Curtain falls on Royal Tournament

Curtain falls on Royal Tournament

The final curtain fell last night on the Royal Tournament - a showcase of Britain's military power and prowess since 1880. The highlight of the concluding day of the last tournament was the final running of the renowned Royal Navy field gun competition.

The Earls Court event is coming to an end because of losses, and because the increasingly stretched armed services have found it ever more difficult to provide personnel.

In 1992, the services decided that they could no longer free the 2,500 personnel needed to run the show for its traditional three weeks and the tournament was cut to a fortnight, stripping it of financial viability.

Most of the tournament's 10-strong permanent staff now face redundancy.

Some of the soldiers, sailors and airmen who take part in the show are planning to wear black armbands as they go through their paces at Earls Court tonight to mark the passing of the Tournament.

It will be replaced next year by a one-off event at Horse Guards Parade in central London - The Royal Military Tattoo 2000 - which will form part of the UK's millennium celebrations.

From 2001 there will be a new Military Tattoo featuring ceremony, massed bands and pageantry, also at Horse Guards Parade.

In addition, a Military Festival will be held each year outside London at varying locations at which the public will be able to view large-scale weaponry.

Tonight's final performance, which will be attended by the Princess Royal, will feature familiar events including performances by RAF dogs, massed pipes and drums, a tug of war and the very last running of the field gun competition.

The field gun race harks back to the relief of Ladysmith in 1900 by Royal Navy gunners during the Boer War.

Colonel Iain Ferguson, director of the Royal Tournament, expressed regret about the tournament's demise.

"I'm very sad about it, although I have seen it coming ever since the event was shortened from three weeks to two, which was the reason for the drop in our attendance figures," said Col Ferguson.

"We have been on a knife-edge ever since then. Being a charity, it's been a real challenge, and a great triumph that we've got through to the millennium.

"I would have hoped that the Ministry of Defence would take it on (financially), but I do understand when the Chief of Defence Staff decides they need an arena where they can display new equipment."