Vintage advertising that opens a world on the Show
PUBLISHED: 10:04 23 June 2018
Kate Blincoe steps into the archives to discover why the Royal Norfolk Show remains such a special date for the county.
The Royal Norfolk Show has something for everyone. My love of it began age five, with a soggy trip, wading through deep mud. I’ve volunteered there to promote a charity (giving out hundreds of stickers to kids) and one year, I earned money working as a litter picker and picking up after the crowds. That was definitely the underbelly of the Show.
The enduring appeal of the Show is its many faces. You can do glamour with Ascot fashion and corporate hospitality. You can get up close to cattle and see rare breeds, big machinery and equine perfection. Or you can simply wander and shop, making a beeline for the freebie tasters of local produce and discovering crafts, fashion, charities and gifts.
For many of us, the Norfolk Show - back this coming Wednesday and Thursday - is inextricably linked to the showground at Costessey. It is a perfect site with a large flat, well-drained expanse and good traffic links; ideal for the UK’s biggest two-day show. However, it only moved to its current location in 1954, which is relatively recent in a long history dating back more than 150 years, to 1847.
Before the Show had a regular home, it would rove, using a wonderful variety of parkland sites provided by wealthy landowners. For example, in 1950, the Show was held at Anmer Park, Sandringham, on the King’s estate, where the King was awarded several first prizes for his Red Poll cattle.
In 1952, the Show was held at Raveningham Park, Hales. If you wonder what it was like, then thanks to the History of Advertising Trust (HAT), we can have a glimpse of what was on offer. The HAT archive holds an original copy of the 1952 programme.
Alistair Moir, Archive Collections Manager at HAT, tells us more. “You can see by the adverts in the programme that the focus of the Norfolk Show was very agricultural,” he said. “All the ads were aimed at the farming community rather than the public – offering tractors such as the latest Fordson Major, vermin control with Ratin pest controllers and pig food. Adverts like this tell us a great deal about the time and Norfolk in the 1950s was still very farming-orientated.”
Alistair continued: “The Show was a chance to showcase your success as a farmer and also to research big purchases, such as your next piece of machinery. You could find out what was cutting edge in new technology – it was an exciting time with tractors replacing horses, so the farmer’s job was changing rapidly.”
Looking at the programme, I’m struck by some real cultural shifts; the prominent advertising of gun makers for example. The advert in the programme by Pettitts of Reedham also stands out, showing an unadorned raw turkey. Current food advertising usually shows cooked items as a way of distancing the consumer from the reality of meat. There was no such squeamishness then.
It was a masculine world too, with adverts depicting men and aimed at men. Women’s key role in agriculture was still hidden behind the scenes, despite the recent reliance on Land Girls necessitated by the Second World War.
Today, education, entertainment, crafts, fashion and food all take centre stage at the Show, yet the traditional core of agriculture remains. Society may have shifted its focus, but it is fascinating to see that the livestock and equine competitions remain largely unchanged,
from the Redpoll cattle to the heavy horses – except a few minor updates such as a Rescue Horse class.
The theme of the show this year highlights how it has moved with the times. The event will shine a light on mental health. This topic is valuable for the general public, after all mental health charity Mind reports that approximately a quarter of people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. Practically everyone knows someone affected.
Understanding and awareness of mental health is vital for the farming community too, with the shocking reality that more than one farmer or farm worker commits suicide every week in the UK. The more the industry engages with the problems and talks about it, the better.
The Royal connection is clearly still an inspiration in this modern context too, with Princes William and Harry working to raise the profile of mental health issues in recent months. The Show will be recognising and celebrating the value to our wellbeing of good food, active lifestyles and a real connection with nature.
Agriculture and the Royal Norfolk Show have both evolved, but they are just as much the backbone of our county as they were in the 1950s. Personally, I’m feeling inspired by the theme of this year’s event, glad I’m not litter picking and am looking forward to a fun day with friends.
With thanks to the History of Advertising Trust for the images, including adverts from the recently acquired Escott collection. The trust is the professional archiving service for most brands and agencies to safeguard our advertising heritage into the future. If we don’t protect it, we’ll lose it.
To find out more, visit www.hatads.org.uk. Kate Blincoe is a freelance writer and author.