sense of adventure. Sandra says she loves writing and her pigeon scribe work is now her whole life. The rest is history, as we all know now, ‘Celtic Lass’ is one of the very best pigeon scribes in the sport today!
In January 1998, Graham and Sandra were invited to judge at the B.H.W. ‘Show of the Year’ Blackpool, and thought it to be quite an honour to be asked. They had no idea what classes they were to judge, but were thrilled to be told on their arrival in the Winter Gardens that they were handling two classes of young Show Racers. Sandra’s father passed away just two days before travelling to Blackpool, and his dying wish was that she went, whatever the outcome. She had very mixed emotions on that weekend in Blackpool, sadness and the thrill of excitement and nervousness, that goes with judging at one of the biggest pigeon shows in the world. She went down the aisle between the show pens with her judging stick, making them all stand up and thought to herself, they were the finest array of pigeons she had ever seen! She judged at racing pigeon shows many times with her hubby, Graham, but to judge at Blackpool, is an experience she will never forget. She started to judge in the Winter Gardens at 20.00hrs and at 23.35hrs she had picked out a beautiful young Mealy cock, which says literally took her breath away. There was one to have beaten him, but sadly when Sandra held out his wing, a moth had eaten away a bit of his flight. Her winning Show Racer had it all, beautiful head, a well-balanced body, the soft fine feather, a mealies ‘black pea’ eye and a wonderful stance. She gave him ten out of ten! Next morning she was greeted by John Robilliard who asked her, what she had selected and she told him, it was a Mealy belonging to Fitzpatrick, Fleming and Coutts of Glasgow. Sandra’s selection went on to win Best Young Bird in Show and on meeting ‘wee’ Jimmy Fitzpatrick, he told her it had previously won ten firsts. After that first meeting at Blackpool, Sandra and Jimmy became very good friends and several years later Jimmy gave Sandra the Blackpool Mealy cock as a 50th birthday present.
After the Blackpool weekend Sandra couldn’t get those gorgeous Show Racers out of her mind and had been well and truly smitten with them. She rang Jimmy Fitzpatrick in Glasgow and decided to purchase some Show Racers from him. Sandra says, Jimmy was her ‘mentor’ after that and taught her all she knows about Show Racers, with some invaluable help from her husband, Graham. With the birds she had sent down from Scotland, there was a superb Mealy cock that had won Supreme Champion at the Blackpool for the Fitzpatrick, Fleming & Coutts partnership. Sandra bred some wonderful Mealies from these original birds that were the foundation of her Show Racer loft. ‘56’ as he was known, bred Sandra a young Mealy cock, which won Supreme Champion at the Duchy R.P.C. Open Show (578 birds) at Polgooth in November 2001 and then the handsome cock was named, ‘Celtic Supreme’. He went forward and was entered in the Supreme Champion of Great Britain class at the Blackpool Show in January 2002 and was 3rd. of the 17 champions entered, and won the R.P.R.A. Show Racer award for that year. In 2002 Sandra bred, ‘Joe 90’, a Mealy cock from ‘Celtic Supreme’, and this young cock, which was the spitting image of his father, and won Best in Show twice as a young bird. ‘Celtic Supreme’ bred many outstanding show birds, including a sweet hen called, ‘Snowdrop’, which won Best of Series and overall Champion at the South West Show Racer Society. The dam of ‘Celtic Supreme’ was a Mealy hen loaned to Sandra by the well-known show man, Roland Thresher. Within a couple of years Sandra had a loft full of winners. In January 2002 ‘Celtic Lass’ had a B.B.C. film crew visit her loft to record her wonderful Show Racer team and feature the great ‘Celtic Supreme’.
Her birds always had access to an aviary, where they had two or three baths a week. The loft was scrapped out at least once a day, sometimes twice, especially if a show was coming up. Sandra’s feeding regime consisted of beans, peas and tares, which was fed once a day in the show season. The birds were given all the normal grit, pick-stones and Condition seed. The youngsters were the same, but never allowed to get fat, as there is a fine line to handling well. Before she paired the stock birds they were fed very light, which was usually after the Blackpool Show. The light feeding continues until they lay and then the better food is increased, and this mixture continues right through the breeding season.
Sandra has won Best in Show many times at all the premier Show Racer venues and some more of her best birds were: ‘The Red Cock’ had seven shows as a young bird and won five firsts: ‘The10’ a Mealy cock which was one of Sandra’s all-time favourites and he won six firsts as a youngster: ‘The Silver Hen’ gifted to the Williams loft by Sandra’s good friend Roland Thresher and she won Best in Colour Class (a very large class) Pensilva Open Show. Sandra’s achievements with her birds must be described as brilliant and her wins would be countless. She has had some wonderful experiences and memories with pigeons, not only with racing and show pigeons, but ‘Fancy’ birds, such as the Oriental Frills. Sandra told me, these are a difficult breed, where the adult birds can’t rear their own young, and need a foster pair of racers.
