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Flashback to 1978 and a vintage year for the West Mid Show

By Toby Neal | Shrewsbury | Entertainment | Published:

1978. Here comes summer – and it's showtime.

1978 was the centenary of the Shire Horse Society. George Jarrett, of Shrubbery Farm, Stoney Stretton, Yockleton, was showing this three-year-old shire horse, Shrubbery Lucy Lass, competing in the decorated class. Getting a close up look is little Rebecca Jones.

Alas, for reasons we all know about, this is more likely to be a no-show summer. So to make sure you don't miss out, let's take a dip into our archives to the days of the West Mid Show in Shrewsbury, and specifically to the 1978 show, which began on Wednesday, May 17, of that year.

In the long history of the West Mid, that was a particularly vintage year, with many visitors telling organisers afterwards that it had been the most successful ever.

A record number of tickets had been sold even before the gates opened at 8am.

Many visitors used the pontoon bridge to cross the River Severn, seen here being built by the Army in an undated picture.

For three weeks the show kiosk in the Square in Shrewsbury had been swamped with ticket buyers, with its takings being well over double the 1977 total.

And the livestock entries were close to those of the 1975 centenary year, with records tumbling in the horse section, trade stand exhibitors, and children's riding classes.

There were several new classes, including French Limousin beef cattle. The cherry on the cake for the event was that there was that all-important sunshine too, which of course makes all the difference.

An undated aerial view of the West Mid Show showground.

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Among those there was Buzby, who some will remember from the television post office adverts of the time featuring a yellow bird. Taking on the role of Buzby on that first day was 19-year-old Kevin Whitfield, of Market Drayton.

It meant dressing up in a yellow nylon and canvas costume, red tights, and a fibreglass hat. His relief on the second day was Clive Grafton, of Oswestry.

Inflation had ramped up the show's overheads, so the bill for staging it came to just under £100,000.

There was history underfoot for the thousands of visitors who streamed into the showground every year over a traditional pontoon bridge spanning the River Severn.

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Sally Gwynne, 17, of Broseley, makes a friend of Caroline, a Shetland pony.

The pontoons were ex-Army and the last time they had been used operationally the people crossing them were on a far grimmer mission – traversing the River Rhine as the allies fought their way into Nazi Germany in 1944.

Now they belonged to the show organisers and every year they were fitted together to provide access into the showground from Frankwell.

An Army spokesman said at the time of the 1978 show: "They are museum pieces. There is only one other complete set of equipment in the United Kingdom, and that is held by the Royal Engineers Bridging Museum."

The West Mid Show, Shrewsbury – a central part of the county's agricultural scene.

The pontoons were assembled by a team of civilians organised by show secretary Brigadier Charles Barker.

The RAF stand that year included a Folland Gnat jet from the famous Red Arrows display team, and among those to take the chance of getting in the cockpit was 76-year-old Miss Philippa Ethelston, of Shrewsbury, who had run the Red Cross centre in Shrewsbury during the war.

Unplanned aerial drama came thanks, or rather that should be no thanks, to evening prowlers at the ground who cut loose an oil company's giant balloon. The £900 helium-filled balloon was spotted at 2am floating gently above the Brecon Beacons, 95 miles from the showground.

Jackie Egerton with her two-year-old Jacob ram Casper.

It prompted an alert from the Ministry of Defence which warned aircraft of a possible danger. The hired balloon had been tethered by a strong nylon line at a height of 150ft feet on the Total Heat stand.

There were also problems at the pontoon bridge where two spare boats for the pontoon which had been left lying on the bank were launched by someone and discovered floating in the river.

First day attendance at the two-day show soared to over 28,000 for only the second time, and with the second day attendance of 31,096, the overall total of 59,116 was the third highest in its 90 shows.

The West Mid Show was first held at the Quarry in 1875, but was put in voluntary liquidation in November 2009.

However Shropshire and West Midlands Agricultural Society members voted in January 2010 not to wind up the company, and instead to launch a new show – The Shropshire Show.

Now called the Shropshire County Agricultural Show, this year's extravaganza had been due to be held on Saturday, May 23, but has been postponed to May 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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