Friday, 13 March 2015

The Voice of Racing

I've just been listening to Sir Peter O'Sullivan on BBC radio 4 and so many memories came flooding back.

You may not know this chap but he is still known in horse-racing circles as 'The Voice of Racing'. He celebrated his 97th birthday a few days ago and to listen to him on the radio again was marvellous.

He was born in 1918, in Ireland, and became the BBC's best ever racing commentator. I think the then Queen Mother loved him just as much as she loved having a punt on the races. He was everybody's favourite. 

You could hear every word he uttered when calling the race. The noise of the crowds and the excitement of the race never affected his commentary.  He also owned some classy horses, one of which was Be Friendly.  Attivo was another top class thoroughbred.

Peter O'Sullivan also was the racing correspondent of the Daily Express for many years and tipped many winners for his followers.

I 'knew' him, so to speak, when I worked in the bookie business, from 1956 to around the early 1970s.  I first spoke to him when I was working for Albert Cook & Son, turf accountants, at 801 Wandsworth Road, London in the early 1960s. He had an account with us.

One morning I picked up the phone on my desk and this mellifluous voice said to me:  "Good morning. Would you please ask Albert (my boss) what is the best price he can offer me on Gay Don in the National."  (Gay Don is not the real name of the horse, I cannot remember this far back).

I then asked my boss, saying it was Peter O'Sullivan asking for the price.

The boss scanned the Sporting Life lists to see what the average price was.  He said to me that if Peter was interested then he must have some inside info on this horse.  The price the boss came up with was 33-1 and said so to Peter O'Sullivan.

"Is that the very BEST price he can offer?" asks Peter.

I relayed this question to the boss.  He then said 'Oh well, tell him 40-1 is the absolute tops', which I duly gave to Peter.

I heard quite a hearty chuckle on the end of the phone line then Peter said: "Well, thank Albert for his very generous offer but tell him I shall NOT be wanting to back Gay Don at this price. He died yesterday!" and then he put the phone down.

What a great sense of humour he had, and still has I reckon.

Happy 97th Sir Peter, and when you get to the 100th, which I am sure you will, I will send you a VERY HAPPY BIRTHDAY message then.

I enjoyed a lot of my time in the bookie world. One met so many notable people, good and not so good.  Sir Peter was the best of all. Ronnie and Reggie Kray were way down the list, having met these two notorious guys on more than one occasion, each time in a friendly way I'm glad to say.  The racing world is full of larger than life characters.

Here's a link to an example of Sir Peter's professionalism as he commentated on a race in which his own horse, Be Friendly, was running.  He gives a clear and unbiased account of the race and is typical of this great man's skill in calling the race.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NuZNtwyxnz4

14 comments:

Barbara Lindberg said...

What an interesting story and to celebrate a 97th birthday is quite the huge achievement. It sounds like you've led an interesting life as a bookie :)

PhilipH said...

Thanks Barbara. The bookie business was only a 15 year episode in my life so far. Working in that game became less and less worthwhile but it was an interesting phase. No interest in racing nowadays but the memories are happy enough.

A Cuban In London said...

I absolutely loved this post. Just like mine on Havana triggered off memories of Croydon in you, this post has done the same for me. We had a commentator back in the day when baseball in Cuba was still played with aluminium bats instead of the current wooden ones. This chap had a peculiar way of broadcasting games. One such feature was that everytime someone hit a homerun, he would lengthen the verb "going" as in "the ball is going, going, going" and there would be a "goooooooooing!". Once he lost his voice after the third or fourth homer. Sadly he didn't get to 97 years. I tip my hat to Peter.

The Bug said...

Fascinating story! I listened to that clip - it was pretty exciting. He was definitely good at it!

PhilipH said...

You're very kind CiL. Looking back is fine as long as we don't indulge too much.

Yesteryear is triggered by so many of our senses and usually it seems to remind one of the good times, so that's OK.

Time flits by so fast the older one gets. Those six years from when your daughter was 8 inspired you to write again about that time and now she is 14 ... what a long 'moment' in time it seems?

PhilipH said...

Thanks Dana. You have been much busier than I in Blogland. I have seen most of your posts, throwbacks or whatever. I should make more comments but will drop by now and then. Enjoy the rest of the weekend.

All Consuming said...

What a fab post Philip! It's so interesting to hear the tales entwined in people's lives, and yours sounds like one I'd like to hear more of. 97 is a good age, and it sounds like he had a good life too *smiles*.

PhilipH said...

You're too kind M. Varied and variable could be a quick summary of life pour moi. Been there, lived there, gathered little or no moss on the way. That's why "Baker Street" is high on my list of favourite songs. ;-) x

Snowbrush said...

If he had been a really, really fast horse, how much of a handicap could "he died yesterday" have been?

PhilipH said...

A rather impossible one! Unless, of course, Jesus was booked as the jockey.

Snowbrush said...

"A rather impossible one! Unless, of course, Jesus was booked as the jockey."

Here, we're all religious, so using Jesus for a jockey would actually be a possibility. We're his favorite nation, you know.

the walking man said...

I knew who the Kray brothers were but you're correct as an announcer that was marvelous, Philip.

Not a bad race when the winner takes it bu using the longest route around the track the outside all.

PhilipH said...

Thanks for visiting Mark. I do hope that things go well for you in the city and that you're doing OK.

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