Obituary: Geoffrey Hamlyn

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The Independent Culture
GEOFFREY HAMLYN returned starting prices for The Sporting Life for 42 years, from 1933 until his retirement. He was the paper's senior SP reporter for 18 years and returned the prices on around 45,000 races.

In a world where villainy and sharp practice could often be close at hand, Hamlyn's integrity stood out like a beacon. On his word and say- so the outcome of many thousands of pounds depended every day; the apparently minor divergence between a starting price of 5-2 and 9-4 could be of vital significance; but, whatever he and his colleagues said was the SP, that was the invariable answer.

Returning starting prices on races may sound a task which requires no special skill or application. It is tempting to think that all one needs to do is to go into the betting ring, have a look round and reach a conclusion with the minimum of effort. Nothing could be further from the truth. Apart from the final financial implications of the SP itself, it is imperative to know how the betting ring operates, which bookmakers will lay wagers to major stakes and the substance and standing of those who bet on the boards and the rails. In this Geoffrey Hamlyn was a past master and he was treated with the greatest respect. What he said went.

He achieved this status not by any great physical presence, but because of his strength of character and utter incorruptibility. He did not look like the sort of man who could rule the roost over the many hard men who have worked in the betting rings, for he was small, bald and bespectacled, but anyone who tried to take him on over the compilation of a starting price soon learned the error of their ways.

Hamlyn became involved in racing on a professional basis when he started to work for his father Charles in the late 1920s. Charles Hamlyn ran a weekly racing paper, Sporting Chat, and his son, who had left Dulwich College at the age of 18 in 1928 and then worked briefly for a branch of Thomas Cook's bank in Berkeley Square, joined the family paper in September that year. At the end of 1932 Geoffrey Hamlyn moved to The Sporting Life on a probationary basis and on 30 January 1933 - the day Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany - he was taken on as a full-time member of staff.

Later that year he started working at the pony-racing track of Northolt Park, and he continued to do so until the outbreak of the Second World War. As well as returning the starting prices, he was also required to furnish The Sporting Life with full results for every race, including such details as jockeys, weighs and finishing positions.

During the war he served with the Rifle Brigade, reached the rank of captain and was mentioned in despatches. As a staff captain on General Sir Miles Dempsey's team, he was much involved in the planning for the invasions of France and Belgium.

Demobilised towards the end of 1945, he immediately went back to The Sporting Life as a SP reporter, and on the retirement of Walter Meeds in 1957 he became the senior man in that role, working alongside colleagues on the other racing trade paper, the Sporting Chronicle, led by John O'Neill and Bob Watson, and with his Sporting Life number two, Douglas Newton, who was to succeed him in the top job.

During these years he had a spell as PRO, with Peter Scott of The Daily Telegraph, to the Levy Board and he was vice-chairman of the Racecourse Press Committee, the forerunner of the current Horserace Writers' Association.

Although Hamlyn retired as senior SP reporter in 1975, he was not lost to racing. He worked as PR for the bookmaking firms of Victor Chandler and Joe Ward Hill at various stages and, until his health deteriorated too badly in the last year, was able to go regularly to Kempton Park to see the race which has been staged there in his honour for almost 30 years.

During his long career Geoffrey Hamlyn came across almost all the major players in all walks of racing and he wrote very entertainingly about them in his 1994 autobiography, My Sixty Years in the Ring. He knew leading bookmakers like William Hill, whom he regarded as the outstanding member of that profession, and John Banks, gamblers like Pat Rank and Dorothy Paget, and those he regarded as investors like Phil Bull and Alex Bird.

Though he may never have held as high a profile as they, Hamlyn left as much a mark on racing as any of his contemporaries. He was the kindest and quietest of men, but his total determination to do what he knew was right in the jungle of the betting ring earned him the ungrudging respect of everyone in racing.

George Ennor

Geoffrey Hamlyn, racing reporter: born London 29 April 1910; married 1940 Jean Lawes (died 1995); died London 3 December 1999.