RAYMOND BROOKS-WARD was, after the death of Dorian Williams, the voice of equestrian sport. With Williams, he began broadcasting on showjumping in 1956 and thereafter he organised and commentated at all the laeding events and was responsible for organising the Christmas Shows at Olympia. He was also active in the field of sports sponsorship and a popular Master of Foxhounds in Hertfordshire.
His sudden death at the age of 62 will shock millions of television viewers who never realised that the much-loved small, neat enthusiastic BBC commentator had been battling bravely for years against a particularly virulent form of hepatitis.
Brooks-Ward had only recently returned from Barcelona, where he had been covering the Olympic Games with his usual flair. With the exception of Moscow, where Britain sent no riders, he had broadcast all the Olympic Games since Rome in 1960. The day he died he was to have reported the British Open horse trials at Gatcombe Park, in Gloucestershire.
Raymond Brooks-Ward was brought up in Hertfordshire. His father, a West Country hotelier, was chairman of the board of governors of Westminster Catering College, which his son attended.
Raymond hunted from his earliest days with the Enfield Chase foxhounds, of which pack he was eventually to become Master. During his national service in the Royal Army Service Corps he was first involved in hunting hounds as Master of the Aldershot Beagles. His parents died when he was 24.
He became a dairy farmer at Fernie Hill, near Cockfosters, and continued to hunt whenever possible. His other passion was sailing and he grew to love south Cornwall and the river Fal.
Brooks-Ward's first acquaintance with broadcasting came when Jimmy Savile asked him to do a children's programme on farm animals for ITV.
Although he never competed seriously in show-jumping, he quickly became an expert and can be said to have pioneered the broadcasting of that sport. (Before 1956 showjumping commentators had not existed.) His model was Richard Dimbleby: the commentator's role, he said, was 'to fill in the background with little titbits without being too obtrusive'. He fitted in well as co-commentator with Dorian Williams.
Brooks-Ward's restless enthusiasm for horse sports and his intense love of doing good through charities prompted him with the aid of Bob Dean, of Pearl and Dean, the advertising agents, to set up British Equestrian Promotions in 1970 for the British Showjumping Association and British Horse Society. As managing director he brought millions of pounds' worth of sponsorship into the sport. His greatest coup was probably organising the pounds 650,000 Ever Ready Derby and Gold Seal Oaks through Bob Hanson, who was involved in showing and showjumping and was a friend of Bob Dean. Three years ago BEP was sold and Brooks-Ward organised Best Communications Ltd with Joe Moore and his own son, Simon Brooks-Ward.
Raymond Brooks-Ward was widely liked, by his colleagues and friends in the showjumping and charity worlds (he was on the board of the Church of England's Society), by his fellow-huntsmen, and in particular by children. 'We called Raymond the Colonel,' said his fellow-commentator the international showjumper Stephen Hadley, 'because he organised all the parties. He gave us all nicknames like Peter Rabbit and Tut Tut. There was never a dull moment.' 'He had a wonderful sense of occasion and fun,' said another commentator, his friend Tom Hudson. Elizabeth Grundy, Master of the Puckeridge Hunt, was a neighbour in Benington, Hertfordshire. 'The whole village loved him,' she said. 'He always seemed to be in tremendous form and identified so easily with everyone. He was at his best swapping hunting stories in the village pub on Saturday nights.'
Brooks-Ward moved with his wife Dinny, a former showjumper, and their three sons down to Portscatho in Cornwall in 1984 and became Master of the small South Cornwall Hunt. In addition to the Horse of the Year Show, the Royal International and other events, he was going to be show director at the Pavarotti International in Italy next month.
Talking to the Radio Times in 1986, Brooks-Ward remembered Richard Dimbleby's dictum that 'if you were doing half-an-hour's commentary, you should do one- and-a-half hour's homework. I've never forgotten that,' he said.
Raymond Brooks-Ward's will be a hard act to follow.
(Photograph omitted)Reuse content