Why a Shropshire village dropped the live donkeys

By Toby Neal | Minsterley | Shrewsbury entertainment | Published:

They dropped the donkeys because nobody wanted to judge them.

Tony Shryane talks to members of the show committee before recording their meeting. From left: Mrs Sue Embrey, show secretary; Tudor Bebb, chairman; Lord Bridgeman, president; Tony Shryane; Martin Dyas, treasurer; Miss Joanna Skinner, producer's assistant.

Tony Shryane got that on tape.

The expenses for the security team's guard dog were increased. Tony got that on tape too.

And there was a master plan to resite the beer tent. But that meant they would have to move the loos too.

For the organisers of the 105th annual summer show in Minsterley, there was a visitor eavesdropping on their every word.

For 28 years Tony Shryane was producer of the BBC's longest running radio programme, The Archers, that epic soap of country and village life. So when it was suggested that he have a look at the workings of a real village community as it planned its show, he needed no persuading.

By June 1980 he was a producer of light entertainment, and the assignment brought him to Minsterley where the village show committee was finalising its arrangements.

Tony Shryane, producer of The Archers for 28 years, in Minsterley in 1980 to eavesdrop on the village show preparations.

He descended with microphones, miles of tape to fill, two BBC sound engineers, and an assistant who recorded, often grinning, the two-hour meeting at the nucleus of community activity – the village pub.


His aim was to produce an amusing half-hour programme taking a lighthearted look at the work that goes into organising a typical village agricultural show.

The idea had been suggested to the BBC by Minsterley's publicity officer, former journalist Mrs Jackie Edwards, who wrote to the head of documentaries at the BBC telling him all about the show, where farmers and a lord worked enthusiastically together to organise the grand event.

She described the typical and often hilarious hitches encountered by show organisers on the great day, like judges going missing, home-made wine entries being stolen during the night, and sheep escaping from their pens and running amok in the donkey ring.

The BBC took the bait.


As the 40-strong membership crammed into the small meeting room, initial bashfulness at the fact that they were being recorded soon evaporated, and Tony got plenty of entertaining material for his broadcast, including the revelation of some show secrets like the disastrous year an errant mongrel from the neighbouring fairground got among the entries in the horticultural tent and scoffed several cream cakes and all the children's gingerbread men.

Sheep judging at Minsterley Show – this is the 2015 event.

Afterwards 61-year-old Tony said: "It's just typical of the type of thing the Archers could have been involved with in Ambridge. It was rather like going back 28 years to when I first started producing The Archers. The various rich accents here were quite strange and interesting, and were very much a part of the meeting."

One of those there on that night was Martin Dyas, of Pontesbury, who was the show treasurer from 1968 to 2018, and president in 2017 and 2018.

He says the recording was made in the meeting room at the Crown & Sceptre pub in Minsterley.

"I might just add that looking back at my records the show that year featured bantam grass track racing and a clay pigeon shoot, together with Percy Thrower judging the flower section," said Martin.

"It went on to record a net show profit of £1,016."

However, he added: "Sadly, as with most events this year, the show has had to be cancelled. However we look forward to 2021 being better than ever."

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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