Interview: Hugo Bevan - Fun is about to end for racing's colourful clerk.
Life at five smaller tracks will never be the same when Hugo Bevan steps down, as Alastair Down found out
THEY say "you don't know what you've got till it's gone", and those who regret the increasing pasteurisation of characters within racing should enjoy the last couple of months of Hugo Bevan.
Not that this most fun-addicted of racecourse officials is about to be listed under "scratchings: all engagements snuffed it". After all, it is only the good who die young. It is just that from June 1 this last of the itinerant clerks of the course is going to retire. Sort of.
Bevan comes from a brewing dynasty whose headquarters were on the south of Southwark Bridge. He says: "My family were all piss-artists, none of whom were ever in a fit state to make a decision after three in the afternoon."
Unsurprisingly, as the beerage clubbed together in order to produce keg garbage in the 1960s, the family brewery of Barclay Perkins became something of a target.
Bevan says: "Courage, where they never drank anything stronger than water, began to take an interest and suggested a merger. Of course it wasn't a merger at all, it was a takeover-hardly surprising when my lot all had to be driven home in various states of disrepair before four o'clock. I worked for the family firm, but got out because I would never have lasted as a corporate man."
With a small bit of money, Bevan changed direction. He says: "Land was cheap, so I became a farmer, but I was hopeless at it and I'd always wanted to get into racing.
"So in my early 20s, already married with children, it was arranged that I would go as unpaid assistant to George Todd at Manton. But financial reality spiked that plan and the job went to Paul Cole."
So it was that he turned his undoubted but unfocused talents to becoming a clerk of the course, learning his trade under Charlie Toller and his hero John Hughes.
He says: "In those days clerks officially went on until 70, but often much longer. They only stopped when they were found lying upside down in the open ditch. Promotion was by death."
He has been a clerk for 27 years, at one time running five courses-Windsor, Warwick, Worcester, Towcester and Huntingdon. His passion for the game has not been shared by the four children that wife Carol-whose reward for saintliness will presumably come in another life-has borne him. Hugo says: "When I wanted the kids to go racing, they would draw lots and the winner stayed at home."
He adds: "If I hadn't become a clerk I'd have been an art dealer. I have a good collection of paintings left to me by drunken relations in the brewery.
"I paint highly indifferently in watercolours and I'm going on a course so that I can paint equally indifferently in oils."
He relinquishes all his appointments on June 1, though he will remain a director at Warwick and Huntingdon and stay on the board at Towcester "chatting up owners and pouring the cocktails".
He will do more than that, of course, but this is a man with a real talent for friendship. Many people would have liked to throttle him at one time or another, but garroting the old rogue wouldn't stop you liking him immensely.
He has an honours degree in fun and a doctorate in charm, but it doesn't always work. He says: "I've always got on extremely well with trainers, though some of the lady ones have been the most difficult.
"At Worcester once, I'd watered and then it rained, and one of them came into the weighing room and erupted big time. For about a minute and a half she ranted and raved that I was useless and incompetent and may, indeed, have been born out of wedlock.
"I couldn't get a word in, but as she stormed out the door I called after her, `I suppose sex would be out of the question, then'."
He was 65 (going on 18) the week before last, when Huntingdon named four races after him and rose to the occasion by descending to his level. He says: "I was given a cake in the shape of a pair of tits. I didn't realise what they were at first and Brough Scott remarked that I'd never had any trouble in the past.
"Then the tannoy said `Hugo, time to reveal yourself' and I was about to take my trousers off when this girl leapt out from the Hugo The Huntingdon Hound outfit."
But for all the tomfoolery, Bevan is a serious judge of his own trade. He says: "To a degree I'm yesterday's man and at my age it's wisdom and experience that gets you through.
"There are some tremendously bright youngsters like Christian Leech at Warwick and Jim Allen at Huntingdon coming through, but the younger generation can be a
bit intimidated by the people I
get on well with.
"I was just the same. On my first day officiating at Huntingdon I was given the mother and father of a bollocking by David Nicholson in the unsaddling enclosure after one of his horses had ended up heading down the A1. I thought, `God Almighty, I can't face this every day of my life'.
"That afternoon was an eye-opener. In one race Jeff King was on the favourite locked in battle at the last. Two of the stewards leant out from their box and shouted `go on my son' at the top of their voices. I thought, `this is an interesting game I've got myself into'."
He welcomes the massively increased professionalism of racecourse management, though slightly rues the sacrifice of some sporting values on the altar of corporate hospitality-"lots of people in blue suits with mobile phones taking no interest at all in the racing".
But he is no backwoodsman and believes that a uniform going measure will be introduced on the Flat, though it will be harder over jumps. "Mind you," he says, "I'm no expert on the penetrometer. I've had enough problems with my own over the years."
With typical self-mockery he describes his career as "27 years spent walking 6,000 miles in a circle", but he genuinely loved his time spent round the sport's lesser tracks.
He says: "I never wanted to be clerk at a big track-mind you, I was never asked. Each course I've worked at has become part of the family and I'm extremely worried that the new media-rights deal doesn't give the small courses a fair slice of the cake."
Bevan is horribly active, though a nasty kidney problem-the legacy of a bad fall 30 years ago-means he has to go off and perform various unpleasant feats of self-doctoring every four hours.
He is keen to do some work for the Injured Jockeys' Fund and to return to looking after sponsors as in the past. He has worked on that front for Save & Prosper (minor surprise), Piper Heidsieck (little surprise) and Playboy (absolutely no surprise at all).
But a more pressing engagement is at hand. He says: "This week I make my first visit to the post office with my pension book. The only trouble is that the extremely pretty girl behind the counter who I've been innocently chatting up for months will suddenly find out how old I am. Perhaps she'll faint from the shock and someone will have to give her the kiss of life . . ."
Happy 65th, Mr Bevan, and many more of them, please. There is plenty of kindness, laughter and love of the game in racing, but it's rare to find such an abundance of all three in one irrepressible and much-appreciated character.
Hugo Bevan receives an appropriate surprise at Huntingdon earlier this month to mark his 65th birthday
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|Publication:||The Racing Post (London, England)|
|Date:||Mar 27, 2001|
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