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Friends and colleagues share fond memories of John McCririck

John McCririck with John Francome, who he labelled 'The Greatest Jockey'
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John Francome
Colleague on Channel 4 Racing

He was just about as strange a person as you could meet but a massive team player and incredibly generous. He would be the first to support any cause, whether that was for humans, retired greyhounds or retired horses.

You couldn't dislike him. You also couldn't have an argument with him because he was always so well prepared and had done so much homework. 

There are so many funny stories. One is tied to the fact John used to be really disciplined and would arrive at the racecourse with reams of notes on the races we were covering going back 40 or 50 years. As we were all having breakfast after The Morning Line he would instead be copying all the notes on to the racecard before the morning meeting at 10am. 

John McCririck: the avid Newcastle fan sports a black and white scarf in the betting ring at Newbury in 2012

One day at Kempton Derek Thompson walked into the meeting and said he had the non-runners. "In the first race, one," he said. McCririck scribbled out everything he had written against number one. Then Derek said: "And three." McCririck scribbled out everything against number three, only for Derek to say: "One and three, 13." He was doing it in the style of a bingo caller. I thought McCririck was going to hit him.

No matter where I go, for every one person who asks me what's Tony McCoy, Frankie Dettori or Ryan Moore like, ten people will ask me what's that guy with the whiskers like? He created that himself. 

David Ashforth
Colleague on The Sporting Life

One opinion everyone shared about ‘Big Mac’ was that he was out of the ordinary, very out of the ordinary. The consensus extended to him being flamboyant, loud and opinionated, one of the few figures in racing recognised by people outside racing society. When those outside the sport wanted a view from inside, McCririck was top of their list. If you wanted strong opinions provoking strong reactions – and the media does – McCririck was your man.

Opinions about him were sharply divided and strongly held. For critics, there was plenty to criticise. McCririck could be hectoring, attention seeking and a shameless exponent of obnoxious views, especially about women. His sexism was alienating, as were his appearances on Big Brother and Wife Swap.

The most extraordinary incident at any legal hearing I have attended was during McCririck’s appearance before an employment tribunal in 2013, when McCririck alleged that Channel 4’s decision not to continue to employ him was based on ageism.

The tribunal, chaired by Judge Alison Lewzey, heard McCririck testify that journalist Camilla Long’s breasts were not big enough for his liking and that he had high hopes of sex with Kate Winslet and/or Dawn French. He also delivered a speech on religious beliefs, with particular reference to their foolishness and harm.

Yet there were other McCriricks. Although I found him strange (who didn’t?) he was invariably kind to me and I admired him as an outstanding investigative journalist and a fearless interviewer. McCririck had a profound understanding of racing as a betting sport, knew what questions to ask, and asked them. That made him a rarity.

In the late 1970s, McCririck had brought investigative reporting to The Sporting Life and racing has never had a better exponent of it. 

In 1979 he exposed the Tote’s practice of putting winning off-course bets into racecourse pools after the race result was known. His persistence forced the government to set up an independent inquiry from which Woodrow Wyatt, the Tote chairman, was lucky to escape with his job.

Then there was his long career with Channel 4. He hated ageing, he hated no longer being on the stage but he loved his wife Jenny. She was his rock and they were married for almost 50 years. Along with many others, I send her my good wishes.

Laurence Robertson
Conservative MP and friend of McCririck

He had very strong views and was consistently on the right of the Conservative Party but he cut across the whole political spectrum because of his wit. He was popular with many people in politics and he was also enormously generous.

He went to Harrow, whereas I went to a secondary modern, so he was also telling me we needed toffs to run the Tory party, not rabble like me. There was lots of banter and lots of fun.

John McCririck (right) with the Channel 4 Morning Line team in 2011

Before getting married I hired a box at Cheltenham's January meeting and John came along. At this point John had just got into tweeting. He was like a kid in a candy shop. He tweeted: "Am @lrobertsonTewks stag do at Cheltenham. The busty strippers are coming later." 

That went all over the press and social media – and you have to remember it was just before the 2015 general election!

Roger Easterby
Close friend of McCririck and formerly employed in betting industry

If you walked down the street with him he was like a man on a stage. If you were at a private dinner party with him he was completely different.

He was one of the most generous friends you could ever have. If you were going out he would be the first to put his hand in his pocket. He also had a very soft spot for horses and hated to see them injured, which is why he took such a strong position on the whip. 

We once went to see a Spinks fight in Las Vegas and had front row seats. At one point John stood up and turned around to take his coat off. By the time he turned back again Spinks had been knocked out and was lying flat on the canvas. John missed it happening.

We were fortunate to attend a number of dinner parties and curry nights with John and Jenny at their home. He always had MPs there, such as Priti Patel and Sir Alan Meale. He just loved debating politics and was seriously into it. He had his own opinions, he really believed them and he didn't concede points, but he had good friends right across the political spectrum, including the late Robin Cook. He also loved going into parliament.

People used to say he was like Marmite but I think people did genuinely like him.

