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