Terence Blacker: For better or worse, Oaksey takes age of the amateur with him



The age of the amateur seems so distant from the way we live now that reading the obituaries of Lord Oaksey, who died this week, is like being transported into another universe. Today, when professional dedication is the norm, the idea of someone from an aristocratic family becoming nationally famous by riding in steeplechases at the top level, and then writing about his exploits in the press, somehow feels closer to the 18th century than the 21st.

There was a time when Oaksey, or John Lawrence as he was before he inherited the family title in 1971, represented all that I wanted to be. He was a champion amateur jockey, riding at the top level against professionals, and winning, on a horse called Taxidermist, the Hennessy and Whitbread Gold Cups.

His columns, as racing correspondent for The Daily Telegraph, were the first things I would read every morning when boarding at prep school. He lived the perfect life, it seemed to me, being both a man of action and of words, not only riding in the Grand National but, apparently within moments of weighing in, writing about it with wit and modesty.

It was probably the writer which attracted me, rather than the jockey – Oaksey could never have been mistaken for a professional. As a journalist, he had a knack for a vivid phrase. "You've failed to clear the ditch – and it comes up too fast," he once wrote, describing a fall at Aintree. "The pricked brown ears that bounded your horizon disappear, and the reins scorch through your fingers like unchecked line on a running barracuda."

Before I had grown up and been inspired by the writings of Graham Greene, Joseph Heller and Frederick Exley, it was Oaksey who showed me that the thing to be was a writer. No one did more than he to popularise what had been a rather enclosed, unfashionable sport, and after he retired, he set up the Injured Jockeys Fund, a legacy as important as his columns.

It is possible to be over-nostalgic about the age of gentlemen amateurs. Members of the officer class, they had either served in, or at least lived through, the war. Men like Oaksey, and his friends and fellow amateur jockeys Gay Kindersley and Bob McCreery, were steely and driven in their pursuit of fun, and yet, in the manner of their generation, would never boast or admit to trying too hard. "Even at my fittest, I found myself getting uncomfortably tired," Oaksey wrote of his career as a jockey. Behind it all was a determination to live to the full the life that they had been given.

"One can't sentimentalise an entire generation," Kindersley's daughter Tania reflected in a blog this week, and she is right. They were extraordinary, those dashing chaps of Mayfair and Kempton Park, and they were probably right to make the most of their privileged lives. On the whole, though, I am glad that life has moved on.

Middle England's mummies

To judge by the considerable amount of coverage granted to the departure of two newsreaders from BBC Radio 4, one is tempted to conclude that the silly season has been extended this year. The retirement of Harriet Cass and Charlotte Green has taken up where the Clacton lion left off.

Cass and Green are veteran announcers who, after quite a few years on the radio, have decided to go and do something else. One can just about understand why the BBC solemnly broke the story on the news, and then included jolly compilations of their best moments – it has a brand to promote – but the high emotion shown elsewhere is baffling. It will be like losing old friends, one commentator said. They had provided the soundtrack of our lives, intoned another.

Remarks like these remind one that Radio 4 is essentially a club, whose members are reassured by its measured tones and quiet sense of civic virtue. Announcers, mellifluous and calming, end up becoming mummy figures to Middle England. No wonder they need a rest.


React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Read Next
80 per cent of Commonwealth countries discriminate against LGBTI people - will Salmond speak out?  

Alex Salmond must speak out against the Commonwealth's homophobic countries

Peter Tatchell

Commonwealth Games 2014: Speak out against homophobia, Mr Salmond

Peter Tatchell
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor