Leaflets for this year’s Royal Bath & West Show are starting to drop through letterboxes. Far be it from us to suggest that the show is run by a far Right clique but the leaflets areeasily confused with party literature for UKIP or the BNP, draped in more Union Jacks than you can shake a halyard at. Far be it from us to suggest either that the organisers aren’t aware that they run the premier agricultural show in Wessex: the Countess of Wessex was Show President in 2010 and 2011 and since then has been Vice-Patron. The B&W is one of the few longstanding organisations that have served both ‘the West’ and ‘the South’ within Wessex: its full name for many years was the Bath & West and Southern Counties Society, the result of a merger in 1868. Before the permanent showground at Shepton Mallet was established in 1965 the show was held all over Wessex, with occasional forays as far as Swansea and Maidstone (and on two occasions even Nottingham).
But here we are: the ‘Great British Festival of Agriculture, Entertainment, Food & Drink’. In fact, for visitor numbers the B&W is well behind both the Royal Welsh and the Royal Highland. On the inside pages, we’re told about ‘England’s biggest celebration of rural life’, words incongruously accompanied by yet another Union Jack. Numerically, this is contestable. Yorkshire has a perfectly good county show which styles itself ‘England’s premier agricultural event’ and its attendance figures lie in a similar range. There’s no mention of Wessex at all in the leaflet: even the ‘West Country’ only just slips in on the back page, which tells us about traders exhibiting in the West Country for the first time. All in all, it sounds like a lost opportunity for showcasing the region’s produce rather than somebody else’s.
It seems that under its newChief Executive the B&W, instead of remaining what it is, and being good at it, is determined to be what it’s not, another national festival that happens to be located in Wessex. A bit like Glastonbury (and, yes, Michael Eavis, this year’s President, is credited with sourcing the live music). In that case, it needs even more visitors to fill the site and pay for it all. Now just short of its 240th birthday, the B&W has survived by moving with the times but we hope it doesn’t bite off more than it can chew. The fate of Stoneleigh is a solemn reminder of the risks ag show organisers must now constantly face. We’d like to say, go and support it while you still can, but if it’s no more distinctive than many of the others, where would be the point?