2 March 2003
Brough Scott pays tribute to the London Marathon founder who died on Friday
Many of us are still wearing the footwear he got for us. It is marvellously comfortable, but this weekend, above all, it still remains supremely inappropriate. For how can we ever hope to fill Chris Brasher’s boots.
His was a roaring log fire of a character. I have never met anyone who warmed a room the way he did and the wood smoke of his personality, not to mention the crackle of his laughter, spread out far and wide. His was a hearth to which you always wanted to return.
But the windows would be open because he was a man who brought fresh air into everything he did, and conversation with him was taken at the gallop of one of those Franz Stampfl training runs which laid the foundation for the four-minute mile. The image of the huffing, teeth-gritted, bespectacled pacemaker in front of the loping Roger Bannister was the first public memory of him and he took that same attitude to the rest of his life. Most times there was no Bannister to overtake him.
What really shook you was the enthusiasm and approachability of the man. Here was someone who was already a legend many times over. Crikey, he had done two trips to the Arctic Circle before he even thought of leading Roger and Chris Chataway round Iffley Road. He worked on the original Tonight show, his Observer columns had a way of taking you to outlandish places no one has ever matched, his switch to business made him a millionaire, and his creation of the London Marathon has made a permanent and immensely beneficial mark on British life.
By any standards, those are astonishing achievements, and anyone with such fame and fortune usually carries something of an aura. Chris didn’t. Chris came straight at you. If you disagreed with him you could sometimes understand what happened to that luckless Norwegian on the last lap in Melbourne back in 1956. But agree or disagree, Chris was never distant, never too grand. Chris wanted to roll up his sleeves and get at it. Wanted to get past bureaucrats to people on the ground. And when he and his wife, Shirley, came into racing, he was always as keen to talk to the stable lad as to the trainer and jockey.
In many ways he was a throwback to another age. He carried himself like one of Buchan’s heroes in the Thirties, a clubbable man every bit as keen to play hard as to work hard, good food and wine just as important as good company and good horses. Yet, like our rose-hued image of those days, this was a life not obsessed with the money-centred selfishness of modern times. Chris Brasher was a benefactor but he was not brash. He gave money and set up trusts funded by the Brasher Boot to help the environment, but sought no glory from it. He was a man who would answer a call.
Ten years ago I called him. My son was having trouble rehabilitating after smashing his hip joint. We were immediately summoned to the upper deck office Chris had above the garage opposite his house by the river at Richmond. There, shoes were produced and then we all bundled down the stairway, into the Brasher car and wove through the traffic to a back street cobbler’s in Kew where `John the Boot’ was put in charge. My son, now miraculously mobile, wears the boots still.
Yesterday I went for a long run in preparation for this year’s effort in the London Marathon. Sweating over hill and dale I thought of Chris, thought of him with a smile.