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Hold the Front Page!

“Well, you know it’s going to be an interesting day when you wake up and see Mel Smith wrapped around the gear stick of a Triumph 1500.”

I had been chatting with the delightful Ed Gleave of The Times Literary Supplement* when he’d asked about the old days…

The Old Day in question was August 15th 1972. The night before our student revue at the Edinburgh Fringe, where Mel had said,

“Richard, you’ve got a car. Come on, let’s drive down to York for the Benson and Hedges Cup (later the York Gold Cup. That year was the first time the race was ever run).

(Peter, Mary Gabler, Mel, me — from front to back)

The car in question was my mother’s, which I’d borrowed for Edinburgh. The race in question was the last race ever run by the legendary, unbeaten Brigadier Gerard—a horse we both adored. Mel was a heroic gambler. And even more heroically generous. The trouble with gambling is that if you lose, you lose, and if you win you didn’t have enough on.

Mel subverted this into “…if you win, you buy everyone dinner”. We arrived in the small hours at York racecourse and slept in the car on the side of the road outside the gates. I’d done the driving, so I got the back seat. Mel got the front two (non-reclining) seats, including steering wheel and gear stick. It was Brigadier Gerard’s sixteenth race. He was odds on to win, despite having Roberto, that year’s Derby winner, in the field against him. Mel was delighted to ‘beat the bookies’ and pile in at 4-to-5 on, his fifty quid (a fortune in those days, to a student) to win forty. Brigadier Gerard went off at 8/11. Roberto’s owners had booked the American jockey Braulio Baeza to ride him.

Baeza sat on Roberto for the first time that morning. At the off, as reported by Raceform, “Roberto was out of the stalls like a bat out of hell”. He was soon twenty or more lengths ahead of the field. We all thought, silly American, those tactics won’t work over here. Unfortunately for Mel’s bankroll, they did. Brigadier Gerard hunted Roberto down gamely, breaking the old course record, but still came up short. As Roberto had just set the new one, finishing three lengths the winner.

Afterwards, Baeza said “When Brigadier Gerard came to me, I had plenty of horse left. Nice and handy. So when I set him down, he just pulled away.” It was the only time The Brigadier ever lost. He was coughing up gobbets of phlegm afterwards, and his owners promptly retired him. I’d had the sense to keep back enough petrol money to get us back to Edinburgh for that night’s performance. Mel was cleaned out.

All of which I was reminded of when chatting with Ed. This is what he came up with = How Journalism Works. The front cover of the Times Literary Supplement*

*The Daily Star—ed.
**I keep telling you, The Daily Star—ed.

Monday April 22 nd 2024:

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