Richard Baker was the face of BBC TV news for around thirty years. Like our own Charles Mitchell of RTE over the same era, Richard was highly respected and much loved by the households into which he brought the daily evening news.
I remember visiting my Aunt Betty in England sometime in the early 1980s: I remember, because my arm was in a sling and my wife shipped me out – ach sin scḕal eile!
In my room I came across a hard-cover book, which turned out to be Richard Baker’s account of his 30 years as chief newsreader with the ‘Beeb.’ I read the book during my stay in Solihull. Despite remembering it as an entertaining book, only one little story of the entire autobiography stuck in my mind.
Richard wrote as to how they had developed a habit of finishing up the news coverage with a somewhat lighter story.
One night he concluded the bulletin with a throwaway news item about a lady who phoned the fire brigade because her cat was stuck up a tree in the garden and was afraid to come down. The firemen arrived in her yard and extended the ladders far enough up the tree to rescue the pet. The little old lady was so grateful to the crew that she invited them in for tea and scones. After the tea the firemen mounted the engine, shouted their goodbyes – and drove over the cat!
The television viewers believed they had copped the hint of a smile on Baker’s face as he finished the story. The BBC was inundated with angry complaints and Richard received more hate-mail as a result of that story than he did from all of the rest of his career in broadcasting.
I was reminded of Richard Baker’s story with the ongoing furore over Gordon Eliot being photographed straddling a dead horse. Allow me first of all to say that I too was disgusted with the poor taste of the photo: But that is all it was … poor taste!
For God’s sake … the horse was dead and couldn’t give a rat’s ass who was sitting on him, or about his ‘dignity.’ I know little of Gordon Elliot and I am far from being a champion of the bloodstock set. I haven’t been to a race meeting in yonks years and I rarely bet on a horse … but can we have a bit of balance here?
It was a serious lapse of judgement by Gordon Elliot, but we don’t know the background to taking the photo. A stupid lark that was never intended to go any further than the few people who were present. This does not make it right – but in my book it doesn’t even qualify for Irish crime of the week.
Elliot is brilliant at his job. He looks after his live horses very well – that is an indisputable fact. Now, should his future in horse training be destroyed over one stupid, crude, spontaneous moment of madness? Again, the horse was dead and felt no pain!
The problem for Gordon Elliot is that urban dwellers rarely see dead animals. Those of us reared in the country are well used to the reality of dead animals being a fact of life.
Farmers tend to their animals with great care. A farmer will go out in the morning and feed his livestock before he feeds himself. I have spent more on a veterinary bill to save an animal than what the animal is worth – because that is what those of us entrusted with the care of farm animals do.
Animals, other than breeding stock are destined to be killed for the food chain whilst still in their prime. We all know this. The living animal is cared for, humanely killed, dies from accident or disease and, one way or another, finishes up a dead animal. Pet lambs generally turn into Easter roasts. Turkeys rarely get to ring in the New Year and the pig – the most intelligent animal of all, is fed like a lord so that he is worth killing and gets to sizzle on your frying-pan.
I love animals and my Dexter herd are treated like royalty, but that didn’t prevent ‘Ed’ and ‘Jake’ from taking a one-way trip to the abattoir recently. I don’t have to prove here how much I respect the animal kingdom – but I do believe that the venomous hysteria directed at Gordon Elliot should stop now. No point in flogging a dead horse any longer – get over it. Ruby Walsh got into trouble a few years back for stating: “The death of a horse can be tragic, but it’s not as bad as losing a child!”
Confucius say; ‘People who like animals too much, like people too little.’
A racehorse is an animal that can take several thousand people for a ride at the same time.