There is one person who is not sorry to see the back of John Francome on Channel 4 racing.
His name is… John Francome!
Whereas most spectators of televised racing agree that ‘Francs’ will be missed, the man himself will not miss being on TV.
“There’s only so many times you can say ‘that’s a nice horse’” says the former champion jockey.
Today, Saturday, was his final appearance on Channel 4 racing. He decided to go once the long time producers of the coverage, Highflyer Productions, lost the contract to televise live racing and the ‘Morning Line’ programme.
It was a big blow to a man I have been acquainted with since 1980. A man who works behind the cameras. Little do terrestrial TV viewers know it, but they should be very grateful to one Andrew Franklin, a very good friend of Francome, and an even better friend of racing.
Along with John Fairley, a former TV boss of mine, Franklin has ensured that there has been racing on Channel 4 for many years. And, crucially for me, not just the glamour meetings. But meetings at the likes of a murky Musselburgh or a rainy Redcar.
Unlike the BBC, who increasingly cherry picked ‘posh’ meetings, only to turn them into fashion shows interspersed with the odd race. Before, disgracefully, turning their licence fee paid for back on the sport altogether.
And Andrew Franklin is the reason John Francome stayed with Channel 4 racing as long as he did.
He said: “I would have packed up three years ago were it not for Andrew. I feel sorry for Andrew as I feel Channel 4 got the crown jewels on the back of programmes he had been making. He was short changed. He should have been given the chance to produce Royal Ascot and the Grand National.”
The new production company did ask Francome to stay on. But he knew he had said all he could say about televised racing.
Francome told Nicholas Godfrey of the Racing Post: “Now and again something will pop up and you feel you’ve contributed something.
“But there are some people you have to interview who I couldn’t give a damn if they dropped down dead.
“Most trainers are fine, like Paul Nicholls and Philip Hobbs, but every now and again there’s some people who are appalling. I’d just want to say to some of them, ‘look, you’re just an animal trainer, you haven’t invented a rocket or cured measles but you’ve got a horse probably anyone could have trained and here you are being a tosser’. It’s quite extraordinary.”
I do know who Francs is referring to. But my lips are sealed!
But then Francome is not short of an opinion on most subjects. I recall him putting certain people in their place regarding the safety issues surrounding the Grand National. Then there was the furore over the use of the whip. And only he could have got away with what he has said live on air about child murderers and the state of Britain today.
He makes no apology for calling a spade a shovel.
Francome said: “It would be boring if you didn’t say what you think. We’re too politically correct these days. How can you go through life not having an opinion. I’ve got an opinion on everything.
“I’ve got no kids but I know exactly what needs doing with them.”
So what next for the racing man so many women of my acquaintance would like to go the distance with?
Well he has taken over from the late, great Lord John Oaksey as president of the Injured Jockeys Fund and I cannot think of a better person for that vital role. He is never happier than when around horses and jockeys.
He says: “I am a hands on person. I enjoy being my own boss. Since I packed up as a jockey never once have wished I was still riding. It must be awful getting up and not wanting to go to work and I have been lucky because I cannot remember that happening to me.
“I was out laying bricks and I am far happier doing that. If someone said to me, do you want to sit down and talk about horses all afternoon or do you want to get the concrete mixer going or hang a couple of doors? – it’s a no brainer for me.”
Another reason why women love him!
As ‘Francs’ signed off today by rightly paying tribute to all the team he has worked with “these past 27 years” he did so in typical fashion. He said thanks to “all the lads” he had worked with.
He’ll be kicking himself right now for not saying lads and lassies. But not for too long. As he says himself, he’s never been politically correct. And thank heavens for that.
But all you need to know about a TV presenter is if the crew like him or her. And the team who have produced racing coverage for Channel 4 love John Francome.
They will miss him. So shall we.