My co-author, Rupert Godfrey, interviewed me in 1978 for an article in Shooting magazine: “Although I enjoy clay shooting and shoot to win, I sometimes find that competitors take things far too seriously for my taste, and for this reason I much prefer the relaxed friendly atmosphere of game shooting.”
Even when I started clay shooting, it was very competitive, but nothing like it is now. Now it’s professional. I didn’t shoot clays that much early on, because I was playing cricket in the summer, which was my first love, and there wasn’t much clay shooting in the winter months.
Then I started doing a few clay competitions, mostly local – and I won most of them. Even if the prize was only £5, it bought a few cartridges. Then I joined the CPSA, and I shot quite a lot of Sporting. I did some Down The Line but found it too repetitive and mechanical. I could shoot 100-straight with my eyes closed! I think that was one of the problems with clays: I just didn’t find them that challenging. I preferred real pigeons, or game, and the socialising that went with it.
There was an incident at Finkley in the early days, which rather summed up clay pigeon shooting for me. Nelson [Dance] put on a DTL competition every year, which was well attended, and became part of the selection for the national squad. I just went along because Nelson wanted me to be there, and to help raise money for the local charities that benefited. I smoked a pipe at the time, and, after I’d shot, I was tapping my pipe out on the metal frame the shooters stood in. My neighbour was offended by this, and told me in no uncertain terms that he was trying to concentrate, and get in to the national team, and would I mind not trying to distract him with my pipe! The next year, I told Nelson I’d give him a donation, but to forget the DTL.
At the West London Shooting Ground there was a competition called the Walker Parker Cup for anyone who had never won a major competition. I went up with Fred Cooper, who said that we should enter. I’d never been up to London before. He told me he’d drive, and that we should start at three o’clock in the morning. We got to Uxbridge, and got lost, but finally got there, and, after telling them I’d never won any competitions, I entered, and won the Cup!
I met Percy Stanbury there, and he asked me how much clay shooting I did. I replied not much, but that I did a lot of pigeon shooting. The following year, I told Fred that we ought to go up again, and he reminded me that I couldn’t go in for the Walker Parker, as I’d won it the year before. I said; ‘Well, what about the main shoot?’
So I entered the British Open, and ended up Runner Up! The winner was the very experienced Joe Wheater – after a shoot-off on the High Tower. I shot them as a driven bird, but Joe shot them as crossers – as a lot of pheasant shots do, nowadays – which I don’t agree with. I got 19 out of 20, but Joe killed all 20, but behind him, when they’d finished flying. Old man Browning, who had seen a lot, said “Joe, why didn’t you shoot ‘em like the boy shot them? They’re supposed to be driven pheasants!”
One year, I won a competition called the Richmond Watson Cup – or I thought I’d won it. I’d filled the cup with Guinness at lunchtime, and had celebrated hard, before they announced that there would be a shoot-off, on the rabbit stand. By now, I was completely incapable of hitting these rabbits, and eventually they were rolling them out by hand, slowly, and I still couldn’t hit them. It was just good fun then. Now, it’s such big business, everyone takes it much more seriously.
Terry Clarke and ‘Ginger’ Chatfield were two of the local lovable rogues – both good shots, and great fun, but dangerous. They used to take me clay pigeon shooting on a Sunday. One day, I came home and said to Jane: “I’m never going with those two again. If they come round, you must tell them I’m out!” I’d won the competition, but we went in Ginger’s convertible Mercedes, and I was in the back. They were chatting away, but I could hear this strange knocking noise coming from the back. I told them, but they took no notice, and told me to go back to sleep.
