by Tony Stafford
If you haven’t read today’s Racing Post I suggest you go out and get a copy. Peter Thomas is a writer I like and he’s done a massive piece on Derek Thompson – yes there is more than one name on the Tommo passport and there may well be one or two more. But to the world it’s Tommo, plain and not so simple as he’d have you believe, grandma. Even Tommo refers to himself as “Tommo”, rather than I or me. No-one else does that outside Hollywood.
Why is it that whenever the name is brought into conversation, the “you either love him or hate him” phrase is generally employed? I must confess to have been mildly irritated one day at Yarmouth races, last year I think, when his voice was in full sound-surround mode all around the track for five solid hours, or so it seemed. The race commentaries were in some way superfluous to the main action in Tommo-land.
But, as Thomas hinted in his piece, which was an illustration of the man’s refusal to let something as trivial as bowel cancer and a massive albeit benign tumour that was in the way of the cancerous bits hinder his work, DT just cannot be stopped from his worthy passage through life.
When you’re as old as me, and indeed my long-ago former Press Association colleague Tony Morris who, in the same Racing Post pull-out section revealed himself as almost a 100 per cent opposite character to Tommo’s in his (Morris’s) refusal to embrace new technologies, like for instance a mobile mobile phone, you can spot the odd inaccuracy.
Years ago, I did a weekly spot on BBC Radio London, driving down every Friday to Marlborough High Street in the West End for an interview unusually with Norman de Mesquita, but sometimes Simon Reed – brother of Oliver, both of whom shared with me some work on the old Greyhound Express, in their case taking night results in the days of very old technology.
Now tell me if I’m wrong, but one of the young female producers there was also called Thompson, and her first name was Jenny. I know I’ve blocked out great swathes of my life from 20-30, but the two Tommos were a couple I’m sure. Shame on you (well a little) Thomas, for that slip.
I must applaud Peter for one thing. A couple of months back, just as I was cruising into the car park at Kempton, Peter called to ask my memories of the famous Bajan Sunshine Cesarewitch coup. Rod Simpson trained the horse and probably in his autobiography he mentioned the big touch he pulled off. As you do, I only read the bits that mentioned me in that fanciful tale and some of the stuff was so wrong I looked no further. Rod was a great stable man but to suggest he’d had it off big style would be a fair credibility stretch. Peter, apparently, took my word for it and it was left to Barney Curley and the other true punters to feature in the series.
There was one punt in the 1980’s that would have been of Curley proportions had the last leg obliged in which I had a central role, but with some of the main protagonists – although not the man whose money it was – still alive, caution is the better part of valour. Some other similar, if less spectacular, tales could well find their way into this weekly offering if the winter becomes as wintry as predicted.
But I must return to Tommo. Mr Thomas quite rightly concentrates on the one element that sets the man from Middlesbrough apart. It’s his work ethic. Never standing or sitting still, he’s a frustrated SAS captain leading his troops – camera and sound man – into enemy territory. Like the faces in the crowd at the cricket, his arrival with a microphone in your face elicits an immediate smile. The questions might start out as trivial, but as with all successful people, there’s a lot of research underneath.
People might also find his fellow Channel Four racing sackee John McCririck irritating, but he too has survived because underneath his style of self-promotion, misogyny and bluster there’s been a wealth of research and a hunger for keeping in the forefront of the business.
It’s probably the case that until the latest rise, via the Olympics and other things like her Radio 4 walks, Clare Balding would not have been singled out as the counter-balance to enable Channel Four to jettison the two old irritants.
Alastair Down and Mike Cattermole may have seemed less obvious candidates for voting off the team, while Mr Francome and Ms Graham have taken flash-sounding jobs to maintain their dignity. I do think that sometimes it’s best to draw a veil over the old days, as in when you wanted to go and get pissed, a la Tony Morris, you just went to the pub, fell asleep on the train home, and hoped to wake up before the terminus. No editor to track you down until you got back in the office the next day.
I have plenty of admiration for all those who have been allowed a slower pace of life away from the demands of television. I did a tiny bit for At the Races, when it had three rather than one word in its title, but got the elbow because I was “too bland”. Richard Hannon senior once said to me after one of my earlier tries, that I always looked “uneasy”. I think he meant “shifty”, and I know what he meant. Underneath the generally smart offerings of his sometimes underestimated son Richard junior when he’s interviewed, the smile sometimes gets a little uneasy, but he could never look as shifty as I did.
The best moment of the televisual year was the coverage of the Breeders’ Cup. In the days when we cared what won those stupid races, the visiting broadcasters provided an American-slanted version of their usual shows.
Now they leave it to the home team, who draft in Channel Four’s new number two Nick Luck and “Gram” (sic) Cunningham. What was great about that was how each 15-second offering from the various experts, local and foreign, ended with a single name – say Pete, or Gary, or Nick, and then Pete or Gary or Nick would come in, almost like magic. It was the crappest show I’ve ever seen, and a couple of days after, back home on Racing UK, I think it was Lydia Hislop who did a superb hand-over to the same Nick with “Nick!” Great moment that.
I loved the Test, enjoyed Arsenal’s two penalties – like London buses – but took a night off Family Guy to watch the best film I’ve seen in years. Although Woody Allen does not appear, his hand covers all of Midnight in Paris, a film that shows how film writer Owen Wilson comes home to what he always craved, a life as a “proper” writer in Paris. The photography and the plot are wonderful and Wilson’s mix of wonder and naivety made this non-expert believe him to be much more than the idiot he portrays in so many films.
If you have Sky Movies, watch it tonight and or every night until Thursday. I’ll be on the sofa at least once more for a re-run. In the meantime watch out for Cousin Khee and Punjabi, both set for novice chase debuts soon. For those of you who didn’t get last week’s offering – Tony Morris must have been in charge of technology – I think Cousin Khee is a good thing at Kempton last Sunday. How come you never backed it?”