Big names dropped from new Channel 4 team

There’s a mix of the current home team, transfers from the other side and novice and untried presenters in the line up for Channel 4 Racing when it starts its new contract in 1 January 2013.

Inevitably, merging two full teams from the current BBC and Channel 4 stables means some people have not been retained, with John McCririck, Derek Thompson and Mike Cattermole all voicing disappointment that they will no longer be in training.

Overall, the new team amounts to a score draw, with the primary presenters from each side taking on the lynch pin roles. We knew when the contract was announced that IMG would build the new team around Clare Balding, and whilst her new foil, Nick Luck, is unlikely to provide as much hilarity as Willie Carson has done, he is a dependable and engaging co-presenter, and will anchor the programmes which Balding does not present.

Out on the course, the BBC’s Rishi Persad and Mick Fitzgerald are matched with Channel 4’s Alice Plunkett and Emma Spencer. The line-up has a strong commentary team of the excellent Simon Holt and Richard Hoiles, whilst Tanya Stevenson spreads her wings to manage news from the betting ring on her own.

Both Graham Cunningham (Racing UK) and Gina Bryce (At The Races) step across from a specialised audience to terrestrial television and jump jockey Sam Thomas will also be involved regularly.

IMG confirmed that the Morning Line programme will continue, with Luck hosting that, and Alice Plunkett as second in command. Jim McGrath (UK) continues with race analysis, but Jim McGrath (AUS) is not kept on.

Jamie Aitchison, sport’s editor at Channel 4 summed up how he saw the team, saying, “Being the new home of horseracing is a real privilege and I’m delighted to announce this carefully selected team of presenters and reporters, a mix of broadcasting heavyweights and racing experts.” It does look as though, with a new company with no experience of racing production taking over, they have gone for the safe and reliable front of camera team. Innovation can come later.

The three major casualties, John McCririck, Derek Thompson and John Major, woops - Mike Cattermole, were all clearly disappointed at losing out, and were also critical of the way in which they had learned of their dismissal, saying they were told only half an hour before Channel 4 revealed its team.

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Thompson, who is mid way through treatment for cancer, said, “I can live without it but I’d rather have lived with it, and it wasn’t much fun receiving the call, especially coming halfway through my chemo treatment. I’m still hungry and not cutting back. I’m on Channel 4 at the weekend and next week I’ll be in Dubai doing some work and also hoping to enjoy some sunshine to aid the recovery process.”

Thompson reminded everyone that television coverage was not just about the people the viewers see when he added, “I hope they keep on all of the cameramen and riggers and so on, as they are the ones who get the show on the road.”

Mike Cattermole appeared sanguine about being dropped; perhaps consoled by the knowledge that he will continue in his other jobs. He said, “I’m glad Jamie Aitchison finally had the balls to call me. They’ve obviously got a fantastic team of presenters and good luck to them. I clearly didn’t tick the necessary boxes but I’ve had a wonderful 13 years working on the programme and will miss my many friends, in front of and behind the cameras. I can’t feel too despondent because I have two fabulous roles still to do for RaceTech as a commentator and At The Races.”

72-year-old John McCririck was most forthright in his criticism, accusing the new producers of ageism as well as having strong words for the process of informing him about his demise. He said, “Naturally I am devastated at being sacked after covering betting, first on ITV and then Channel 4 for 31 years. According to Channel 4, I’m being sacked after audience research. Yes, I do antagonise people, as reactions to being twice in the Celebrity Big Brother house and also on Coach Trip prove. It is so sad that Channel 4 boss Jay Hunt, and production chief Carl Hicks, both long time BBC executives, have again gone down their well-worn path of ageism.”

McCririck said there had been no discussion with him about the way he approaches his subject, and therefore no opportunity for him to consider a different style. But can Big Mac be anything other then himself?

He went on, “Without any consultation or being asked to change my presentation style, I was told by Channel 4’s sports editor Jamie Aitchison only half an hour before their press release. I trust those now in power, having shown their macho images as all new producers so by getting rid of their well-known older performers don’t forget that racing appeals to all generations.”

Well, as they say, to everything there is a season, and it McCririck is no longer “in season” (what a thought!!!). We’ll be able to form a very tentative first thought on whether the new sowing turns out to be fine fruit or a duff harvest at Cheltenham on New Year's Day.

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9 replies
  1. Ian says:

    I really do think this is seriously disappointing!

