Friday, 4 December 2020

Ollie Kite. Protégé or plagiarist?




Last month marked the 100th anniversary 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.



Oliver Kite


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 subject!”


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 a chalkstream.”


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.


Kite's Imperial


The Kite's Imperial



Talking books


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, angling.


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 wool.


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 expensive wool?


Have a good weekend.



Best wishes,



Simon Cooper

Founder & Managing Director




Quiz answers:


1) Kashmir goat

2) Angora rabbit

3) Peruvian vicuna. The sweater illustrated will set you back $3,895.

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