Last month marked
the 100thanniversary of the birth of Oliver Kite,
he of Kite’s Imperial fame. I marked the occasion by writing of his life in
the December edition for my Trout & Salmon column.
Kite, who took to fly fishing on the southern chalkstreams
as he morphed from soldier to retired solider, achieved national fame in
the 1960’s in his Ollie Kite persona presenting a run of TV series that
focussed on fishing, rivers, the people who lived beside them and,
importantly, what we now like to call the environment. Back then it was
just plain old Mother Nature, a favourite phrase of Kite’s who delivered it
in his mellifluous Welsh tones. However, Kite is not without controversy.
Kite was no chalkstream expert when he arrived to live in
Wiltshire in 1958 on the banks of the River Avon but as an Army officer he
had the run of the extensive waters which were under the care of one Frank
Sawyer. They became, at least to start with, friends living in cottages
opposite each other on Netheravon High Street. But was Kite a protégé or
plagiarist? Subsequent to the Trout & Salmon column I received a
letter from a man, now in his eighties, who had been an under keeper to
Sawyer and knew both men.
He writes: “I have read Kite’s book [Nymph Fishing in
Practice] and it is obvious to me that he methodically picked Frank’s
brain and used this information for his book. I remember trying to get
Frank to criticise him but he never would; he just smiled and changed the
You could argue that imitation is the sincerest form of
flattery but there is no doubt that there was some kind of falling out, at
least on the basis of the story related to me by writer and journalist,
Brian Clarke. Kite made a healthy living from his TV work, so much so that
he bought himself a shiny new Jaguar car. History does not relate whether
it was a E or S type, but it was enough to enrage Mrs Sawyer as, each
morning, she stood at her kitchen sink to look across the road to see the
Jaguar parked in front of the Kite’s Owl Cottage whilst she and Frank eked
out his meagre river keeper wage which would have been under £10 a week.
My kind of fishing brake .......
I’m not sure my correspondent much cared for Kite; he
describes his manner with people as ‘offhand’ but he clearly had huge
regard for Sawyer. He writes of grayling trips:
“Sometimes we would go grayling fishing with one of his
[Sawyer’s] Pheasant Tail Nymphs. Frank would look for a couple of shoals of
grayling. He would then torment one shoal and catch about 13 out of 15 fish
and I was expected to do the same. I think my best effort was about 5 or 6.
In those days Frank used to consider grayling a pest which had no place in
With over fifty years of distance since Kite died of a heart
attack on the banks of the River Test at Polhampton aged just 48 it is
impossible to really know the truth of what passed between the two men. But
they should both rest easy in their respective graves in the Netheravon
churchyard knowing that one way or another, they both made important
contributions to our sport though, for me at least, Kite will always be the
apprentice to Sawyer the master.
The Kite's Imperial
As you will know I’ve done plenty of book tour talks but as
you might imagine Covid has put a screeching halt on any to promote the
publication of Frankel since August so, in the spirit of the age, I
uprated my Zoom subscription to do one online.
To be honest I was more terrified of the technology that the
talk itself. In fact, that is probably true of most talks. Over the years I
have taken to travelling with my own projector based on the experience of
arriving at a venue on more than one occasion to be part a welcome
conversation and aftermath along the lines of:
Organiser: Thank you so much for coming tonight Simon. James
will be here shortly with the projector. James arrives empty handed. After
which ensures a round of muted recriminations and frantic calls to locate
the equipment. Or it simply doesn’t work. Bulbs have blown. Recalcitrant
screens have refused to unfurl. Sounds systems are a regular nightmare.
However, thanks to some sage advice from you out there who
are clearly Zoom experts we had a successful evening on Monday. It is a bit
weird not having the feedback from the room but nonetheless it was fun.
There were some great questions, one that I have subsequently posted on the
social media that is garnering hundreds of comments and prompting
conversations. Prince Abdullah has owned many great horses but in
consecutive decades he has owned and bred arguably the best colt of all
time in Frankel and best filly of all time in Enable. The question was
posed who would win in a 10-furlong head to head, Enable or Frankel?
This far I would say it is trending 95/5 in favour of
Frankel excepting in Australia where, stepping outside the purpose of
question, Winx gets the vote as does Secretariat in the USA conversations.
Anyway, to listen and watch with some rarely seen photos and
insights into the Greatest Racehorse of All Time click here Don’t forget signed copies of all my books
are available in time for Christmas. Order online or call.
Just me ranting
On Tuesday (1 December) the government announced a £100,000
Get Fishing Fund which will be available in grant form for projects ranging
from £500 to £5000 distributed by the Environment Agency and Angling Trust
in 2021 to encourage people of all ages, to take up or get back into,
Nothing wrong with that at first glance but read between the
lines and you will see that this is all OUR money. This is entirely funded
by us from Rod Licence fees. This is not new money. It is not even much
money in the general scheme of things. And this is not government largesse a
la Arts Council funding but rather simply robbing Peter to pay Paul. We
all also know that such is the inefficient nature of Government that for
every £1 that reaches the river £2 of licence fee income will have been
gobbled up in bureaucratic and administration costs.
I have long thought the rod licence fee a huge injustice.
Cyclists pay nothing to use the highways. Walkers in the National Parks,
recipients of hundreds of millions, pay nothing. Canoeists on public
waterways pay nothing. I have no argument with any of that and consider it
a good thing. But anglers, for reasons historic rather than logical, are
forced to pay by way of the threat of jail.
It is plainly wrong and the Rod Licence fee that raises, by
the time you take out the cost of collection and enforcement, something
less than £10million, should be abolished. We can then redirect the human
resources to something useful like tracking down the polluters.
Just so you may appear knowledgeable
when it comes to opening that Christmas Day sweater gift, some tips on
The answers are, as ever, at the bottom of the page.
1)Cashmere wool comes from which animal?
2)Angora wool comes from which animal?
3)Which animal produces the most
Have a good
3)Peruvian vicuna. The sweater illustrated
will set you back $3,895.