Life In The Press Room - Part Two

In my last blog I wrote about life in the press room, this time, as promised, it’s time to look at some of the characters who reside therein.

Catterick Press RoomI suppose the first thing I should point out to the uninitiated is there are two distinct sets of press rooms, southern and northern, with a slight overlap in the midlands.

Although, by nature of where I live, I spend more time in the southern press rooms, I’m one of a small band who ends up working in both sets and I can report there is a distinct north / south divide.

On the face of it the northern press rooms are far more blunt and down to earth but I really enjoy working in them as you tend to know where you stand and there is very little hypocrisy.

Let me give you an example.

I will always recall the first time I set foot in a northern press room, I can even recall the date, it was Monday 15th, September, 2008 at Musselburgh.

I had barely set foot in the press room when I was greeted with a welcoming “who the f**k are you?”

Let’s just say a few “pleasantries” were then exchanged but after that I’ve always been made most welcome in the northern press rooms and, without exception, have found everyone helpful and friendly – even the gentleman who first greeted me.

In a southern press room when a new person enters there is a general “who’s he?” whispering (I say “who’s he” because the press rooms tend to be over 95% male dominated) and if nobody knows then someone will be quietly delegated to chat to the individual and find out who they are and report back.

As in any workplace there are many different types in the press room and it is invariable you end up getting on better with some more than others.

The commentators tend to be the friendliest bunch and I have managed to get on well with almost all of them.

Richard HoilesIt’s probably unfair to single out individuals but I have to say the “big two” Simon Holt and Richard Hoiles are undoubtedly two of the most pleasant, genuine, likeable guys you could want to meet in any walk of life.

Some are a surprise. Ian Bartlett has been criticised in some quarters for not showing much personality in his commentaries or TV appearances – yet he has the most amazing dry, irreverent sense of humour – if he’s calling I know it will be a cheery fun afternoon in the press room.

There are two excellent young callers in the shape of David Fitzgerald and Gareth Topham.

It’s great watching young Gareth as he still has the (and I mean it in a nice way) innocence and exuberance of youth and hasn’t yet developed the cynicism which comes with age.  

David is a very assured caller and presenter but away from the microphone he is very quiet and reserved, almost shy.

 I hope he won’t mind me telling this story but a few weeks ago he called at Ascot for the first time and he seemed so nervous beforehand, as if he had the worries of the world on his shoulders – I almost wanted to put a paternal arm around his shoulder to comfort him and tell him it will all be OK – as it was the concerns were unfounded as he called to his usual high standard.

It goes without saying the press rooms at the quieter meetings are a world apart from the press rooms at the big meetings.

Fakenham press roomAt the smaller meetings you are most likely to find the Racing Post reporter, the RP / Raceform race reader and maybe the occasional local reporter or the Press Association. It’s very unlikely you will see anyone from the national press.

The one exception probably being Alan Lee from The Times who does, in fairness, attend many of the smaller local meetings all around the country.

The trouble with too many of the journos from the nationals is you only see them at the big meetings and when they do deign to put in an appearance, a couple of them strut around the press room as if they own the place – the old “do you know who I am” attitude.

There is one, who works for a Sunday paper, who is always having problems connecting his laptop but then demands the IT person at the course drops everything to sort his problem out, berating them if they do not respond immediately. Of course 99% of the time the problem isn’t anything to do with the infrastructure at the course – it’s down to his crap laptop. Having worked in IT front line support myself his sort are “heart sink” callers.

Then there is the vexed issue of seats – some correspondents have “reserved” seats in press rooms, which they don’t bother using at 90% of the meetings but should they consent to grace a meeting with their presence then woe betide anyone who may encroach into their precious space.

Of course seats don’t have to be specifically reserved for there to be a problem. I recall my first visit to Lingfield, not the biggest press room. I thought I would sit out of the way, in the back row in the corner. I set up my laptop and was typing away only to find one of the doyens of the press room standing over me enquiring “are you going to be long?” before continuing, “I’ve been coming here 25 year and have always sat in that seat.”

I felt like saying to him “well a change of scenery will do you good” but I just moved over one seat and ‘normality’ was resumed.

TommoI suppose I cannot talk about life in the press room without mentioning one of the marmite characters, Derek Thompson.

Now Tommo gets a lot of stick, especially in the press rooms. I am no respecter of reputations, I take people as I find them and all the many times I’ve met Tommo I have found him a thoroughly likable, personable and pleasant person.

Yes he has an image and he works at bolstering that image. I admit I tease him about his reputation but he takes it in the spirit in which it was intended and he can and does laugh at himself.

My belief is a great deal of the dislike for him in the press room simply comes down to envy.

He does his job well (well maybe not always in the commentating), he can work a crowd and at a family fun day or a mid-week meeting he makes a great compare.

For TV work he is a producer’s delight – if they want someone to fill for 45 seconds then Tommo will fill for exactly 45 seconds, an art most broadcasters are incapable of doing.

Those who criticise him most vociferously are those who, frankly, are not good enough to do his job and make the money he makes and they know it.

There is one journo in particular who will snipe about Tommo at every opportunity, yet oddly enough when Tommo is in the room he is perfectly pleasant to him.

You know the sort of person I mean, there is one in almost every workplace.

The person who has an opinion on everything, who feels the need to share that opinion with all and sundry, yet actually says nothing.  

The chap who would be your archetypical pub bore.

As I said he attacks Tommo at every opportunity, yet he himself is almost an anonymous  non-entity, a perfect embodiment of the Peter Principle.

He slags off colleagues seemingly oblivious to the fact that what he says will invariably get back to those he has bad mouthed.

Yet, like most of his ilk, he is a contradiction. He is one of those characters who will happily dish out the abusive comments, yet when given back to him he behaves like a spoiled brat and throws his toys out of the pram.

MachaevilliThen we have the “smiling assassin” the one with the ingratiating smile, outwardly always polite and the perfect gentleman.

Behind the façade he takes bitchiness to a level which would out-bitch the bitchiest of women.

He is another who thinks his Machiavellian scheming will not get back to his “victims” yet he plays a dangerous game as he himself has a cupboard full of skeletons.

I will, however,  miss being in the press room.

I’ll miss the hard working journos who are being asked to do increasingly more work with tighter deadlines.

I’ll miss the irreverent banter of the snappers.

I’ll miss watching racing in the company of knowledgeable race readers, who love the sport and from whom I have learned so much.

The individual I will miss most of all though is Lee McKenzie, interestingly another our aforementioned  bad-mouthing  “friend” has taken a strong dislike to, then again there are more he dislikes than likes, so I suppose actually being liked by him would make you a select minority.  

Lee is the sort of guy who will do anything for anyone and has been a great help and encouragement to me professionally and, at times, personally over the last six years. He is one press room colleague I still hope to remain in touch with.


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