Something between a messiah and wrecking ball

6 July 2019

Nobody has ever delivered a broadcasting brief as completely as John McCririck. He was brought in to liven up the racing scene – and set off immediately as something between a messiah and a wrecking ball.

Tic-tac – the bookmaker’s semaphore not seen any more – was his first turn. One afternoon at the July course producer Andrew Franklin was desperately searching for someone and something to energise the long lull between action. McCririck did his whole arm waving ‘Burlington Bertie – 100-30’, ‘Double Carpet – 33-1’, routine and the answer was there. McCririck’s bookmaking past linked to his broadcasting future and the game could never be the same again.

The whole point of tic-tac is to draw attention to oneself and since he was already going round London in dark glasses, deerstalker hat and mutton chop whiskers on a tricycle called Hermione (it had a stablemate called Hermeseta), McCririck was well into that. But you could (most of the time) forgive him the pantomime clothes, the outrageous views and the occasional almost hysterical outbursts because beneath them all he was a professional with a plan.

He wanted to bring the fun and vitality of the betting ring to the audience and he wanted to put the punter first. For all his cigar smoking and old Harrovian excesses he was very firmly on the side of the little man, and behind the bluster there were the skills and the energy of a campaigning journalist of the highest class. An early attempt at a Ladbrokes-Coral merger was almost single-handedly stymied by McCririck sniffing it out and going full cry one day at Cheltenham.

When we started, he was a great supporter of this paper and for a couple of years he wrote a column in which he sounded off much to the discomfort of some of our stiffer board members. Unfortunately, he and fellow columnist Paul Haigh got into a spat, which ended with John suing us for libel that led to a parting of the ways. But you couldn’t and shouldn’t reason with McCririck. For he was a man who found a mission and was going to do it in his own way however many man-of-the-people-public-school-snob contradictions that entailed along the way.

The huge public reaction to his passing shows how great an impact he made and what a service his audience received. Yes, John McCririck – gone but never to be forgotten.

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