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Archive for the ‘Francasal’ Category

Since last time I’ve had another meeting with the man who’s writing the theatre programme notes for the Dandy Dick stage show.   Interestingly he has made a career of this sort of work.  He does this for a variety of theatres, and interviews cast members for articles that are syndicated to the local papers when a show is going on tour round the country.  We first met at Brighton a few weeks ago.  This time he came armed with a long list of questions for me about racing at Brighton and in the 19th century generally, which is relevant background to the play; to quote the advertisements for it, 

“It tells the hilarious story of the Very Reverend Augustin Jedd, a pillar of Victorian respectability. A visit from his tearaway sister leads him to risk all at the races, much against his better judgement. Mayhem ensues, with romantic intrigue, mistaken identity and a runaway horse…”

I hope I will see my name, if not in lights, then in some theatre programmes.  I will definitely see the play when it’s on tour.  I hope it does better than the last Brighton play I had anything to do with.  Some years ago I advised (in a very small way) the producers of Brighton Rock – The Musical, which ran at the Almeida in Islington.  John Barry had written the music.  Yes, the John Barry of James Bond, Midnight Cowboy and Out of Africa fame.  I enjoyed the show, but the critics didn’t, and I believe it was never performed again.

I completed my piece for the chap organising the Bath Pageant of Motoring, which he accepted verbatim.

I find that fellow researcher William’s work on racing history is more extensive than I thought and this may cut across one of  my own half-formed plans.  Yet there is more than one way of telling the same story; my rendition of the Francasal case in the Bath book is different from that in David Ashforth’s Ringers and Rascals, despite the facts at the heart of it being the same.

I went to a lecture at the British Museum on the history of horses in Iran from their domestication in around 3000 BC down to the beginning of the Islamic period in the 7th century AD.   That’s not really my strongest subject, but the aim was to meet a friend there.  It was advertised as free, so that was fine.  To our surprise, outside the lecture theatre there was a large gathering of delegates from societies of anthropologists, with free drinks and nibbles!  We were easily able to blend in with the behaviour those tribes exhibited.  We must make a date for next year’s equivalent lecture.

Luckily my employment situation has been resolved and I am staying with the same organisation after all, but in a different department.  While that means no acceleration in the speed of my research, at least it means I can afford to carry on the current happy mix of  racing and study.

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I spoke last week about not being able to end my interest in Bath history. Feedback about the Bath book has given me the impetus to dig deeper into the backgrounds of some of the people involved in the Francasal case.  I wish I could have included some of it in the book!  Quite what I’ll do with the information I don’t yet know.  It may be that someone else can incorporate it into another publication one day. 

I’ve emailed a contact at the Bath Royal Scientific & Literary Institute in the hope that they will have some historically inclined members who will be interested to learn about the book.

Meanwhile, with Alfred Day in mind, I have been surprised to find how few local printers there are nowadays.  I need someone like Prontaprint, who I thought used to be in every High Street, but they don’t seem to have many branches now.  The latest recommendation I‘ve had is a firm about three miles away, but they are only open on weekdays.  I will have to make use of some time off I have next week to get along and see if they can do this and another simple print job.

This week I was asked for some pictures and information to support a forthcoming article about Fontwell in Sussex Sport magazine.   I learned something new doing that – that the famous Bob Champion-ridden Grand National winner Aldaniti ran there once.  I hope to see the finished article in a few weeks.  It would be nice if there’s room to mention the old Fontwell book and the next one on Alfred Day.

There are still several other potential writing projects I have in mind and I hope to have some more news on them in the next month.

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There have been more reviews of Bath this week, including one from another writer whose thunder I have inadvertently stolen.  A new aspect of the Francasal case was going to be revealed by Brian Lee in his forthcoming book about Welsh racing gambles and frauds.  One of his stories was going to be the naming of a South Wales man called Benny Jacobs who hadn’t been associated with the Francasal case – until now, when I mentioned him in the Bath book.  Brian found out about him a couple of years ago, but the publication of his book has been delayed because he keeps finding out more and more stories to include!  His book should be all the better for it and I am looking forward to reading it.

I’ve had – and been given – more ideas for publicising Bath but I need to make sure these don’t cut across any plans the Bath racecourse marketeers have.  There are just two weeks to go before another of their big meetings, a Ladies Night, where the enthusiastic racing presenter Derek Thompson will be present.

There has been an exchange of emails between me and the couple at Alfred Day’s house, following our meeting last week.  They have kindly sent numerous pictures of the interior ten years ago, soon after the death of the previous occupant and just before the contents were auctioned.  I hope I can use some of these pictures in the Alfred Day book.

