Into the void

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A woman is filmed at a racecourse

Me waiting in the wings before my Clare Balding interview at Aintree

All reporters remember big stories they worked on and the 1993 Grand National was for me one of the most memorable. It was the year the race was famously declared void after demonstrators disrupted the world’s greatest steeplechase.

This week I was quizzed by BBC racing presenter and former top amateur jockey Clare Balding about my memories of that amazing day. It was for an edition of The One Show being screened in the run-up to this year’s big race.

The show’s producers were prompted by my collection of passes, pamphlets, statements and press releases amassed on that day in the mayhem of the press room at the renowned Liverpool racecourse. Some years ago I donated them to National Museums Liverpool and they feature on our website where BBC researchers spotted them. This 1993 ephemera is destined for display in the new Museum of Liverpool opening next year.

It was decided to do the interview in the bitter cold in front of the County Stand. I admitted to Clare that the last time I had been to the course was when they secretly buried legendary winner Red Rum at the winning post. Since then I had watched the race from the Blue Anchor Bridge, a spot where you can be a spectator for free and avoid the crowds.

As we talked, my memories stretched back to my first visit in 1961 when Nicholas Silver won and I placed an unsuccessful sixpenny bet with exotic tipster Prince Monolulu.

I was there when Gay Trip won in 1970 but remember most the tiny comedian Jimmy Clitheroe, dressed in a suede coat, with his horse. That year I walked around the track with local MP Dick Crawshaw attempting an endurance record. I interviewed the formidable owner of Aintree Mirabelle Topham on the telephone – a major coup. 

In 1978 we had the ‘will he, won’t he?’ saga of Red Rum making his final appearance at Aintree. I met TV personality Angela Rippon when she cantered on Rummy along Southport sands.

I was there in 1981 to see cancer victim Bob Champion’s epic win on Aldaniti on a glorious sunny day.
But nothing could prepare me for the Race That Never Was. I told Clare it was like being on the Titanic steaming on regardless after being mortally wounded.

Nobody seemed to know what was going on in the press room until racecourse chairman Lord Daresbury took the helm at a news conference. The race was declared void because of two false starts.

This picture was taken by assistant director Sophie Wallace-Hadrill and shows Clare preparing to interview me as cameraman Tim Sutton and director Hamish Summers get things right. The structure in the background is the biggest marquee I’ve ever seen.