An all-embracing Shooting Weekend

Seven-day shooting parties weren’t unusual during the halcyon days of the British aristocracy. Nowadays, even if it’s only a weekend long shooting party, there’s still plenty to consider and prepare for. Get it right and you won’t be the one being ribbed in the stories circulating around town.
Winston Churchill pheasant shooting at Warter Priory, 1910 (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

It is the jocular tales that are recounted after the shooting trip, that vie with the thrill and jollity of the weekend itself. In the midst of having supper at Les Ambassadeurs, London – a table starring David Niven, wife Hjördis, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and John Huston – an unnamed yet tall duke walked in. Invited shooting by the duke a few years previously, Niven left his estate less popular than when he arrived. Walking up some stubble with a line of guns, it became evident to Niven that an English Carrier pigeon was flying in range. To the surprise of the guests, it looked like the duke was going to shoot it. And he did, and as soon as it hit the turf, Niven shouted: “Are there any letters for me”. Expecting no return invitation, the duke, impressed by Niven’s company when he strode into Les Ambassadeurs said: “So when are you coming to shoot with me again David?”

“Yes, I’d love to, give me a date and I’ll be there”, said Niven.

“4th week in January, how does that sound”, replied the duke.

It was June at the time, and Bogart said to Niven: “Hey getta load of you shooting with the duke”.

Huston entered the dialogue and exclaimed: “It’s not that great a compliment, it’s the end of the season, and a time when they ask the drunken local butcher, and a few other people, and go around the outside shooting the cocks only”.

Bogart mulled this over and said: “hmmm the cocks only hey”.

Someone made a funny remark and Huston fell over backwards on his chair, and rolled underneath the duke’s table. The duke rose from his seat and said something offensive about this Hollywood troupe, prompting Bogart, out of his chair like a terrier, and only being 5ft 8, to grab the duke by the top fly, lift him off the ground and bellow: “Listen to me duke, what do mean insulting my pal cocks only”.

Admittedly, with Bogart being the original leader of The Rat Pack, and Niven never far from comical chicanery, they were liable to a multitude of humorous stories, but the point is that one of Niven’s most famous stories stems from a shooting weekend – as do many other anecdotes within a vernacular of friends who have enjoyed the camaraderie of a shooting party – you just don’t want to be the protagonist of such ribbing for turning up in totally inadequate attire for the field and the billiard room.


    Freddie Anderson


    December 2021


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