A few years ago Sandra started to become ill with repeated chest infections, which followed one after the other. Her G.P. gave her anti-biotic after anti-biotic and sent her for a chest X rays, finally she was sent to an Immunologist at Derriford Hospital. In 2004 after several visits to the Hospital and many tests, it was revealed that Sandra had the dreaded Pigeon Fancier’s Lung Decease. She was devastated by the news and could not believe it, convinced they had got it wrong. Sandra asked herself, ‘Could this really be happening to me?’ She says she absolutely adored the Show Racers and still does. In December 2004 all her birds were sent back to Scotland and her heart with them! The doctor gave her ten years minimum, and if she didn’t heed the warning, would finish up a respirator in a few years, if she continued to keep pigeons. She was shell shocked and felt very bitter. On 15th December 2004 every bird was boxed up and sent to Scotland, and by the 20th the loft had been sold, leaving Sandra feeling very empty indeed. Although she always wore a loft coat and changed her shoes, she had not always worn a mask or head gear. It’s the bloom that settles on the lungs. She had a 17ft loft with two sections, and housed a dozen birds in each section, so overcrowding never affected her lungs, because her loft was never overcrowded. As Sandra says, ‘It’s just one of those things!’ Sandra has kept pigeons of all the different codes for over 30 years and now keeps her interest going with her writing in the fancy press, which she thoroughly enjoys. She is still in partnership with Graham, with the racing pigeons, but she never goes in the loft. During the summer month she enjoys watching the birds exercise around the loft and on race days watching for the channel racers.
Nicole Bell of Catrine in Scotland.
The John and Alice Bell partnership have won ‘Supreme Champion’ at the BHW Blackpool ‘Show of the Year’ a record six times and are a ‘household’ in the UK Show Racer fraternity. Not many people know that their daughter, Nicole, is an outstanding pigeon fancier in her own right, winning several premier shows, including ‘Supreme Champion’ at the RPRA Southern Region Show held at High Wycombe in November 2016. Her winner was her four year old mosaic cock, ‘Mervanic’ and he was a gift Show Racer from Mervin Hosking of Wales. Nicole is only 23 years old and works for the National Autistic Society as a support worker. She tells me, her work commitments is the only thing that makes her miss the shows, but she tries to work her shifts around it and uses her annual leave to cover time off so she can attend the pigeon shows.
I recently had a chat with Nicole and what a smashing girl she is! She has very definite and positive views on the direction she is going in with her pigeons, and this is what she had to say, ‘I have been brought up with pigeons all my life, with my mum and dad being John and Alice Bell. Dad raced pigeons from 1975 until 2006, when he parted with the racers and started with show racers. From about 2002 till the present day I was always in the loft with the birds, starting when I could first walk and I loved it when the babies were parted and I could sit on the floor with them. People used to say to dad, she will frighten them or pull a feather out of them, but dad said they will soon get used to her. I always went to the shows with them up until I was about 12 years of age, then I did want to go as much, as I wanted to play with my friends. Then when mum and dad were away I was left to look after the birds and I started to get interested again, so I asked them if I could have my own team to show. So I set about picking my favourites from mum and dad’s loft and at the end of that season.
In 2015 I had two Society shows and then it was into the BHW Blackpool Show. In my first season I had some success in the Society events, but when it came to Blackpool I knew it was a different ball game. I had a 2nd and won the fancier with most points Inter Society classes and this was a fantastic achievement for someone to get in their first season. This year, the 2016/17 season was my first full season showing and I finished up at the Society with runner up to mum and dad for the ‘points trophy’ and won one of the best trophies in the Society. It was the ‘A. & A. Clark Trophy’ and this is for the birds that won Best in Show or Reserve Best in Show at the Society during the season. They are all put in a class at the end of the Society season and judged the ‘Best in Show’ out of the eight winning birds of the season. My yearling blue chequer cock that won the trophy also won the accumulator money of £100 for the first nominated bird to win a ‘Best in Show’ and a bottle of Rum donated by the judges on the day. As everyone who shows knows it's very difficult to take this team on and beat them, but I did and gave them a run for their money, finishing up with a good few firsts and a load of cards. Then it was the open shows, I wanted to beat them at this so everyone would see I was dedicated to my team and not just helping mum and dad. I showed at all the open shows this season winning 1st prizes and cards at all of them. The best result by far was when we travelled all the way (800 miles round trip) to the RPRA Southern Region Show held in High Wycombe and my mosaic cock that Mervin Hosking kindly gave me when I started, won his class of coloured cocks and then went on to win ‘Best in Show’. With 478 birds entered in the Region show, that got him qualified for ‘Supreme Champion’ class at the 2017 Blackpool Show. I was over the moon just to beat mum and dad, and to also win my first big open show in my first full season showing. Mum and dad won ‘Supreme Champion’ for a record 5th time at Blackpool 2017 and congratulation to them for that wonderful achievement, but I will be back next year and to try again. I also had a first in class 8 with a young chequer hen and I hope she keeps improving all year for a shot at the big shows at the end of 2017.
