Malcolm Taylor, a founder member of the Tyne Tees and Tweed Field Trial Association, is a pillar in the gundog world. Q&A with Amy Bates.

Malcolm Taylor commentated on the spaniel section at last year’s CLA Game Fair. He did a fine job and during the downtime we chatted dogs and shooting – what else? He has been on the Field Trial Liaison Council for more than 10 years. He is currently its chairman and had previously served on it as a club representative back in the late 1980s for six years. He is also a member of the Field Trial Sub Committee and has been an ‘A’ Panel spaniel judge since 1997. A keen shot, Malcolm was a founder member of the Tyne, Tees and Tweed Field Trial Association. He was the field trial secretary for both retrievers and spaniels for 15 years. “Being a field trial secretary for both spaniels and retrievers has given me the opportunity to gain valuable experience on all aspects of trialling,” he says.

Amy Bates and Malcolm Taylor Q&A

Amy Bates: Why spaniels?

Malcolm Taylor:I just like them. I started trialling with spaniels in 1979. By 1986 I was working away a lot, so my wife Hilary had to look after them and our growing family from Monday to Friday while I was working. Without Hilary I wouldn’t have been able to trial. At the time we had cockers and English springer spaniels. A cocker in the kennel is fun but I had an ESS field trial champion dog and if a decent bitch came to him I had a pup from the mating. I have trained retrievers in the past for friends and gamekeepers as a favour – I never ever train for money. Someone would ring up and say they had a problem with heel-work or other issues and I would help sort them out.”

Amy Bates: Do you pick-up with your dogs?

Malcolm Taylor: “I enjoy picking-up on the grouse moor and it is a huge advantage in getting dogs fit. That’s where they learn to be game-wise. It really helps with their education. I do about 25 days on the Swinton Estate in north Yorkshire.”

Amy Bates: How did the 3Ts – Tyne, Tees and Tweed Field Trial Association as it is affectionately known – come about?

Malcolm Taylor: “I am currently the president of the 3Ts, but was field trial secretary for 15 years. I was a founder member along with six others but it was Bill Davidson who started it. In fact it was while sitting round Bill’s kitchen table in 1979 and discussing names – we were going with a famous rivers theme – that Bill’s daughter, who was making the tea, said: “Why don’t you call it Tyne, Tees and Tweed – the 3Ts?”

“Myself and two friends, Peter Brown and Chris Donkin, shot at the 3T’s field trials for 30 years. Our first novice trial was at St Boswell’s, the Duke of Sutherland’s estate. The only year we cancelled a trial was in 2001 because of foot and mouth, but then all the trials were cancelled.

“About three or four years ago, Chris and Peter asked what was going on at a trial. We started to see the judges walk out and point to game with their sticks; the boys had shot at enough trials to know what was needed and knew a good dog when they saw it. We discussed that if the purpose of a dog is to find game, why were the judges trying to find it for them? So we asked the judges and they replied: ‘We like to create a level playing field for all the dogs’. I answered: ‘If you want a level playing field, stick to tests!’

“My friends weren’t keen on what was happening – but we only had a year to go until we could say we had shot together at 3Ts trials for 30 years. Still, they were all for stopping but after some debate about the way trialling was going we decided to shoot for the next season to make it 30 years. We didn’t want to pay to watch a cold game test; we are shooting people who like to watch dogs work and some of the judges were not good. We finished shooting at the trials in 2013, because we basically didn’t like what we were seeing.

“The only way we can get to all the judges and field trial secretaries is through the Field Trial Newsletter, which comes out three times a year. I raised the point about judges pointing to game with their sticks at the Kennel Club Liaison Committee, then again at the sub-committee. The result was a letter in the newsletter reminding judges that ‘the dog needs to find the game’. When the judges take it on board, it trickles down to the handlers. It seems to me that handlers wanted accurate marks because more and more of the trainers now are coming from a test background. That is creating automatons losing the ability to hunt. I helped The Kennel Club put on ‘Handler Development Days’ that were very successful.”

Amy Bates: How can competitors help improve trials?

Malcolm Taylor: “I understand people are afraid of objecting and paying £35 to lodge a genuine complaint. However, the £35 is to stop frivolous complaints such as objecting to a judge calling a handler by name not by number – it shouldn’t happen but that would be an example of a frivolous type of complaint. If there is a serious breech of procedure at a trial, competitors should object. It is the only way to bring it to the committee’s attention.”

Amy Bates: What do you think about the sometimes apparent unfairness of the judges?

Malcolm Taylor: “I would say that not all judging is even-handed. The four-judge system gives more of a level playing field – it is better to judge with someone else. Guns are paying more for trials so we need to be mindful of the expense of paying for birds that are not needed. A dog without merit should be called up and game should not be wasted for the sake of giving another retrieve because the competitor has travelled a long way. If they give a ‘B’ on a first retrieve they are out – no more retrieves. Largely trials are good, but there are dodgy ones. The cream rises to the top and of course luck plays its part – good dogs will sort themselves out but the judges need to be honest.”

Amy Bates: What’s your favourite ground?

Malcolm Taylor: “I’ve been most successful at Checkley Wood in Cheshire but I think my favourite grounds for training are Swinton in north Yorkshire and Linhope Estate in Northumberland. I have had many happy times on both estates.”

Amy Bates: What advice would you give to new judges?

Malcolm Taylor: “Understand the rules and ‘J’ regulations and make sure you are up to date. Be fair with all the competitors and where’s there’s doubt, always give the dog the benefit. I have been concerned about a lack of new faces in spaniels but I have now seen newcomers over the last two seasons. I would encourage anyone give trialling a go.”

Amy Bates: A last word?

Malcolm Taylor: “My mentor was Bill Davidson. It was his idea to start the 3Ts and he was a great friend and mentor. I enjoyed spending time training with him and being in his company. When he died he left me his affix ‘Biteabout’. I wouldn’t be in dogs without Hilary my wife and I owe her a huge amount – I would come home at the weekends and play with my dogs, then off I’d go on Monday. Now I’m retired Hilary can go off and play while I look after the dogs.”

Footnote: Since this interview Malcolm has sadly been diagnosed with terminal cancer and has had to withdraw from gundogs.