Going to the Dogs
Mike Huggins revisits the early years of British greyhound racing, the smart modern sports craze of interwar Britain.
Greyhound racing was the third largest commercial leisure activity in late 1930s Britain, after the cinema and soccer. Cinema’s weekly attendances averaged over 18 million. But in 1936 the tracks regulated by the National Greyhound Racing Club (NGRC) attracted 19 million customers annually. Greyhound racing was a family entertainment, popular with women as well as men. As A.P. Herbert the novelist had written jokingly in 1926, ‘Don’t let’s go to the dogs tonight, for mother will be there’.
The first standard history of the sport, written in 1934 by breeder Mrs C. Clarke, proclaimed that ‘women have been the keenest supporters of track racing from its commencement: they form a large proportion of the huge crowds seen at the various tracks’. Spectators were attracted from across the classes. Yet the sport aroused strong opposition for its betting, its selling of alcohol, and the reputed ‘fiddles’ practised at the lesser tracks.
Greyhound racing on a long circular course using an artificial electric hare was first introduced into Britain in 1926. The concept was imported from the USA by American businessman Charles Munn; financial support was provided by Brigadier-General Alfred Critchley, a cement manufacturer. Other investors included former Brighton chief constable Sir William Gentle, Major Lynne Dixson, a coursing judge and veterinary surgeon, who was to supply the dogs, and American Robert Grant, a director of Barclays Bank.