Obituary: Michael Seely

Michael James Seely, journalist: born 20 August 1926; Northern Racing Correspondent and Chief Racing Correspondent, the Times 1975-91; married three times (one daughter); died 29 August 1993.

MICHAEL SEELY was a racing journalist whose work delighted readers of Raceform, the Times and Horse and Hound for nearly 30 years.

Although he had been seriously ill since January, Seely was determined to write till the end, and struggled to go racing at his favourite racecourse on 11 May, the first day of the York Spring Meeting, in order to file his copy for Horse and Hound. Earlier this month he was able to attend the Goodwood meeting.

Born in 1926, Seely was the eldest son of delightfully eccentric parents, whose fortune derived from coal seams discovered at their home, Ramsdale, north of Nottingham. Michael's father, James Seely, had a happy menage a trois with a girlfriend 35 years his junior and his wife, who, in turn, was reputed to have been loved by Edward VIII, then Prince of Wales. They hunted and raced.

On leaving Eton at the end of the Second World War, Michael Seely joined the Grenadier Guards on a short-service commission. The Bag of Nails, situated just off Regent Street, in central London, was a small, cosy nightclub with a certain reputation and a number of attractive 'hostesses'; it was popular for many years with officers on leave. At the end of his army career, Seely, never one to do things by halves, developed a drink problem and married one of these women, to the fury of his father, who promptly cut him off, dividing his estate between the two younger sons. The marriage was short-lived.

By the Sixties, the ex-Guards officer, having been dried out, was clerking for the Raleigh cycle factory in Nottingham when he applied for a job with Raceform and was taken on by Mike Silley, their senior racereader in the north, who knew his family. He learnt a lot about racing as assistant racereader to Silley, with Pat Oughtred (later Mrs Michael Stoute) as paddock critic. Before long Seely became a star contributor to Raceform and Chaseform Notebook. Raceform, the weekly form book which is the essential companion for every professional and amateur follower of racing, demands dedicated hard work from its employees, who are required to note how every horse looks and performs not only for the official results but also for that invaluable punters' guide, 'the notebook'. Ian de Wesselow, their publisher, found that Seely's writing 'was so illegible that it was some time before we realised what excellent articles he was capable of writing. He eventually solved the problem by dictating over the phone.'

Seely went racing constantly with his second wife, Pat, the divorced wife of a vet, and his sympathetic manner led trainers to talk frankly to him. He became a close friend of Michael Stoute, Guy Harwood, Michael Dickinson and Dick Hern, and wrote the official biography of Hern's stable jockey Willie Carson.

From 1975 Seely worked for the Times, first as their northern racing correspondent and later as chief correspondent. Although no sinecure, the life of a racing correspondent on a national daily can be very rewarding for someone, always smartly turned out, who knows horses, understands the sport, is a good mixer from dukes to dustmen and can write well. In both cases travelling long distances to a set time and keeping deadlines in frequently atrocious conditions is the bugbear.

It is most important, if you are to serve your readers well, that you should be on good enough terms with as many owners, trainers, jockeys and officials for you to get the best stories without losing your critical faculties. Michael Seely satisfied all these requirements and will always be remembered as an outstanding racing correspondent, loved and respected by everyone in the sport as well as by his employers and his readers. His great friend and fellow journalist Tim Richards said Seely was 'essentially a 'people' person. He loved to be surrounded by them.'

One afternoon in the Times office Seely wrote his copy in longhand but no one could read it so he picked up a desk telephone and tried to read it over to the copytakers. The union man on the other end refused to take an internal call so Seely went out into the Gray's Inn Road to find a call-box.

Later he was appointed to the coveted byline of 'Audax' on Horse and Hound for whom he filed a lot of fine copy. He ran the shoot at his home, Ramsdale, although the land belongs to his two brothers. He and Pat had one daughter, called Rosie.

Suddenly one evening, two years ago, Pat, who had been sitting with Michael by the fire, dropped dead. It was a terrible shock. At her funeral he met his third wife who was much younger than himself and who survives him.

(Photograph omitted)