Obituary: John Rickman

Click to follow
The Independent Online
John Eric Carter Rickman, broadcaster and journalist: born 28 May 1913; married 1939 Peggy Law (one son, two daughters); died Midhurst, West Sussex 13 October 1997.

By the simple yet symbolic art of raising his hat to his amused viewers, John Rickman played a significant part in introducing the sport of horse racing to the world of independent television.

The first man to introduce horse racing on an independent channel, on London Weekend Television's World of Sport, he was for many people an initial contact to the often baffling codes of Flat and National Hunt racing. His style was to greet his viewers with familiar, yet formal, charm and ease.

This he did for 23 years, and at a time when ITV had a major hold on armchair punters through its ITV Seven, a daunting task which saw people try and select the winners of seven races from two televised racetracks. When Rickman was on air there was always the feeling that racing was a sport not to be taken too seriously; it was a vessel of fun.

He certainly provided moments of fun when broadcasting live. On one occasion he was broadcasting from Sandown racecourse near London when a telephone rang on his desk. Rickman, no doubt thinking it would be bad manners not to answer, picked it up and said: "I'm on air and very busy. I'll call you back." Less amusing was an occasion at Newcastle when his co-presenters, flying to the course, were delayed by a strong headwind. Rickman not only presented the show but also provided paddock commentary and actually called the races. In doing so he fulfilled perfectly the role of a broadcasting swan; while below the surface there may have been plenty of flapping, above water the impression was one of elegant calm.

There could not have been a neater dovetail for Rickman than a career which combined journalism and horseracing. His great-grandfather Tom Jennings trained the French-bred 1865 Derby winner and Triple Crown winner Gladiateur, while his son, also called Tom, trained three Classic winners himself. Such a lineage was the proud source for the title of Rickman's autobiography Old Tom and Young John, published in 1990. Rickman's father Eric, meanwhile, was a journalist, writing under the name Robin Goodfellow on the racing pages of the Daily Mail.

Rickman himself was educated at Haileybury and embarked on his career in journalism serving on papers in Bristol. He started to follow in his father's footsteps in 1934 in joining the Daily Mail. During the Second World War, he served with the Gloucestershire Regiment. Afterwards, he returned to the Daily Mail and wrote under the Robin Goodfellow nom de plume.

He made a particular impression as a racing tipster, often winning the Sporting Life naps table, the competition held between journalists to gauge their ability to pinpoint winners.

Aside from his Daily Mail work, Rickman also wrote a number of books, among them Homes Of Sport (1952) and Eight Flat Racing Stables (1979). Away from racing, Rickman had a holiday home on the Scottish island of Jura, and was also a keen golfer and dog breeder.

- Richard Griffiths

Comments