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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Supporters in favour of same-sex marriage pose for a photograph as thousands gather in Dublin Castle  

The lessons we can learn from Ireland's gay marriage referendum

Stefano Hatfield
Immigration enforcement officers lead a Romanian national who has been arrested on immigration offences from a house in Southall in London  

Don’t blame migrants – the West helped to create their plight

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?