A Certain September Weekend in Folkestone. Decline & Rebirth.

Thursday, March 18th, 2021:

I recently discovered a trove of Euro Militaire photos during a Google search. They were on one of those “long these many years without an update” websites— The photos were taken by Erik Gustavsson and Ulf Andersson. Prolific modellers on the pre-crisis Euro Militaire scene.

This trove of photographs is of particular interest to me for two reasons. Firstly, there are images from Euro2003. This was my first Euro. I cannot help but reflect on how young we all look. And why not? It was eighteen years ago. I recall almost all of the incidents as portrayed in these images although I did not know a one of the Swedes at the time. By now, I count many of them as close friends.


The other trove is from Euro Militaire 2005. I was unable to attend this Euro, so it is nice to finally see the goings on through the lens.

After the thrill of visiting my favourite show from another photographer’s lens it got me thinking—as I often do—on the “why” did the biggest and most significant concorso in Europe, if not the world, come to and untimely end in 2016? I’m keenly aware it does carry on, almost entirely intact, as Euro Miniatures Expo. Thank God!

The answer though, as often is the case, is not a simple one. 

A bit of personal backstory first. As mentioned, I first attended Euro in 2003. And I was gobsmacked! Euro continued to be a shiny and exciting yearly pilgrimage for me through the penultimate 2007 concorso when I won my first gold medal.

2008 was the last pre-crisis Euro.

For me, nothing was the same after. The crisis knocked me sideways. Euro ’09 was spent in Los Angeles, but I did attend Euro 2010. I really didn’t get to much enjoy it, though thanks to endless complications. Euro 2011 I missed as well, thanks to the same ex-gf. I returned to Euro in 2012 having been rid of said ex-gf and was finally able to fully absorb the Euro Militaire atmosphere in the Leas Cliff Hall and also at the Southcliff. There was for me, a pre-crisis spirit to the show again. 

It was at Euro 2013 I first heard voiced the grumblings of a “decline in Euro” with some even saying it would be their last. From then on the writing was on the wall. Each year the numbers declined with 2016 being the most dire, where even Geoffrey Isley had to admit all was not right in the Euro Militaire world. 

Ken Jones had gone by this time, but I had written him an email in 2015, when he was still about, begging him for change less Euro lose its relevance.  

Magazine Photography Studio
A separate, and uncluttered location at The Leas Cliff Hall where editors were able to photograph models for publication in their magazines.

Now that’s out of the way, let me take you back to a single decision that irrevocably damaged the reputation of the show. In 2007, when all was still right with Euro, someone involved with the Military Modelling website who I shall decline to name decided in their infinite wisdom to dissolve the long held agreement between Euro Militaire and magazine publishers to permit them a fixed location at Euro where they could set up a photo booth and professionally photograph entries for an article on any given year’s Euro. The idea behind this decision was to give Military Modelling the exclusivity of ‘staged’ photographs whilst forcing other magazines to take photos like the rest of us “on-the-fly” in the competition hall. 

Taking this away from publishers was an unbelievably poor decision and so was to begin the destruction of the show.

Military Modelling Euro Militaire Special, December 2005But. Whilst Military Modelling Magazine did gain exclusivity, what they lost was far more important—heaps of free promotion of the concorso, which in the end killed entries, attendance and affected trader’s bottom line. Whereas the likes of Model Time, Extreme Modelling Magazine, MMiR, AFV Modeller, Model, Euro Modelismo and Steel Masters were each doing after show articles promoting the following years show, there was now loads of ill will and in some cases the magazines ceased sending their editors. 

This singe decision was to cast the first stone into the pond. The reverberations were to be felt for the next nine years until suspension of Euro after a 31 year run. 

This was by no means the only cause of the decline. But in my opinion it was a critical one.

Another was the loss of Euro Militaire’s principle organisers. Charles Davis had the idea of starting Euro with Lynn Sangster of Historex Agents in Dover and the renowned figure painter Ray Lamb in 1985! I  presume the Folkestone location was chosen as Lynn was just down the road in Dover, and The Leas Cliff Hall was an ideal location for a concorso. I would have loved to have attended these earlier shows. Bob Letterman (of VLS fame) told me that he and Verlinden used to attend and score product lines for their company. It was a bit of the Wild West in those days.

Mr. Lamb was to sell off his share in the Euro and poor Charles Davies left us in 2012. Ken Jones, the competition boss (unofficial title), retired from both his editorial duties at Mil Mod and Euro in 2013. The death of Lynn Sangster was to leave a vacuum too great to fill. 

Continental modellers who lived on the € found expenses in £ for basic hotel tariff quite high in Folkestone, restaurant choices limited, trader hall isles too narrow and of course the usual moan & groans about judging irregularities. Folkestone in those days was also not exactly easy to get to if you travelled by aeroplane. Stansted, Heathrow and Luton were hours away in rental car and by train required several changes. Gatwick was better, as in later years one could fly Internationally into Gatwick on such carriers as BA. If you were bringing entries for the competition, the number of transfers on a train proved a nervous time. Also, if you travelled by car to Euro from the EU you had to cross the Channel either by Chunnel or via Sea-link. An additional cost.  

There was another reason as well. A fantastic modelling concorso reared its head in Holland. It occurred in October, a mere month after Euro and ticked off all the boxes for the Continentals—no Channel crossing, no extra expense when changing € to £, and most enticing of all Scale Model Challenge takes place in the same massive hotel as the concorso…the NH in Veldhoven. One by one friends of mine saved their free days for a weekend in October rather than a weekend in September. 

It was to be the death nell for Euro Militaire. 

Although Euro Militaire did die in 2016, it was rebourn in 2017 as Euro Miniatures Expo and continues (although on hiatus due to Covid Pandemic). It creates the same excitement for me as it did in its previous incarnation. Surprisingly, it seems to have returned to its roots. Euro was originally envisioned as a figure show with another concorso OnTrack (IPMS) in the same location, but in February exclusively armour and diorama related. It’s delightful to return to Folkestone each September to have a look around and visit the Euro. And I for one shall continue to attend so long as they have it. 

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