Film ID: NEFA 14787 Video of NORTHERN LIFE: WHIPPET RACING AT BACKWORTH VILLAGE 1976 Visitor TabsDescription A Tyne Tees Television news report on the popular regional sport of whippet racing taking place at Backworth on North Tyneside. The report shows both spectators and owners watching the fast-paced dog racing. Interview with Harry Seymour, President of the North of England Association of Whippet Clubs, about how and why the sport is so popular. The report was transmitted 18 October 1976. The report begins in a field near Backworth on North Tyneside where men, women and children have congregated to take part in, or watch, whippet racing. The Tyne Tees television reporter comments: ‘...they came from Coxlodge, Ashington, Wallsend, North Worbottle, North Seaton and Seaton Burn.’ A man drops a small white flag and a fifty-yard scratch race gets underway. From out of a number of traps come whippets chasing after a rag. Standing either side of the makeshift track, owners and supporters shout and encourage dogs as they race along the track. As the dogs cross the finish line, owners rush over to collect their dog, separating the winning animal from the rag. A close-up of a springs on one of the traps shows it being released and another race gets underway. A woman shouts encouragement to her dog. 'Come on Bridget!’ she screams. At the end of the race she and other owners rush over to collect their dogs. General view of the crowds at the event, many with dogs, watching another race. Some owners put their dogs into a cage ready for the next race. There’s no messing about here, says the reporter, with thirty-five races taking place within two hours. A hand presses a small button, the traps are released as another race gets underway with the dogs chasing after a rag being dragged along the course. At the other end of the track, the winning dog runs off with the rag, followed by the other dogs and their owners. General views of the dogs and their owners. Interview with Harry Seymour, President of the North of England Association of Whippet Clubs. He is asked why the sport is so popular? He replies because it is a family sport with women and children owning dogs as well as the men. As Mr Seymour speaks, the camera cuts to show a woman standing with a number of men comparing score cards, followed by a young boy standing with his dog. A woman bends down and gives her whippet a hug. Back on the track, another race gets underway and Mr Seymour is asked if there is a secret formula to make your dog run faster. He replys that the ‘wide boys’ believe they do, but he things it doesn’t do them any good. Mr Seymour is then asked why there aren’t any bookmakers or gambling? He believes it spoils the sport and many lead to the dogs being doped. Whippets are 8-9 years old, greyhounds don’t last that long. He agrees there are unofficial bets at the local meetings. He is then asked about the continued popularity of the sport outside the region. Mr Seymour says that he has letters from Germany and Sweden. Eight years previously, he went to Alberta Canada about whippets. Whippet racing is more popular in the north east than ever before continues Mr Seymour. There are twelve dogs in Northumberland, some of whom are raced throughout a weekend. The reporter finishes by saying that the dogs ‘rule the weekend’. Mr Seymour smiles in agreement and says he can’t afford to take a holiday because of his dogs. The report ends with a wagging tail of a dog in a trap ready to race. Context Going to the dogs at Backworth Every dog has its day as Tyneside locals turn out for a whippet race meet on Tyneside. “Everywhere you look there are whippets.” This Tyne Tees report finds the sport of ‘rag racing’ is as popular as ever in the 70s. Harry Seymour, President of the North of England Association of Whippet Clubs, explains the meets are a family affair and private bets add to the excitement. Whippets are an explosive breed and races in the colliery village of Backworth are over in a flash, 35 in just one autumn morning. As the reporter notes, here on Tyneside ‘dogs rule the weekend’. A sport of the fancy, whippet racing was long identified with the working class and the mining communities of Lancashire and the North East – and with gambling. Reforming groups of the 1900s criticised it for empting the pockets of the poor, hence the term ‘going to the dogs’. In the 1920s bookmakers helped encourage a ‘whippet revival’ and invested in new electric stadiums. The commercialisation of the sport also led to the growing influence of ‘the fiddle’, still a problem alluded to in this news magazine piece. The last real boom time for the sport was the early 1940s. But informal meets such as this one in the 70s still draw local breeders and families from old Tyneside colliery towns and villages into a shared, participatory weekend ritual with a bet on the side.