2 FAVOURING THE FLAT-COATED RETRIEVER
FAVOURING THE FLAT-COAT
The Flat-coated Retriever I have long admired and when I was younger mourned their absence from the shooting field. It has been good to see a small renaissance of their working qualities. They were once every gamekeeper's first choice. Combining handsomeness with intelligence, they have never been spoiled by over-popularity. Writing in his The Dog of 1880, 'Idstone', who was a gundog authority in his day, described one with these words: "He was as black as a raven - blue-black - not a very large dog, but wide over the back and loins, with limbs like a lion, and a thick, glossy, long, silky coat which parted down the back, a long sagacious head, full of character, and clean as a setter's in the manner of coat. His ears were small, and so close to his head that they were hidden in his feathered neck. His eye was neither more nor less than a human one. I never saw a bad expression in it." An enchanting description, richly deserved.
James Wentworth Day, a demanding dog-man if there ever was one, referred to a Flat-coat in his The Dog in Sport of 1938 with these words: "But Black Bess...was my father's dog, a magnificent flat-coat who shone in the sun like a raven's wing, who walked the grass with the gait of a queen. She was all good looks, good breeding and good heart." These words came back to me some years ago, firstly when watching the late Pat Chapman's 'Shargleam Blackcap' win Best in Show at Crufts, and again when seeing FTCh 'Werrion Redwing of Collyers' at work in the field. Here were two happy handsome dogs in contrasting circumstances, really 'selling' their breed. In 2007, Phil Bruton owned and trialled the only Flatcoat to be made up to Field Trial Champion in 26 years, his liver bitch, ‘Shirlett Sweetheart’. He had another very promising young dog a few years later, ‘Shirlett Skylark’, that showed great promise.
Drawback to Dual Purpose
New Name Proposed
The breed owes a great deal to early pedigree breeders like the Shirley family of Ettington Park, H Reginald Cooke (who ‘collected’ Flat-coats from gamekeepers at an unprecedented rate), the Phizaklea family and Dr Nancy Laughton with her ‘Claverdon’ kennel. They have left us with a handsome but essentially utility breed. For me, in looks, companionability and sheer willingness, this breed is the supreme retriever. I would like to see him renamed as ‘The English Retriever’ and placed at the head of our rightfully revered retriever breeds – our national breed. I sincerely believe he has the qualities and the history to justify such a distinctive title. This breed has never been spoiled by over-popularity, has a healthier genotype than some gundog breeds and has every right to be regarded as solely born here, developed here and fashioned here. We are not very consistent over claiming our native breeds; we have the English Setter, we have an English spaniel breed. Unlike the Germans we do not claim our Pointer by name. We credit an overseas place in our Labrador’s title, but elect to describe our other retrievers by coat texture or colour. But retrievers are a British invention and the Flat-coat is the soul of their development here; let’s celebrate that.