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The Epsom Derby 1961

On May 31st, 1961,  I went to the Derby at Epsom.  Having been the runner from starting line to the finish post, across country, carrying the film back to the dispatch rider, now, I was in charge of the shooting of this Derby.

I did not change a thing from previous years.  The previous arrangements had worked for some years and we presented an excellent view of the race from start to finish.  What had happened shortly after I left Movietone in 1955, was that the central tower built of scaffolding to 120 feet high had been abandoned because of cost.  The camera on this tower had been operated by Paul Wyand who was an ace at following the movement of the horses.  A good deal of the middle of the race could be covered from the camera stand at Tattenham Corner.  This was the camera position from which Terry O’Brien’s Cameflex fell to the ground to be written off only to be salvaged by Victor Mardon.

For me, all I needed to do was to brief the crews, arrange the gathering of the film from the cameras and to see that they all got away with the dispatch riders. I watched the race from Barnard’s stand, it was won by Psidium.

The Derby at Epsom Downs had hardly changed since my previous visit six years earlier.

Prince Monolulu at a Grand National

Prince Monolulu

The Downs were filled with racegoers; tipsters were moving among the crowds selling their dubious advice.  Prince Monolulu was still evident with his colourful headdress and his famous cry “I gotta horse !

The fairground was doing good business and the whole place was a hive of activity.  Many of the people on the Downs and inside the circuit would not be able to see the race, but they didn’t care, this was a big day out.  They used to say that half a million people attended the Derby each year and it certainly looked like it.

Behind the main grandstand, my rendezvous point, we were close to the open parking area. The Derby Stables, no longer used for horses, now became the location for the picnics of the well-to-do. The Top-hatted toffs in their Rolls Royces and Bentleys, with their car boots full of food hampers and champagne from Fortnum and Mason, were having picnic lunches seated around folding tables in their folding chairs..  The hoi polloi were sitting on the grass with their sandwiches.  There were small stalls selling sugar candy and soft drinks.  Next to us was a man with three huge St. Bernard dogs, they were laying down watching  the passers-by, while their master was using their presence and obvious attraction to collect money for a dogs charity.  Same old Derby Day.  May 31st was a Wednesday, which meant that Movietone had to get the Derby on to the screens around the country by the following evening.  That meant we had to get the negative back to London as fast as possible.  Before we could get back to the office, the film would have been processed and would soon be edited, scripted, re-recorded and, later,  printed all before the early hours of Thursday morning.  This would give time for the despatch people to reach cinemas as far away as Glasgow and Newcastle.

As with the drive from London to Epsom, the return journey was another long drawn out affair.   No Motorways or even dual carriageways.  Drivers needed a lot of patience and allow plenty of time.  But it was Derby Day, a day when a large number of people were able to enjoy themselves.  They could win some money and they could lose some money.  Happy Days.

© Terence Gallacher and, 2013.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Terence Gallacher and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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