March of time defeats the Royal Tournament

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THE ROYAL Tournament, a venerable institution for 118 years but declining in popularity for the past decade, is to be scrapped, it was announced yesterday. The military spectacle has come to be seen by the Government and service chiefs as old-fashioned, anach-ronistic and failing to reflect the role of the armed forces in the modern world.

Instead, the new millennium is expected to see a new-style, hi-tech show, using the latest stage technology, and sited away from its traditional venue at Earl's Court, west London. The Millennium Dome, in Greenwich, has not been ruled out as a possible venue.

The Ministry of Defence's decision received a mixed reaction from servicemen's organisations. The Royal British Legion said it was "disappointed that the tournament would not continue in its present form". But it added that, as an organisation it looked forward to the future, and awaited with "eager anticipation" to see how the show developed.

An official of the Burma Star Association of veterans said the development was not surprising. He added: "This appears to be the way of the world, I am afraid. There are changes being carried out for the sake of changes, or because some consultant or other asks for it. I thought this was something which cut across age barriers."

Some of the proceeds from the tournament go towards supporting service charities. The RAF Benevolent Fund said it was saddened by the decision to change the format, and General Mike Regan, controller of the Army Benevolent Fund, said he hoped the contribution to charities would continue in the future.

Previous attempts to modernise the tournament have failed and come under attack from a variety of quarters. London Weekend Television, which won the rights of the event from the BBC, tried to make it more appealing to younger spectators by introducing TV's Gladiators into the show, a move attacked as tacky. An appearance by a Japanese marching band was criticised by some war veterans.

Announcing his decision yesterday, George Robertson, Secretary of State for Defence, said: "The Royal Tournament has served us well for a great many years, but as we approach the millennium it is timely for us to take a fresh look at this traditional event.

"This is a new beginning, not an end, of the tournament and my aim is to make it more modern and relevant whilst retaining an element of pageantry." The Queen and the tournament organisers have been informed of the plans. A one-off show is expected to be staged in the year 2000, and the new- look production may include an open-air pageant.

The Grand Military Tournament and Assault at Arms, as it was first known, was started in 1880 by the Duke of Cambridge as a skill-at-arms event for the Army, with money raised for military charities.