Greatwood racing charity

It is with great sadness we learned of John’s death and we all send Jenny our heartfelt condolences. John and Jenny have supported Greatwood Charity since they first visited us in 2002. For the last 17 years, they have given Greatwood a lot of time, energy and input and have always worked extremely hard to raise our profile.

John McCririck with fellow patrons Nigel Bunter (left) and Mike O'Kane and Greatwood managing director Helen Yeadon

‘Team McCririck’ as John called himself and Jenny, have raised thousands of pounds for us, not least by nominating Greatwood Charity as the charity to benefit from John’s appearances on shows like Big Brother and Pointless. John always spoke warmly of us whenever he had the chance and tirelessly championed our cause looking after former racehorses and children, young people and adults with additional needs. 

John will be greatly missed not only as our valuable and immeasurably kind patron, but also as the colourful knowledgeable racing journalist that the rest of the world knew.

Peter Jones
Former Tote chairman and close friend

John, when masquerading as a clown, often obscured his real talent as a journalist and broadcaster. He was a mass of contradictions, outwardly confident, but in reality deeply insecure. Nevertheless, John was a fantastic entertainer on tv, and back in the day, a world class investigative journalist with an incisive intellect. Above all he was a kind man, most of all to women and his wife.

Big Mac will be badly missed as they don’t just make his kind any more.

Rod Carr
McCririck's sound man on Channel 4 Racing

What the public didn't see, in fact what very few other people saw, was a happy, generous and very funny man. 

He made a massive contribution to racing and is still the person people ask about all the time without exception. I can’t tell you how much I missed working with him – and the general public miss him, too. He was the man people loved to hate, but also the first man they looked for at a racecourse. I think it was a huge mistake he wasn't included in Channel 4's IMG team.

John and Jenny McCririck at Royal Ascot in 2014

He liked to make risque comments that would cause a reaction. He would say to girls who asked for tips, "I'll give you mine if you give me yours", or "tips, you've got a couple of good ones already". He even named one of his dogs 'Double D', but this was all part of his persona, to create a reaction, not really to be offensive. If Mac ever did feel he had offended someone he would often get me to find them and bring them back so he could sign their racecard or whatever they wanted signing.

He would say to my colleagues: "Where's the best sound man in the world?" According to Mac I also became the best cigar holder in the world! I loved working with him. He certainly made my working days great fun for 20 years.

Mike Cattermole
Colleague on Channel 4 Racing and At The Races

I found it a real privilege to work with him. I did admire John. There is no question he was an eccentric man and a complex personality but he was also an extremely bright guy who was passionate about racing. 

He was incredibly professional and always the first person there when we arrived at a racecourse to do The Morning Line. His meticulous research into statistics was extraordinary – and he was very proud of that. His racecards became temporary encyclopedias of facts. He would work on them for hours before going on air. No man was ever better prepared for a broadcast.

Mac was also a huge team player. He wanted every programme to be good. If he thought of a strong line but it wasn't his time to speak he would feed you the line and encourage you to say it. He wanted the team to do well. It wasn't all about him. He was a massive personality but at the same time proud of the chemistry that came out of the team.

Not many people know that when John appeared on Big Brother quite a sizeable portion of his fee went to the Greatwood charity. He made a song and dance about a lot of things but never the fact that he was a great supporter of many racing charities. He was a man with an extremely generous heart.

There aren't many television personalities who had such an enormous presence and such enormous recognition over such a long time. People will say that John was a complete one-off – but that's because he was.

Dave Stevens
Coral PR and press room colleague

It was with great sadness that we learned of the passing of John. As a newcomer to the bookmaking PR game, I had the good fortune to come into contact with him, and while an intimidating figure at first, it soon became apparent that beyond the performer, the deerstalker, the cigar, was a knowledgeable, passionate, enquiring mind, who understood the importance of racing to betting, and vice versa.

He would also keep us bookies’ reps on the straight and narrow, which was no bad thing! John also never forgot that racing and betting were first and foremost part of the entertainment business, important yes, but also something fun, to be enjoyed. He was a true one-off, never to be replaced, RIP Big Mac.

Maggie Carver
RCA chair

I’m very sorry to hear about the passing of John McCririck.  He was a great character with a serious and thoughtful side who cared passionately about racing.  We will miss him and the colour he brought to our sport.

Bob Betts
The Sporting Life greyhound editor

John ruffled a few feathers in his career but his nose for a story was extremely strong. His expose of Tote dividends won him a well-earned award. Rest in peace, John. 

Derek Thompson
Channel 4 Racing colleague

John McCririck, or Big Mac as we affectionately used to call him, was the most professional man I've ever worked with.

He was an incredible man, he was outstanding on TV, he was a great journalist – a journalist of the year. He was the voice and face of racing. He'd done so much for the world of horseracing and it's a void that will never, ever be filled.


Former ITV and Channel 4 betting guru John McCririck dies aged 79

Lee Mottershead on the life of one of the most recognisable faces in racing

Former Channel 4 boss Andrew Franklin pays tribute


 

You couldn't dislike him. You also couldn't have an argument with him because he was always so well prepared and had done so much homework
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