Come Up And See Me……..Make Me Smile!

March 20th, 2024 | Ian Carnaby's Racing News

Ask me to name a handful of famous sculptors and until recently I’d probably have fallen about four short. Auguste Rodin rescued me and that was long before the equine version landed last year’s Epsom Derby.

Rodin’s most famous work was The Thinker, who won perhaps the most ‘atmospheric’ of Cheltenham Gold Cups in 1987. ‘The snow, the delay, The Thinker’, as I put it when a sequence of Gold Cups was shown on the giant screen in the years that followed. There was snow all across Cleeve Hill and a distinct possibility that racing would be called off in ’87 but the weather relented and Ridley Lamb, sadly no longer with us, brought Arthur Stephenson’s nine-year-old home for the north.

Arthur, who ran one of the most powerful stables in the land at the time, did not make the journey to the Cotswolds and gently deflected requests for an interview. My friend David Ashforth spent much of his career trying to persuade him but to no avail. ‘Ee lad, no, tha doesn’t want to talk to me,’ was his usual response.

The reason Rodin now has company in my otherwise threadbare memory bank is that Giovanni Anselmo died the other day. Needless to say, I had never heard of him but I do read obituaries (I know, I know, but I’ve reached that sort of age and if you want the brutal, honest truth, I like to know how long people with pancreatic cancer tend to last (not long, chief), though mercifully my cyst turned out to be benign. I hasten to add that, as far as I know, Giovanni had no reason to ponder such things and made it to 89.

It’s quite sad but I am so involved with racing that I make connections all the time. I’ve known any number of Alberts and quite a few Arthurs but the only Anselmo I remember is the horse of that name owned by Billy Fury. It was trained by Lester’s dad Keith and finished fourth in the 1964 Derby won by Santa Claus.

Billy’s star burned brightly but all too briefly. In the early 1960s, from the moment he stopped working on Mersey tugboats and sought out agent and impresario Larry Parnes to present songs he had written himself, he was going to be a rock and roll star. He wasn’t that keen on the name but most people would agree that Billy Fury has more going for it than Ronnie Wycherley and you didn’t argue with Larry, who’d already dreamed up Tommy Steele, Marty Wilde and Duffy Power.

The hits soon followed  –  Halfway To Paradise, Like I’ve Never Been Gone and the haunting Wondrous Place, which resurfaced in 1999 via a Toyota ad campaign. They were guaranteed chart successes, though the likes of John Lennon and Keith Richards preferred the early rockabilly days, songs written by Billy for the LP The Sound of Fury in 1960. Lennon made much the same point to Elvis Presley, of course. It’s also true to say that solo vocalists were giving way to an army of talented groups, the Beatles and Echo and the Bunnymen among them.

Billy suffered from rheumatic fever all his life. There were several heart operations and his feeling that time was against him proved accurate when he died in 1983 at just 42  –  the same as Elvis.

I’d chatted to him on Tottenham High Road after a match at White Hart Lane only a matter of months before. He was polite, as always, but very frail. He certainly knew his racing and talked about Paul Cook having his first Derby ride at 18 on Anselmo and Queen Elizabeth II gracing the parade ring. “He was by Aureole, you know, who finished runner-up to Pinza in her coronation year, 1953.”

I listed some of his hits and suggested it was time to reissue one or two of them but he just smiled his sad smile and said he didn’t really think so. He lived out his final days running an animal sanctuary, the world of glitz and glamour long gone. “A less furious guy you have yet to meet,” Paul McCartney said. “A sweet Liverpool guy  –  the first local man who made it, in our eyes.”

When Billy went to see Larry Parnes, the meeting was on the Wirral side of the Mersey, away from the sometimes frenzied activity across the water. Jimmy Tarbuck, about to make his name as a comedian and host, was there and I can never see him without thinking of Peter Brackley. Some of you will remember Peter, who was a fine commentator and a brilliant mimic, especially of football personalities. One night he was on the same bill as Tarbuck, who came off the stage in a black mood, sought out the promoter or his agent and said: “Don’t you EVER put me on after him again.”

Brackley was extremely funny and no one would want to go on when he’d left the audience limp with laughter. Life treated him quite savagely because he looked after his ailing wife for much of the time and then succumbed to a heart attack himself. We exchanged messages and I helped a little bit following my three stents but it was no good and we lost him. He was quite a celebrity in his home town of Brighton and the crowd unfurled a giant banner in his honour at the next home game. BBC Radio was full of talented sports reporters but no one was better than Peter Brackley.

I’m very fond of Liverpool but it was in a Birkenhead pub that I came third in a Billy Fury ‘soundalike’ competition and it was also where a strange, somewhat iconoclastic group called Half Man Half Biscuit had their base. In a way they eschewed fame as such, even turning down a tv appearance because it clashed with a Tranmere Rovers home game. Well, I know how they felt. I once drove from Nailsea to Tranmere for a night game; excellent hospitality in the bar next to the boardroom and certainly time and money well spent with Southampton 3-0 up at half-time. Quite how we managed to concede four in the second half I’ve never worked out and I don’t think Glenn Hoddle, manager at the time, has either. Anyway, the Scousers were delirious in the bar afterwards and I didn’t begrudge them their moment. It seemed a long, long way home, though.

“Come up and see us again,” they said. Yes, and make you smile, I thought. Which reminds me that we lost Steve Harley of Cockney Rebel a few days ago. I didn’t meet Steve after either of Cockney Rebel’s 2000 Guineas triumphs but he was the life and soul of the party at Sandown one day, possibly Royal Variety Club Day a while back. And everyone sang the song, the way they do when the wine is flowing and a couple of favourites have gone in.

Steve didn’t actually own Cockney Rebel but the man who bought him, Phil Cunningham, got in touch and the pair became friends, Harley having his photograph taken with Geoff Huffer’s stable star. How sad it was that Cockney Rebel broke down and raced only six times in all. He lived to 17 and was a good and consistent sire, his daughter Harley’s Harley, appropriately named, winning four times.

Steve had to halt Cockney Rebel’s concerts when he felt unwell. I’m really not sure what Half Man Half Biscuit are up to but the indefatigable Echo and the Bunnymen are about half-way through a nationwide tour which ends at the Liverpool Empire on March 25. A wondrous place, as Billy would no doubt agree.

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