A few seconds later, the back wheel came off, the car lurched to one side, and the wheel overtook us going down the road! “No problem!” they said, and flagged down the next car that came along, whose inhabitants helped lift the Merc so that the spare wheel could be put on, as they didn’t have a jack. I’d had enough, so the next week I hid my car, and went upstairs when I heard them arrive. Jane told them I was out, but they didn’t believe her, and Clarky said: “He’s in the house somewhere!” and they started to search for me. I got under the bed! The next thing I heard Clarky say: “If you’re hiding under the bed, your feet shouldn’t stick out!” They pulled me out, found my gun, and bundled me into the car, and off we went again…
…Years later, in 1988, when I was doing more clay shooting – as my knees had finally stopped me playing cricket – I had to shoot off for the Beretta World Sporting Championship at Apsley. I had to kill the lot: they were off the Low Tower, going down a belt. I remembered that shoot-off against Wheater, and I got nervous, which I wasn’t usually. I killed the first four pairs beautifully, and the ninth clay, before just clipping the tenth… but it broke. Of course we did a lot of celebrating after that, and I’ve already recounted what happened to the medal I won!
Mike Barnes wrote about the competition in the Beretta magazine Insight.
He began: “In a marvellous win, which saw him collect a brand new £5,500 Ford Fiesta, Philip Fussell showed at a stroke how it’s possible to mix competitiveness with pleasure, and still end up a winner. At 57, he really showed that clay shooting really is a sport for all ages. In the final round, ten straight was a tall order, but surely no-one would have bet against Philip. A great gameshot, he rose above all that was going on around him and shot all 10 with tremendous assurance.”
In 1989, I went to the World FITASC event in Switzerland, and won the Veteran section. Bill Joyce was there, and his son, Adrian, won the Juniors. I shared a room with John Bidwell, and to get to the shoot, you had to go up in a cable-car. I’d seen James Bond on one of them, and didn’t fancy it: I don’t like heights, and it looked to me as if it was swaying a bit. I said I’d walk up, but they said it was three miles! So they convinced me to go up in the car, and it stopped halfway up, for half an hour, swaying like mad!
I shot badly the first round, as a result: I only got 11, which almost ruled me out of the whole competition. There was a German in our group, called Merchant, with a ‘V’ after his name, which I assumed meant he was in the Veterans class, like myself. He started off better than me, but I steadily caught him up. He kept looking at the clays over my shoulder, which started to irritate me.
During the last round, I knew I had to shoot a straight to beat him. There was an Austrian ref, who we called Zero, as he seemed particularly happy when he could say Zero after a miss, especially when the British were shooting. I had killed everything up till the last pair, when, distracted again by the German, I forgot to load the gun, and only heard ‘click’ when I pulled the trigger! I then opened the gun, which isn’t allowed, in case of a misfire, so the pair were disallowed, and I ended up with 23. The German had beaten me by one!
At the prize-giving, the first prize was for the Juniors, and Adrian’s name was called, though I couldn’t hear the names being called out. I was standing with Ray Hillyer, who said to me: “You, Phil!” Up I went to get my prize, until I realised I’d been taken in. Then, when the Veterans class was announced, I assumed that the German had won. Unknown to me, the ‘V’ after his name was for Victor, and he wasn’t a Veteran at all. I had won it, but when Ray said again: “It’s you, Phil!”, I just didn’t believe him, and told him to bugger off. They had to get Paddy Howe over to convince me that I’d won it, and go up and get my medal.
I remember that we had to pay extra in our accommodation, for cleaning. That made me mad, so before we left on the last day, I emptied all the cereal packs on the floor, and ground the flakes into the carpet, to make sure they earned their money! My son, Andrew, saw Bidwell a few months ago, and he still laughed about the cleaning bill.
I won the Shooting Times championship at Apsley. Ray Hillyer was a lad at the time, and came round with me, just to watch. The last stand was the Tower, and there was a tricky quartering second bird. I decided to put in full choke for the second bird, and I blew it to dust. “When I hit ’em, I want to see that I’ve hit ‘em.” I told Ray. I shot on the second day of three, and shot 88, and went home. David Olive rang me up the following day, and asked: “Why didn’t you come to the celebrations?” When I asked what he was talking about, he said: “You won it!”
Ray, together with Nelson Dance’s nephew, Richard, used to come round with me at a lot of the shoots, just to learn where to shoot each particular target. They used to try and put me off, too: they had a pet saying ‘Boll Rack the Skore Fin’. It took me a while to realise what they were saying – just rearrange the capital letters!
Thanks to BPG Media for the excerpt, visit www.thesportinglibrary.co.uk to order your copy.