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

Notebook

Share

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.

terblacker@aol.com

React Now

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

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

Software Developer

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: A huge step forward in medical science, but we're not all the way there yet

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
David Cameron has painted a scary picture of what life would be like under a Labour government  

You want constitutional change? Fixed-term parliaments have already done the job

Steve Richards
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past