Best In Show

Something palpable happens to the English social calendar when summer arrives. Frocks are brushed down, hampers are fastened, shoes are shined. It’s when “The Season” coughs politely and shifts into motion (with perhaps just one last check that the brolly’s in the boot). The prestige events of late spring and early summer have in some cases been in place for centuries– but which of them best sums up the peculiarly British affection for upper-class gatherings? Here’s a look at six of the most quintessential events in the calendar.

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When? 29 June – 12 July

The heritage: The first Wimbledon Championship took place at the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club in 1877. It was won by a Harrow-educated London aristocrat, Spencer Gore, who also played cricket for Surrey.

The atmosphere: Strawberry-fuelled and respectful. Communal moments of raucous abandon on Centre Court have become common in the Murray era, but can generally be muted by a firm “quiet, please” from the umpire.

Did you know? Frenchman Jean Borotra competed in the men’s singles championship on a mind-boggling 35 separate occasions between 1922 and 1964. He won twice, in 1924 and 1926, and was 65 years old on his last appearance in the draw.

Cucumber Sandwich Rating: 7/10


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Trooping The Colour

When? 13 June

The heritage: The ceremonial parade dates back to the early 18th century, and has marked the monarch’s official birthday since 1748. These days the Queen – who also has a birthday on 21 April, lest the royal cake-makers grow idle – accepts the salute of some 1,400 officers.

The atmosphere: Massed bands, packed stands and a row of vast Union Flags stretching the length of The Mall. There’s also a fly-past. The parade itself begins at 10.30 in the morning, so is essentially just an hors d’oeuvre (a nice smoked salmon blini, perhaps) to social events later in the day.

Did you know? The Queen has only missed the Trooping The Colour ceremony on one occasion – in 1955, when the event was cancelled due to a national rail strike.

Cucumber Sandwich Rating: 7/10


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Royal Ascot

When? 16-20 June

The heritage: The first race meeting took place at Ascot as long ago as 1711. The story holds that Queen Anne, while out riding near Windsor Castle, suggested the site as “ideal for horses to gallop at full stretch.” More than 300 years later, she’s been safely proved right.

The atmosphere: Dress-coded pageantry with a hefty helping of flamboyant hats, particularly if you’re here on Ladies Day. The five-day event is British horse racing’s most valuable meeting, and there’s Michelin-starred cuisine on hand to take the edge off the inevitable lost bets.

Did you know? The Royal Enclosure was created after an unsavoury incident in 1832, when a one-legged naval officer named Dennis Collins was arrested for high treason after throwing a stone at King William IV.

Cucumber Sandwich Rating: 7/10

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Chelsea Flower Show

When? 19-23 May

The heritage: Originally known as the Royal Horticultural Society’s Great Spring Show, the event first took place in 1862 in Kensington. It moved to the grounds of the Royal Hospital in Chelsea in 1913, and has stayed there ever since.

The atmosphere: The Fashion Week of the gardening world draws celebrities, socialites and flower-fanciers to West London in their droves. Awards are handed out to the Best Show Garden, the Best Fresh Garden and the Best Artisan Garden, but for all its genteelness, the show is fiercely competitive.

Did you know? That plucky perennial of the British garden – the gnome – was banned from appearing at Chelsea for more than 150 years. The edict was finally relaxed in 2013.

Cucumber Sandwich Rating: 8/10

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When? From 21 May

The heritage: Glyndebourne, a stately home on the edge of the South Downs, has hosted a summer opera festival since 1934, when founders John Christie and his wife Audrey Mildmay set up a 300-seat theatre here. Today’s auditorium holds four times as many people.

The atmosphere: Thumping drama, elaborate sets and some of the world’s best sopranos. Mozart tends to figure prominently, as do raspberry trifles and picnic furniture. A black tie dress code is optional, but widely observed.

Did you know? Luciano Pavarotti made his one appearance at the festival in 1964, as a 28-year-old tenor in Mozart’s Idomeneo.

Cucumber Sandwich Rating: 9/10


Henley Royal Regatta

When? 1-5 July

The heritage: The first Regatta took place in 1839 over the course of a solitary afternoon. Twelve years later it received its first royal patron, HRH Prince Albert, and has held its current name ever since. These days the competition is held across five days and features more than 200 races.

The atmosphere: Blazers, club ties, summer dresses (strictly below the knee) and clinking glasses. The rowing, at times, is essentially just a pleasantly splishing backdrop to the social occasion. And despite drawing crews from all over the globe, it’s a vehemently British event.

Did you know? When he was younger, actor Hugh Laurie rowed here regularly. He once wrote that “although I have competed in the Regatta three times, and been a spectator since I was cork-high to a Jeroboam, I’d be the first to admit that Henley is a very peculiar institution.”

Cucumber Sandwich Rating: 9/10

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Live the British Summer with Avis.


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