Not a bad innings, as they say

February 5th, 2019 | Ian Carnaby's Racing News

I am not an obsessive reader of obituaries, although every now and then they inevitably touch on events from my past. Like a lot of people, I glance at the bottom of the article to see how long the subject was around, if that’s not too blunt. 

In my case, they haven’t done too badly if they were born before November 1948 (which is when Mick Channon, Prince Charles and your correspondent first appeared and it’s good to know that two of us have made it big) because they’ve moved on into their seventies. We may not match Dudley Sutton, who made it to 85 after a long career treading the boards, though most people will remember him as Tinker in Lovejoy opposite Ian McShane. I go back quite a bit further and recall his role in The Leather Boys, which was one of the first films, a biker picture set around the legendary A1 Cafe off the North Circular Road, to treat homosexuality in a mature, adult way. Dudley himself was certainly not gay, incidentally.

Clive Swift has gone, as well, at 82. He will be remembered for his role as the long-suffering husband of relentless social climber Patricia Routledge in the BBC series Keeping Up Appearances. Among his many film roles was a fleeting appearance in Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy (1972), which Hitch adapted from Arthur La Bern’s novel Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square.

Much of this tale is set in what we might call a vanished London, although Shepherd Market off Curzon Street remains a good place to sit and watch the world go by. It used to be a red light area, a sophisticated one, although the girls generally had rent-by-the-hour premises in Victoria. The oldest profession was not tainted or dominated by trafficking in those days and those offering personal services had simply made their own choice.

You could buy The Racehorse (long gone) in Turf Newspapers, which was run by the rudest man in London. Indeed, he was so abrupt that customers sometimes went back because they couldn’t quite believe it the first time. Anyway, Turf Newspapers disappeared long ago but The Grapes, an excellent pub, is still going strong and features in La Bern’s book. Paradise was sitting outside one of the cafes, reading the Life and waiting for The Grapes to open. 

I’m not sure I ever backed a loser when bringing maximum concentration to bear in there, though the best results were the short-priced winner of the amateur riders’ maiden sprint handicap at Redcar and Don’t Drop Bombs winning another amateur riders’ handicap at Brighton. I’d been in a printer’s in Great Titchfield Street earlier on and could hardly avoid hearing the manager in conversation with someone I took to be Newmarket trainer Julia Feilden. I introduced myself and he didn’t mind admitting that Don’t Drop Bombs was well fancied. It won by miles and it was passing the two-furlong pole that my friend Arno Rudolf and I started dancing in the betting shop.

It’s been a William Hill in Shepherd Market for years now, though I’m not sure the firm had it when Arthur wrote the book. The hero is dismissive    indeed, one might almost say bitter    when assessing the tips in newspapers around the walls. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that way, because you don’t have to rely on other people and should be doing your own thing, but Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square has quite a hard edge to it.

Even older is It Always Rains on Sunday, a 1947 film set in Bethnal Green (and ‘vanished’ really is the appropriate word here) with quite a few familiar faces    Googie Withers, Alfie Bass and Sidney Tafler, a man born to extol the quality of a nice bit of schmutter if ever there was one, among them. It’s a nice old picture with an authentic chase in the railway stockyards at the end. Jack Warner, who went on to play Doxon of Dick Green (as we used to call it) gets his man and Alfie plays a small-time flim-flam man to perfection. Fiddler on the Roof wasn’t a glimmer in anyone’s eye in 1947, of course, but Alfie ended up taking over from Topol in the West End. Oy veh!

In It Always Rains, someone called Nicky Henderson receives damages for wrongful arrest and someone else studies the back page of the News of the World to find out how a dog got on at Haringey the night before. I wonder if the research was spot-on; it probably was but imagine if you can the greyhound results on the back of a national Sunday paper now. Not that London has any greyhound tracks, of course.

It’s a funny thing, but when I was jobbing around as a boardman in the 1970s, I met an Irishman called Jim in a shop in Clerkenwell. He always backed Commutering out of Trap 1 at Haringey, when it was still sometimes Harringay, and very well he did out of it, too. He also gave me Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square among some other books and I often wonder what happened to him.

Not that I think all that much about the past, of course.