I'll have to go in mum and dad's loft when they are not in and ring a few young birds for myself! You know accidents happen. LOL! My plans for this season 2017/18 are to copy dad's feeding methods more strictly and keep my eyes and ears open. Dad is a heavy feeder and always says the birds will only eat as much as they need and the mixture he uses is his own method of tic beans, maples peas and barley. The barley is there for when the birds have had enough, the barley will always be left and if they don't eat that then they don't get any more corn. So that's what I will be doing in 2017, with no tip bits for them because dad said mine were too heavy. I have to say a big thanks to my mum, as when me and dad are working she cleans and feeds the birds for me as well as her own. Hope to see all of the fancies at the open shows for 2017 and can I also give a special mention to all the members in ‘Team Bell’, as they all have helped me get started not only with birds but with just about everything that has to do with me showing, from lofts to birds and advice and friendship’.
Nicole has got only six pairs for the 2017 season, so hopes to get around 20 young birds. She will not be breeding off the six pairs and will be breeding off four pairs and the other two pairs will be used to rear the babies for her. She said, ‘I know some people will think why not take young birds off all, but they have to be compatible to one another and this is why only four pairs will be bred off. Dad always does this and what he does is good enough for me. I always travelled with mum and dads to loads of shows when I was younger and just listened and watched what they done and now I just put this into practice. I have handled all mum and dad's birds, but dad never makes me pick the same as them and I pick my own type and colour. My favourite bird is the mosaic cock as he is tame and likes fighting with me when I am in the loft and this is good because tame birds are easier to work with and when you have them like this they love coming to you and sitting on my shoulder showing off. This makes the young birds tame as well, as when they see their parents are okay with me it steadies them and give then confidence’.
Nicole hasn’t got a favourite colour, just looks of good handling abilities and a good body with tight feathering. She doesn’t like birds that are looking slack and puffy, as they need to be standing straight and showing themselves off, with tight condition, white wattles and nice clear eyes. She maintains the showing game is all about opinions and everyone likes different things, so she just stick to what she likes and if she wins great, if she doesn’t then she just has to take it and come back again. Nicole said, ‘when I show against mum and dad is hard to beat them but I'll give it my best and see what happens. I have been very lucky to have mum and dad to supply me with two quality birds and I know when you start up in showing it is very difficult to obtain good birds. People think I get it easy but I can assure you that I don't, if I make mistakes dad just says make sure you don't do it again and learn from it’. She told me, they are always there for her, but she likes doing her own thing in my short showing career. She has done fantastic, with her mosaic cock, ‘Mervanic’, winning 2nd at BHW Blackpool Show in 2015 in the Inter Society cock class and he then went on to win ‘Best in Show’ at RPRA Southern Region Show in 2016 with 430 birds competing, he then was in ‘Supreme Champion’ class at the BHW Blackpool Show in 2017.
Nicole also had a 1st with a young chequer hen in class 8 (young hen handling) at Blackpool 2017 and plus a few other cards. She was runner up in Society to her mum and dad and I was part of the Society that won best Society at the BHW Blackpool Shoe in 2017. She had firsts in classes at SHU Open Show 2016, RPRA Southern Region Show 2016, Midlothian Open Show 2016, the Kingdom Open Show 2016 and Dublin was the only open show she didn't get a first prize at. She told me, ‘that's not bad for a beginner! Some people don't give me credit for what I have achieved in my first full show season because they think it's all mum and dads work, but it's not. I only missed two shows all season and travelled 400 miles each way on the same day to show at the RPRA Southern Region Show and this is not something you would do if you are not mad or mad keen. LOL! I get my own birds ready for the show pen, them at the shows and clean them if needed and mum and dad do their own birds’. Nicole is now looking forward to pairing up on Valentine's Day and then the time will soon come when she will have babies. She likes this time best, but doesn’t like pairing them when the cocks start pecking the hens, and get too rough with them. She is looking forward to the show season and hopes everyone has a good breaking season and gets plenty of quality young birds. What a girl, she really is ‘Miss Dynamite’! Winning ‘Supreme Champion’ at a National show in her first full season was competing. A fantastic achievement!
TEXT & PHOTOS BY KEITH MOTT (www.keithmott.com).