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Revealed: Voice of Racing Peter O'Sullevan actually a Down man, not a Kerry man

By Rebecca Black

Published 01/08/2015

Peter O’Sullevan, who died earlier this week, at work at Newbury racecourse
Peter O’Sullevan, who died earlier this week, at work at Newbury racecourse
Peter O’Sullevan in 1981

The Ulster roots of the famous voice of horse racing have been revealed.

It is a little-known fact that Sir Peter O'Sullevan, who died earlier this week at the age of 97, was actually born in Newcastle, Co Down.

He has been described as the doyen of sports commentators and a national treasure.

Sir Peter started his career with the Press Association in 1944 before moving to BBC radio in 1946, where he became established as the 'Voice of Racing'.

His family was originally from Co Kerry, but Peter was born in Newcastle.

An obituary of the broadcaster in The Racing Post included an interview where he revealed his mother had chosen to travel to the seaside town while pregnant with him in 1918.

However, he spent very little time there and went with his mother when she returned to Kenmare, Co Kerry, where his father, Colonel John Joseph O'Sullevan, was Resident Magistrate of Killarney.

He remained in the Ireland until he was six, when his parents separated, and he was sent to Surrey in England to be brought up by his maternal grandparents, Sir John and Lady Henry, at Gatton Park near Reigate, Surrey.

It was here, close to Epsom, where his punting career began at the age of 10 when he bet on Grand National outsider Tipperary Tim, who won at 100-1.

Sir Peter's childhood was blighted by serious illness, including chronic asthma and bronchial pneumonia.

A chronic skin condition rendered him ineligible for military service at the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, but he came to an arrangement with the International Council of Labour for a secret mission driving around Germany during the war distributing propaganda leaflets encouraging workers to rebel against Nazi rule.

When the plan fell apart after travel facilities to Germany were withdrawn, he drove around the UK distributing supplies and ferrying evacuated families.

Sir Peter dreamed of becoming a jockey, but his poor health kept him out of the profession, and in 1944 he started his career commentating on racing.

After his death, figures from across the racing world paid tribute to him.

Legendary Jockey AP McCoy described him as "an amazing man".

"Sir Peter O'Sullevan, the epitome of class. The most distinguished and eloquent voice of racing," he said.

McCoy's fellow jockeys Willie Carson and Jimmy Lindley, who worked with O'Sullevan for the BBC, also remembered him fondly.

Carson said he had a voice like "velvet", while Lindley added: "No one else could give you the same feeling (when) watching a race.

"He made it feel as if you were riding in it. You felt like you were on the horse yourself."

TV presenter Clare Balding, a retired amateur jockey, wrote on Twitter that Sir Peter was "incomparable, irreplaceable, indelible", later adding on BBC Radio 5 live: "He was very much the professional. He knew a story when he saw it and he knew how to tell it."

Match Of The Day host Gary Lineker added his voice to the tributes, calling Sir Peter "indisputably one of the greatest commentators of our time".

Barbara Slater, director of BBC Sport, added: "Synonymous with the sport, his distinctive commentary graced many of racing's historic moments, from Red Rum's Grand National victories to Desert Orchid's extraordinary Gold Cup triumph. Peter was a legendary commentator and will be greatly missed."

Belfast Telegraph

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