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Saturday 10 August 2019

Photo essay

An English summer

The season of racing, polo, the county show and messing about in boats

By Peter Dench

S ummer in England is unlike that season anywhere else in the world.  For much of the 20th century, a sunny day was the perfect excuse to wear a knotted handkerchief on your head, stride around in plus-fours, and eat whelks. Today, England’s summer leisure scene is much more organised and sophisticated, and the nation is bursting with outdoor events of all kinds: festivals, regattas, country-house events, sporting fixtures, jollies and jamborees. Why, then, do so many still insist on embarrassing themselves, wearing laughable clothing, eating terrible food and behaving inappropriately?

That was the question on the mind of Peter Dench when applying his factor 30 sunscreen. The 47-year-old English photographer didn’t produce a glossy, idealised brochure of his home: it is the truth, warts and all. No bizarre or outrageous sight escaped his view. Alcohol inevitably features prominently – because whether you’re living it up at Henley Regatta or watching the Wimbledon Tennis Championships, the nation’s favourite legal high is never far away.

So many of the people participating in England’s rituals look disappointed and confused, as if they can’t quite understand why they’re not having the marvellous time they were expecting. And many people who view these extraordinary images of modern England will have similar incredulous and amused expressions on their faces.




Champers and unusual hatwear may be a feature of Royal Ascot but not all the behaviour there has to be regal



Two of the last three Prime Ministers, including the current one, went to Eton College. It certainly seems to develop self-confidence



You have to be fast and fit to win on the Flat at Epsom but less stringent standards apply in the grandstands and enclosures


Chelsea Flower Show

The Chelsea Flower Show brings west London traffic to a standstill every year but when it ends, a stampede of potted plants begins



Polo is one place you can say “Old Sport” and be describing what you are watching: a team game that has its origins in the 6th Century


Game Fair

The Hatfield Game Fair celebrates countryside pursuits including shooting, falconry, fishing,  horse and hounds – and shopping





Peter Dench : Made in England 1972

Peter Dench is a UK-based photographer, videographer, presenter, writer, author and curator. He is an astute observer of human nature and the quirkier aspects of life.

Dench achieved a World Press Photo Award in the People in the News Stories Category for the reportage, Drinking of England. A FIFA-sponsored project, Football’s Hidden Story, comprising 26 stories across 20 different countries, documenting the positive impact of football, received six global accolades.

His exhibitions include: Made in England at the Haus der Geschichte, Bonn, German; Trans-Siberian World Cup at the After Nyne Gallery, London; A1: Britain on the Verge and Dench does Dallas, both at the Art Bermondsey Project Space, London.

His books include: The Dench Dozens: Great Britons of Photography Vol. 1; Dench does Dallas; The British Abroad; Alcohol & England; and England Uncensored.

Written contributions have been commissioned from him for the New Yorker, Telegraph magazine and a number of photography journals. TV credits include What is it to be English? and Brexit Leavers’ Voices Burnley UK for Channel 4 News UK.

Dench is a Visionary for Olympus cameras.