RIP Sir Peter

Long before some stupid talent show there was only one “The Voice” and that was Sir Peter O’Sullevan one of the most well known commentators in the history of British Broadcasting.  

In a commentating career spanning over 50 years, from his first radio commentary in 1946 to his final commentary at the 1997 Hennessey Gold Cup at Newbury, he called all the big races and bought horse racing to the masses. 

He was born in County Kerry on 3rd March 1918, eight months before the end of the Great War.  

He aspired to be a jockey, however his formative years were blighted by ill health he turned his hand to racing journalism whilst confined to a hospital bed. 

Bought up surrounded by horses, both his parents, who were to divorce when he was a child, were keen followers of the turf.  

He joined the Press Association as Racing Correspondent in 1944, where he stayed for six years.  

In 1950 he began a 36 year association with the Daily Express. 

When the BBC wanted O’Sullevan to become their television racing commentator in 1953 the Daily Express were reluctant to allow their star writer to take on the role. However using his urbane charm he managed to persuade his principle employer to allow him to moonlight. The rest, as they say is history. 

In 1960 he commentated on the first televised Grand National, calling the race every year until the Monday afternoon race in 1997, calling over 50 Nationals for radio and television. 

Following his retirement he became the first sports broadcaster to be knighted and to celebrate his 90th birthday in 2008 the National Hunt Challenge Cup at Cheltenham was named in his honour. 

In a memorable article in 1973, the award winning journalist Hugh McIlvanney wrote;- 

“His admirers are convinced that had he been on the rails at Balaclava he would have kept pace with the Charge of the Light Brigade, listing all the fallers in precise order and describing the riders’ injuries before they hit the ground.”  

Graham Goode once said, “He set the standard by which all aspiring racing commentators were judged and he carried that torch for over fifty years.” 

Long time secretary Valerie Frost sums him up perfectly,  “…. he has an elusive charm that makes him stand out in a crowd. Arkle had it, Desert Orchid had it, Milton had it, Peter O’Sullevan has it.” 

As well as being a commentator he was a racehorse owner with his two most notable winners being Be Friendly and Attivo.  He called both horses to victory yet anyone listening to the call would have been unaware he was the owner of the winning horse, such was his professionalism. He later described Attivo’s Triumph Hurdle win as the hardest race he ever had to call.

Since his retirement O’Sulllevan worked tirelessly for charities involved in the protection of horses and farm animals, most notably the International League for the Protection of Horses, the Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Centre and Compassion In World Farming, with other charities almost £3.5m has been raised under the auspices of the Peter O’Sullevan Trust.

I have had the privilege of meeting him many times in recent years and always found him to be an absolute gentleman in every sense of the word. He was always polite and although he probably had 101 other things he'd rather be doing he would still happily chat and you would feel you were the only other person in the room with him.

Today, 29th July 2013 he passed away at the age of 97 following a long illness.




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