It’s been rumoured that John McCririck has been battling serious illness for some time, and the sad news was confirmed on Friday when it was announced he had passed away at the age of 79.
The hirsute broadcaster, a mainstay of Channel 4’s racing coverage for well over a decade, was something of a cult favourite for his outspoken style, often questionable choice of clothing and headwear and his flamboyant tic-tac signs in the betting ring.
But he was much-loved by many in the game; a scourge of the bookmakers – McCririck had no qualms in telling them when their prices were wrong, or where punters could pick up some value – and a hero to many who believe in the good old-fashioned traditionalism of National Hunt racing.
He was also an outspoken critic of the use of the whip in racing; a contentious issue still being discussed and debated to this day.
McCririck leaves behind his beloved wife Jenny – or ‘the Booby’ as he had christened her.
Eccentric Whose Love of Racing Never Diminished
Even as he approached his octogenarian years, McCririck was still a regular at tracks up and down the land.
He was known to be left feeling depressed and angry when he was essentially sacked by Channel 4 – even taking the broadcaster to court to sue for ageism, a case in which he was unsuccessful, but his love of racing never diminished until the very end and neither did his sense of humour.
It’s quite sad that, to a younger generation at least, he will be more remembered for his eccentric behaviour on celebrity reality TV programmes such as Big Brother, Wife Swap and Coach Trip; particularly given that he was a key figure in the increased popularity of televised racing back in the 1990s.
It all started back in 1984 for McCririck, when he was asked to take part in Channel 4’s fledgling racing coverage having previously worked as a sub-editor on Grandstand and as a right-hand man to an on-course bookmaker.
He developed his own unique style, with the ubiquitous deerstalker hat, the oversized cigars and the now sadly-dying art of tic-tac; the frantic arm signalling and windmilling accompanied by such phraseology as ‘double carpet’ and ‘Burlington Bertie’, which are slang terms for betting odds 33/1 and 100/30 respectively.
McCririck’s time at Channel 4 lasted for the best part of three decades, in which time he became an unmissable highlight of the coverage.
And yet things could have worked out completely differently for the racing enthusiast. As a young man out of university he got a job waiting tables at the Dorchester Hotel, eventually getting the sack when he spilled soup – deliberately, accidentally…we’ll never know – over a customer’s lap.
Tributes have poured in for the 79-year-old on social media, with the likes of former champion jockey AP McCoy and his old Channel 4 sparring partner Nick Luck sharing their favourite stories of the racing legend on Twitter.
Abrasive, yes, unconventional – definitely, but this was a man who was as sharp as a tack in the betting ring, and there will have been many punters that benefitted from his wisdom over the years.