    Alastair Down is in my humble opinion the finest racing journalist of his generation a fitting succesor to Brough Scott.

    John Francome is without equal and Derek Thompson although a useless tipster a very capable link man who is very popular on Channel 4.

    What does Rishi Pershad add other than tokenism??; Mick Fitzgerald is frankly awful and that is when he emerges from the backside of “the greatest jockey”.

    Emma Spencer is a clothes horse who is far less capable than Cattermole although it is refreshing that their ” get a room” double act has been split up

    I think Gina Bryce will be a welcome addition and keeping Alice Plunkett is a master stroke but why no Matt Chapman??…

    As good as Claire Balding is one fears it’ll turn in to “THE CLAIRE BALDING SHOW” masterminded by her good friend the awful Jay Hunt – Controller of C4

  2. Jim Pearson says:

    I’m sorry to see the loss of Mike Cattermole & deplore the thought of having to watch big-headed full of himself Pershad

  3. Karl says:

    Quite obvious from the previous comments, they didn’t ask the people who actually watch racing. Good riddance to McCririck, though to be fair he did his bit in the early days, shame about The Catt, Rishi Persad knows as much about racing as my goldfish, and interviews worse. Wouldn’t mind if it was the last I saw of ‘the female’ now McCriricks gone. The rest I can take or leave. As for the BBC they want to leave racing alone and just stick to clothes shows.

  4. Graham says:

    @ Karl

    Rishi Persad knows as much about racing as my goldfish.

    Couldn’t agree more, how this bloke blags his way through such a job is beyond me. Totally useless!!

  5. Phil Witherington says:

    I have watched Racing on TV for years and have always preferred Channel to BBC, I cannot understand why they have dumped Derek Thompson, Mike Cattermole and John McCririck they may not be everyones cup of tea but they were good and entertaining. Instead they bring in Rishie Persad and Mick Fitzgerald who are hopeless together with unknowns Graham Cunningham, Gina Bryce and they drop John Francomb and replace him with Sam Thomas. I think the new line up will become the Clare Balding show and I for one will after the first few shows consider switching off on a Saturday unless the programme proves me wrong.

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi Phil

      Graham and Gina are far from unknown. They have been working on trade channels – Racing UK and At The Races respectively – and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the improvement in standards.

      Obviously, no team will be to everyone’s tastes, but I’m looking forward to a new TV dawn for racing.


  6. steve arnold.......future says:

    good ridance to mccririck ….twit ..same thompson& cattermole ……………Graham Cunningham i like , is knowledgeable

  7. Anglo Italian says:

    This is what happens when a monopoly is awarded.

    With an emphasis on what the presenters look like, some sinister genetic engineering seems to be taking place. It will be interesting to see whether the trainers and jockeys will be as keen to open up to this new Play School line-up.

    Racing is a conservative sport and viewers yearn for nostalgia. Without the nostalgia, the endless production line of races has little appeal to other than inveterate punters.

    The new management team would appear to be very short sighted at this stage. They clearly did not feel that they themselves were up to the task of working alongside the existing presenters to hone current styles to fit in with the proposed new format and angle.

    John Francome is always a shrewd judge in tipping, and if he hopped ship immediately, that speaks volumes IMHO. He clearly fears the worst.

    Will Carson was the most (only?) informed and informative BBC presenter (when he wasn’t talked over, rushed or made inappropriate fun of) and regularly provided useful tips and suggestions for punting.

    My own tip: this can be considered a starting line-up and I’ll wager that a fair few of the axed heads will have been sewn back on by the time Champion Hurdle Day 2013 dawns.

    In the meantime, set your Boxing Day recoding time to retain a two-hour programme that we will be able to look back on very soon as a sad loss.

    I do fear that this aspect of the new monopoly, namely the desecration ofn the presentation “team” is merely the thin end of the wedge and we will see further dumbing down as 2013 progresses. It will therefore remain to be seen whether wealthy international owners remain as interested to invest in British racing in the light of what the new format may be.

  8. Flyingbolt says:

    The comment about the c balding show is about right J F would not want to be subject to what W C put up with .I am old enough to have watched Arkle and Persian war win at Cheltenham three times . Why do these PC addicts have to turn a great sport into a show. The Channel 4 C Ex. About as much use as our MP’s and Bankers Horse raceing lover of 50years

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