This week I’ve been glad to have paid my first trip to Brighton races for over a year.  Last year was the first time I’d missed their August Festival in ten years.  They had a fairly good crowd on Friday, the third day.  I gather that was because the weather on Thursday was so bad anyone thinking of going that day would’ve deferred it.   I was a frequent visitor there in the early 2000s when I was researching my second book.  I must try and get back there again – if the weather looks like being decent on 16 August I will see if I can get along.

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Just in case anyone wondered where the usual Sunday update was, I was away for the weekend doing unBathlike things.   But now I am:

  • responding to orders from people on my mailing list
  • entering into enjoyable dialogues with some of the orderers, and learning about their particular interests in racing history
  • struggling to remember promises to give some space on here to other people whose racing interests and researches deserve a wider audience
  • digesting a surprise development in the Francasal story
  • getting feedback from Jo the typesetter
  • banking some cash and paying some bills
  • looking for reviews and trying to think of who else we could ask to review it
  • feeling anxious in case we don’t sell enough
  • listening to suggestions for other books. 

Everyone suggests a different subject.  I’d like to do them all.  I have just been made voluntarily redundant and more time will be available, subject to whether I get another job and what the hours are.  That’s another big subject giving me food for thought. 

There’ll be more here next Sunday night, by which time I will have enjoyed the delights of Wurzels night at Bath’s Friday evening meeting (the mind is boggling already) and, in contrast, a visit to Fontwell.  There I hope to find a little more information about Alfred Day.  The Days of Fontwell will be the subject of my next book, and there won’t be a combine harvester in sight.

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Most of this week’s developments occurred in Bath without me.  The first race meeting of the season took place on Tuesday evening.  Coverage by BBC and ITV news teams was obtained, highlighting the 200th anniversary of racing at Lansdown.  ITV did a two minute report with, amongst others, Ron the ex-head groundsman, who has a great fund of stories arising from his family’s long involvement with the course, and the new general manager Holly, who summed up the Francasal story as if she had been telling it all her life.

ITV also came up with a  report from 1996 which they put on their West Country news website.   This had useful snippets that I had not known about before.  I am reminded that my research is not as structured as it should be, for I hadn’t dreamed of asking ITV if they had any material in their archives.  I will know better next time. 

Thanks to Aimee at the racecourse I have a date next month for an interview to be recorded with BBC Radio Bristol, but that will be done with me sitting in a studio in London.  Many thanks to my boss Chris who is allowing me to work some very flexible hours that day.

Somehow we need to get the course’s history – i.e. the book – mentioned again throughout the season, although the TV companies may not want to broadcast the same story more than once.  As with my other books, and those of other Non-Mainstream Racing Authors (not a very elegant term; I must find a better one) we may get them mentioned once here and once there, but if your audience blinks or didn’t buy the paper that particular day they won’t know what they’re missing.  By chance the other day I found someone had written a book about the history of Doncaster races in 2009.  I’ve sent off for it.  I was completely unaware of it and I expect many other racing fans were too.   I must ask the author where he advertised.  How do us NMRAs reach a bigger audience?

Text bashing has reached page 85 out of the 94 that are left, so it’s well on the way.  The last nine pages consist of items I thought should be mentioned, but haven’t been sure exactly where in the narrative they would best appear.  I still have plenty of details to check and I expect to do that up to the last minute, if not beyond.

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Francasal

I’ve been trying to identify that telegraph pole I referred to a month ago, which featured in the Francasal case.  For those of you that don’t know it, this is the story of a ringer (a good horse masquerading as an inferior one) who won at Bath.  To increase their profit the crooks cut the telephone wires near the racecourse.  This meant that bookmakers around the country, wanting to react to all the bets being put on this horse, could not let their colleagues at Bath know they should reduce its odds.  In those days the odds at the racecourse dictated the Starting Price, which was how the vast majority of bets were settled. 

The Francasal affair was one of the most dramatic events in the history of racing at Bath.  The story has been covered extensively by the highly respected racing journalist and author David Ashforth in a chapter of his book Ringers and Rascals, but one can hardly skip over it in a history of Bath races.  To repeat much of what he says would be plagiarism, so I have to find a different way of relating the story.  I can do this by retelling it in my own words and using other sources, but I also want to highlight some details that are less well known, or have more significance for local people – hence the quest for the telegraph pole!  Not that I’m suggesting it should have a blue plaque attached to it.

Some fresh research I did last week hasn’t helped me locate the pole, but I did come across some information that wasn’t included in Ringers and Rascals.   That’s not the first new information I’ve discovered about the case.  When I say new, I’ve seen no sign that it’s been made public before.  I hope that when my book is published in July it will be the first time these parts of the Francasal story have appeared in print.  

Arranging the physical production of the book needs to get under way.  I hope to meet my contacts at the racecourse soon to select the pictures we use and think about the design of the front and back covers.  And we still haven’t decided the title…

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