Obituary: Noel Whitcomb

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The Independent Online
Noel Bernard Whitcomb, journalist, company director, racehorse owner: born 25 December 1918; married 1947 Sally Borton (one daughter); died 11 June 1993.

NOEL WHITCOMB, the journalist and founder of the Daily Mirror Punters' Club, was an ever smiling, immaculately turned out figure, with top hat set at a jaunty angle, radiating old- fashioned charm and manners.

Born on Christmas Day 1918 to a journalist on the Economist and an Irish mother, Noel Whitcomb was educated by the Jesuits at Farnham. His wartime service in the Royal Artillery was curtailed by a tubercular lung, and he worked for a film trade magazine the Daily Renter before joining the Daily Mirror as a young reporter with a brief to find off-beat stories. Almost fairy-tale overnight stardom followed his discovery, splashed on the Mirror's front and back pages, of a talking Jack Russell terrier, and by 1947 he had his own column, 'Looking at the Lousy World and Seeing the Funny Side'.

Ever a snappy dresser, who revelled in bohemian society and friendship with such as Dylan Thomas and Augustus John, Whitcomb had by 1953 a full-page column and another on London's night life. The Mirror flamboyantly made the most of Whitcomb's popularity, which undoubtedly increased circulation.

Whitcomb sometimes pined for a theatrical career, for which he could well have been designed, but found great satisfaction in the Turf, first as an owner and then as Founder President of the immensely successful Daily Mirror Punters' Club. He was a lucky owner who enjoyed every minute of it. His best horses were Heidelberg, winner on the flat over hurdles and fences; Even Up, who won 14 races; Royal Fanfare, a prolific winner in England, France and Spain; and Mirror Boy, who achieved the ultimate triumph for Whitcomb, the Punters' Club and their paper by winning their own Andy Capp Handicap in 1980. Whitcomb invested wisely and was not unduly worried about leaving the Mirror in 1980 when its new owner, Robert Maxwell, objected to his expense account, which was enormous even by the then Mirror standards - although surely justified by results.

In his autobiography, A Particular Kind of Fool (1990), Whitcomb described the paper's post-war readers as 'three generations of tabloid fodder'. The title was derived from a quotation from his hero Evelyn Waugh, 'Most fools can get a book published, but it takes a particular kind of fool to hold down a job on a daily newspaper.