John Holmes

John HolmesJohn Holmes was one of the 24 founders of the Welsh Corgi League in 1934 and a very well known personality in the British dog world. For many years he bred Pembroke Corgis with the prefix Formakin and he also judged Corgis.

He was prolific writer for magazines, particularly The Kennel Gazette and Our Dogs and was a most informative speaker. John had very definite views on canine matters but was always prepared to consider new concepts and made every effort to attend many seminars and conferences each year throughout the UK. In addition, he was the author of a number of popular books on dogs such as The Family Dog, The Farmers Dog, The Obedient Dog, and with his wife Mary, The Complete Australian Cattle Dog, Looking After Your Dog and The Mind Of The Dog.

Born on a farm in Scotland in 1913, John Holmes quickly became embroiled in the world of animals. During his studies at the agricultural college he began to attend dog shows, mainly in Edinburgh. He noted that those handlers who got the best from their dogs did so with apparently the minimum of fuss. This approach was to influence his philosopy of stockmanship for life.

Rats were a constant problem on the family farm and, although there had always been a keen terrier employed to cull them, John decided to approach Sid Bowler for a Pembroke Corgi as they had a reputation for being effective rat catchers, but also for working cattle.

A puppy was selected which travelled up to Scotland by train from South Wales. The puppy was just eight weeks old, but the journey did not upset it in any way. In fact after being picked up from a station just north of Perth, it completed the final leg of the journey sitting on the front seat of the van with the local postman who was doing his rounds.

The pup, a brindle bitch (by Bowhit Pontius out of Sparks) quickly settled down and earned the name "Nippy of Drumharrow" for obvious reasons. John Holmes worked his dogs and Nippy was the best ratter and hardiest cattle dog he had ever known. She also was the only brindle Pembroke to gain a CC before this colour in 1948 was removed from the list of desirable colours.

Nippy of Drumharrow

From Nippy, John bred a litter from Thelma Gray's Ch. Rozavel Red Dragon. Such was the quality of the resulting puppies that this was repeated and from that litter John's first Champion was born, Ch. Rozavel Gwyneth.

Nippy produced 41 puppies in 10 litters to 5 different dogs and despite the many puppies lived until she was 13 and was hale and hearty up to the end.

Ch. Formakin Organgeman

With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, John moved from Scotland to Kent where he managed a farm. He took with him a granddaughter of "Nippy". She was sold to an Ulsterman when in whelp on condition that John should have a puppy back. This puppy (by Teekay Burnet out of Formakin Bright Flame) later became Ch. Formakin Orangeman. Sadly, John was forced to sell him to the USA when he lost a large number of puppies through hard pad, which caused some financial difficulties. Of course, this was not uncommon in those days before the very effective inoculations that we are now used to. That John Holmes often had a great many Corgi puppies is obvious from his book The Farmers Dog where he mentions that he at one time had 20 brood bitches.

At about this time, his interest in showing dogs waned, but his participation in Obedience and Working Trials increased. By now he had moved to Henly in Oxfordshire where he ran a training class and gave many demonstrations. It was here that he met his future wife, Mary, who was working a Wire Haired Fox Terrier, which later qualified to CD.

The Formakin Canine Stars

Almost immediately they organised a demonstration team together and travelled the length and breadth of the UK with The Formakin Canine Stars, attending shows and carnivals in their converted coach. The entourage included Border Collies, Cocker Spaniels, Papillons, a German Shepherd, a Maremma, Corgis, Salukis, a cat, Italian Runner Ducks, rabbits and a goat!

Formakin Expectation and his litter sister Formakin Pip
doing synchronised jumping at the
Royal Horticultural Hall, Westminster in 1951

Following their marriage, they joined forces to train dogs for other people. Phil Gurney, a well-known judge who also worked in the film industry, approached John and asked if he could supply a dog for a part in The Knave of Hearts which was to star Gerard Philippe and Joan Greenwood. When you view one of the films from the fifties and sixties on a wet Sunday afternoon, watch out for the doggie stars as they may well have come from the Holmes' stable.

John Holmes' outlook was best summed up when he wrote of his film work: "The right temperament in the handler is as important as that of the dog. Much film work is boring and often exasperating, but the end result can be very rewarding. The patience necessary to train dogs is nothing compared with that necessary to cope with difficult directors and artists.".

John Holmes died on 13 September 2000 at the age of 87 and the dog world lost one of its greatest and most knowledgeable characters.

Excerpted from The Kennel Gazette October 1993 and August 1999.