In my youth (which often now feels many years ago) there was no Sky TV, and no pictures were allowed in Betting Shops.That meant the only source of sports coverage was the BBC- Grandstand, Sportsnight and one off programmes.
When I think of them, I think of the voices that went with them- David Coleman, Bill McLaren, Murray Walker, Henry Longhust, Harry Carpenter, Peter O’Sullevan and John Arlott were almost part of the family. Little did I realise then that 30 or so years later I would be working in sport as a Broadcaster and had the huge privilege of covering the same events as one of them- Sir Peter O’Sullevan.
It was that wonderful voice that told the millions around the world of Red Rum’s three Nationals, of Lester Piggott’s 9 Derbies and of the Queen’s Royal Ascot wins.
And it was Sir Peter who was simply known as ‘The Voice’. It was a career spanning 50 years when he won the hearts, respect and admiration of an entire sport, and did it by combining a unique skill with a passion, and a decency.
Sports broadcasting can be such a cruel game but not once have I heard anyone speak in anything but the most revered, respected and admiring tones of the man.
If you need any indication of the mark in which he was held in high places, let me remind you of one thing: the year after the BBC lost the rights to cover Royal Ascot, The Queen invited him to where only Dukes, Princes and Heads of State are usually welcomed- a seat in her front carriage during the Royal Procession at Ascot.
The Monarchy does not do interviews or make statements, but this was a gesture that said it all.
Spend time with Sir Peter, and I cherish the few times I did, and you would remember the humility (who else would have called big race winners home in their colours and simply said first number 10 Attivo owned by Mr Peter O’Sullevan trained by Cyril Mitchell), the decency and the passion- who else would have retired and gone off to masterminding the raising of more than 4 million pounds through a Trust he set up for six charities?
But I also remember him as the icon we, in this game, all looked up to and fall hopelessly short.
In 2011 I was handed the job of doing the Racecourse Commentary for the first Champions Day atAscot. I was honoured and petrified. Before the last race I came down from my position to check some colours and I walked past Sir Peter. He offered me his hand and as I shook it he smiled and said ‘well done’. Never have two words meant more. Never have I been fortunate enough to meet another human being who had the respect and admiration of some many.
And never has British Racing had a finer ambassador.
Rest in peace Sir Peter I, Racing and Broadcasting owe you an incalculable debt.
Blog by Mike Vince
For audio tributes to Sir Peter, please click here.