Ascot Behind the Scenes

There are not only faces of Ascot but voices too, and Raymond Glendenning’s was one of the most evocative in horseracing. Glendenning in fact provided the audio backdrop to many other sports in his long career as a BBC radio sports commentator, including every FA Cup Final from 1946-1963, the football World Cup and the Wimbledon Championships.

His distinctive broadcasting style of fast-paced commentary delivered in public school, cut glass tones would eventually fall out of favour as “BBC English” in the 1960s and ‘70s, to be replaced with more regional and less obviously upper or middle class accents. But to hear his commentary today is to be instantly transported to a golden era in sports broadcasting, when racing fans would tune into the wireless for an edge of the seat, dramatic evocation of the excitement of the races.Listening to Glendenning’s thrilling commentary was second only to being at Ascot in person, with the names of horses and jockeys coming faster and faster as the race progressed towards a crescendo as they passed the finishing post.

Glendenning was instantly recognisable at Ascot in the 1940s and ‘50s, sporting the distinctive hornrimmed spectacles and magnificent handlebar moustache that catch the eye in this image from 1949. His race calls began a tremendous partnership between Ascot and the BBC. Glendenning has been succeeded behind the microphone by several legends of broadcasting, including of course, the great Sir Peter O’Sullevan, referred to affectionately as “The Voice”.

And they’re off ! The unmistakeable voice that brought Ascot to life on the BBC.

Taking the racing line

A seemingly never-ending line of racegoers snakes towards the racecourse from Ascot railway station in the 1930s. Since the 1830s when the railways opened up the race meeting to the masses, the journey by train to Ascot has been an important and exciting start to the eager racegoer’s day.

In 1873 the Times wrote “Never has the South Western Railway brought down such a heavy and fashionably filled train as that which dispersed its contents over an Ascot radius of some half dozen miles or more, while the afternoon trains on the Great Western have filled the Royal Borough with bustle and excitement.”

Racegoers walk to the racecourse from the train station.

Clerk of the Course, Sir Nicholas Beaumont, in his office (1968–1994)

Here the Clerk of the Course sits surrounded by the Roll of Honour of Ascot’s most celebrated and historic race – The Gold Cup. Inaugurated in 1807, past winners since that time have included racing greats such as Gladiator, Persimmon, Pretty Polly, St Simon, Sagaro and Yeats. From its inception, The Gold Cup has always been the focal point of the Royal Meeting.

Clerk of the Course, Sir Nicholas Beaumont, in his office (1968–1994).

300 years of going racing

A colourful history of racing – with a few surprises. Today a day at Ascot Racecourse is a chance to watch first class racing whilst also enjoying the unique surroundings and atmosphere of the world’s most famous racecourse – but visitors here have also seen some colourful and surprising sights over the past 300 years. The additional entertainment laid on for 18th century racegoers included cockfighting, prizefighting, wrestling, gaming tents, jugglers, ballad singers, ladies on stilts and freak shows.

No more eating on the hoof

There are picnics, and then there are Ascot picnics. Eating and drinking has for three centuries played an important part in the enjoyment of a day at Ascot. In 1912 the motor-car was first allowed into the racecourse and shortly afterwards the tradition of the picnic in the car park started. Number One and Two Car Parks are still generally where the most formal and elaborate picnics take place, with berths in these coveted spots being passed down from generation to generation in some families.

Scales

These weighing scales, restored to their original condition in 1991, now stand in the Queen Anne Building at Ascot. They were miraculously saved from destruction by the actions of Mr Emlyn Jones of Ascot, who discovered them discarded on a waste dump.

However the weighing room has not always been as fundamental to the running of Ascot Racecourse as it is today. It took almost 80 years before someone had the idea to adjust the weight carried by the runners according to their form in certain races (handicaps) to give them (on paper at least) an equal chance of winning.

Until 1790, races had been run in up to four heats on the same day, with the winner having to beat the rest of the field at least twice. For the very first handicap race, the Oatlands Stakes, the weights to be carried were decided six months in advance, a quite extraordinary time-lapse by modern standards.

Allison Graham

Allison is the Publisher of Eclipse Magazine. She loves going to the Races and is learning to bet (despite being officially the worst bettor in the History of the Universe), there's a lot more to learn...

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