THE SHOW MUST GO ON &SO ITS MADE TO HAPPEN
Planning, organising and
assembling the Smithfield
Show is not a task many
would relish. But for show
director Mark Bellamy the
challenge to produce the
UKs premier indoor
agricultural show has
continued unabated for
more years than he
cares to remember.
Andy Collings reports
ANYONE who has ever organised a village fete will know it can be a demanding and frequently thankless task, fraught with unimaginable problems.
Imagine then, the enormity of organising the Royal Smithfield Show with its hundreds of exhibitors, hundreds of cattle and sheep and many thousands of visitors.
This challenging assignment rests squarely on the shoulders of show director Mark Bellamy, who, with the assistance of his colleagues, present to the industry its biennial shop window in all its glory.
"Its not an easy task," muses Mr Bellamy as he found time to speak to me between an endless round of meetings in the run up to this years show. "And theres no room for manoeuvre on the timetable – we have to be ready on the morning of Sunday 29 Nov, and thats it."
Planning for such a major show begins within weeks of the previous event with meetings between the shows management team and exhibitors to find what changes could be made.
The year between the shows is described by Mr Bellamy as the "down year" – the year when foundations are laid for the next show.
"There is a degree of crystal ball gazing at this time," he says. "We have to assess how the industry will be, which companies will still be in existence and how much floor area they will possibly need. By the year 2000, for example, we envisage "full-line" companies will require much larger stands to display their wares and we shall be making provision for them in our planning."
Filling the space
But back to this years show. Earls Court offers some 60,000 sq m of floor area and Mr Bellamys intention is to fill every one of them. The "down year" is spent contacting every conceivable organisation inviting them to take a stand at the show.
"While we are, of course, keen to get as many manufacturers to Smithfield as possible, we have and always will resist any temptation to invite companies offering peripheral produce – basket makers and others," he insists. "This is a business show."
By the spring of the year of the show, the main thrust of the halls layouts are complete with Mr Bellamy knowing which company is where and what it is they shall be showing.
The latter piece of information is essential in terms of weight loading. While many may already know that Earls Court 1 (EC1) – the older of the two halls – has a 200ft x 100ft swimming pool in it (a hydraulically raised base provides the floor area during the show), it is perhaps not so well known that the whole of Earls Court is built on stilts to allow three underground lines to run beneath it.
"This means we have to be careful where we allow heavy machines such as combines or tractors to be placed," he explains. "Its all part of the planning we have to do in EC1. EC2, on the other hand, was built with weight in mind and there are no such restrictions.
Until recently, organisers were allowed a leisurely 12 days for the build-up of the show but, with the increasing numbers of shows Earls Court is now being used for and the costs incurred, Mr Bellamy and his team now only get half that time.
"While EC2, with its wide entrances and generous floor space is relatively easy to fill with machinery, EC1 can become a logistical nightmare. As most will know, the shape of EC1 is like a triangle, tapering towards the main visitor entrance. The two main entrances for large machinery however, are at the two top corners.
"This means we have to fill it from the bottom up – like filling a bottle."
Monday and Tuesday are used to fill EC1 with exhibiting companies given strict arrival times which have to be adhered to. Any breakdown in the system could mean a string of loaded lorries being forced to wait while a late lorry disgorges its load into the correct floor position.
"An important point is to note that Earls Court is in a very residential area of London and we can soon get into trouble with residents if we start blocking roads or making too much noise at strange times of the day," says Mr Bellamy.
By Thursday all the machinery must be in place because Friday is used to deliver the stock section of the show. A tricky day and one which sees every arriving animal examined by a team of vets before they are herded into their stand positions. Vets continue to inspect the animals during the course of the show.
And with the stock come the stockmen – 150 of them – which need to be accommodated in a special area in the basement of Earls Court.
Saturday, and most of the show is in place but there is still an army of electricians, telephone line installers and a host of other people making last minute adjustments to their stands.
"The show becomes a world within a world," explains Mr Bellamy. "We try and provide all that a company will need for it to profit from the show."
Finally, before the show can open, the show must be given a clean bill of health from local authority inspectors who ensure all the safety requirements in terms of stand construction, exit doors and all the other important details which cover public safety, are satisfactory.
Last day challenges
Ignoring the rigours of the actual show – escorting members of the Royal Family, entertaining endless numbers of foreign dignitaries and trade delegations – the last day of the show brings its own challenges.
At 6pm on Wednesday the stock start to leave and, without exception all have to be out of Smithfield that evening – a planned exodus with each animal having its ear tag checked.
"Cattle which have been tied up for the best part of four days tend to be a bit lively," points out Mr Bellamy. "And there always seems to be some confusion about whose cattle are whose – especially when they may have been sold during the show."
If there are any "lost" cattle or sheep by the end of the evening, two hired transporters take them to a host farm in Surrey.
Thursday, Friday and Saturday are used to remove machinery from the show, once again using a strict timetable. Any machinery still in the halls on Saturday is removed and stored at a nearby yard.
By midnight on Saturday Earls Court is once again empty.
On Sunday morning a new team moves in to start building up for the Boat show.
For Mr Bellamy and his team it is time for reflection – and a chance for a well earned drink. *
Left: The Royal Smithfield Show 1952, the fourth held at Earls Court. Entry was 10s on the Monday,
5s on other days.
Below: Mark Bellamy, current Smithfield Show director.
The show lines in 1966. Native breeds in the foreground and a distinctly more modern look to the machinery in the background.