Racing / Royal Ascot: A dedicated flagbearer of old fashion bows out: Greg Wood salutes the passing of one of the Turf's most diligent guardians

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The Independent Online
HE IS tubby, bespectacled and approaching 65 years of age, but Sir Nicholas Beaumont, who will retire in October after 25 years as Ascot's clerk of the course, has more than a little in common with Asterix the Gaul. 'Britain has been overrun by the forces of permissiveness,' the preface could read, 'but one small enclave still resists, inspired by a man in a bowler hat and his stubborn commitment to keeping up standards.'

It is a mark of Beaumont's success over the past quarter of a century that his last Royal meeting as clerk of the course will be little different from the first. True, divorcees are no longer barred from the Royal enclosure, but ladies must still wear hats which cover the crown of the head, gentlemen a morning suit, and in all but the cheapest enclosure, jeans are forbidden. Who needs the anniversary of D-Day as an excuse to remember the good old days? At Ascot, it's a way of life.

Yet it is unfair to dismiss Beaumont as simply a soldier at the front line of the class war, beating off the liberals with his umbrella. The most extreme manifestations of Ascot snobbery generally carry the fingerprints of the Queen's Representative, who runs the course on the monarch's behalf, while at a time when many courses are crumbling, Ascot is spotless, beautifully presented and offers perhaps the best Flat racing in the world. And in an age when the first four Classics are dedicated to debt collectors and batteries, is it not a relief that there is one meeting which corporate money cannot buy?

'I think you've got to do what you think is right, and you've got to keep standards up,' Beaumont said last week. 'That's what Ascot is all about. If you let the standards go, or the place doesn't look good and you let people muck around in any old bit of kit, I just don't think that's right.'

Beaumont has been maintaining standards at Ascot since 1964 when, after 13 years in the Life Guards, he was recruited as an understudy to the clerk of the course. The Duke of Norfolk, the Queen's Representative at the time, is said to have asked Beaumont's brother to recommend a candidate, but if his appointment owed something to the old-boy network, even his critics must admit that, since he took over as clerk five years later, Beaumont has promoted Ascot's cause with diligence and determination.

And if that diligence sometimes seemed to veer towards snobbery, Beaumont can at least insist that he was doing what he thought was right (and prepared to retreat, eventually, if proved wrong). His decision to ban the wearing of jeans in the Tattersalls (second) enclosure at all meetings was seen as infuriatingly arrogant by a great majority of racegoers. Even Beaumont, though, could not reverse 30 years of popular culture, and while the ban remains at the Royal meeting, it has been relaxed at other times. 'I'm delighted to see people in clean jeans,' he said, 'but when they started turning up with the knees falling out, people who had bothered to dress nicely were upset.'

Beaumont has seen many great horses race at Ascot, but his most cherished memory remains 'the feeling after we've had a marvellous day. You get good weather, marvellous racing, and by the end of the afternoon you've found out that everything went well. People were happy and there was no trouble.'

He will not be idle in retirement. On 1 January, Beaumont will take over as chairman of Newcastle racecourse, which has escalating debts and is in imminent danger of closure. Somehow, though, you suspect that Beaumont will not readily allow the bulldozer drivers near his grandstand. For one thing, they will surely be wearing jeans.

(Photograph omitted)

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