Tom Richmond: My memories of a talented, trusted and tenacious journalist whom I was proud to call a friend - Simon Bristow
It was hard, wasn’t it, in the beginning?
On that newsdesk at the Hull Daily Mail, where there should have been four, but for a time there was only you and a reporter drafted in, and four print deadlines each day.
Twelve-hour shifts were not uncommon for you, and you bookended them by walking the two miles there and back from your flat in Beverley Road.
To clear your head, you said. For the exercise.
But we were ok, weren’t we, hitting it off straight away with our shared love of sport.
It was the start of a 20-year friendship that included 10 years as colleagues at two newspapers.
Your greatest passion, of course, was horse-racing, and it was only when discussing matters of the Turf that I realised just how encyclopaedic your knowledge, and how deep your passion, was.
This had manifested itself at an early age, when you sneaked a radio into school to listen, quietly, to the big races of the day during lessons.
Who could have known you would go on to become one of the finest racing correspondents in the country, a universally respected confidante of jockeys, trainers, and owners?
You were a fine but tough boss for the trainee reporter I then was, setting and demanding the highest standards.
You were quick to find fault but just as quick to praise – the latter still managing to sound like an admonishment, coming as it did in your schoolmasterly way of calling reporters by their surname.
“Great copy, Bristow!”, “Great copy, Lyon!” you shouted as you typed furiously at your keyboard. The typing, of course, was you improving it.
One night over a drink in Queens you told me you were leaving, having secured a job as a leader writer at the Yorkshire Post. You were thrilled. I, selfishly, was gutted.
I didn’t know much about the YP then, but enough to know it was bigger, better, a proud old behemoth.
Your first entry into the profession you graced was via a work placement at the Milton Keynes Gazette, then the Milton Keynes Citizen, beginning a journey that would also take you to the Northampton Chronicle & Echo, the Express & Echo in Exeter, and the Nottingham Evening Post, from where you joined the Mail.
You were making your way North, to where you found your true home and happiest days; in the heart of Yorkshire at the Yorkshire Post. It is after all, racing country.
The Yorkshire Post was, and remains, the voice of Yorkshire and the North, and you, Tom, were that voice. You became Comment Editor. It was a massive responsibility, but one you carried without fear or favour.
Your Saturday column was a staple for me and thousands of others.
This you combined with regular racing content and the occasional big-hitting feature. You won awards. You edited the letters page. Your byline often found its way onto the front.
How you did it all I don’t know, and I don’t know anyone else who could. In a tough and demanding industry, you were the hardest-working journalist I have known. You were also the best.
How expertly and fairly you treated your subjects has been reflected in the many wonderful comments about you that have flooded in on social media since your untimely passing was announced.
Who else would have been so warmly remembered by lords, MPs, civic leaders, champion jockeys, activists and trade-unionists, to name but a few, as well as by your many friends and colleagues?
I have, in recent days, spoken to some of the latter, conversations that invariably included laughter as anecdotes about you were shared.
So I hope you won’t mind me including here some of my own.
The 2013 Grand National was held on April 6, and you kindly, as you often did, gave me the names of three or four horses you thought were worth a flutter.
These included a name that would pass into racing legend that day – Auroras Encore.
Trained by Sue Smith in West Yorkshire after being bought by her husband Harvey, Auroras Encore was ridden by jockey Ryan Mania in his first National.
And to the astonishment of much of the racing world – you and the Smiths excepted – Auroras Encore won the world’s most famous race in breathtaking style; incredibly, as a 66-1 outsider.
But in truth, punters didn’t need your number to know Auroras had a chance – they had only to read your column that morning.
The photograph you later sent me, of Ryan Mania and Auroras on the Baildon Moor gallops, pictured five days before the race, hangs proudly in my living room.
But it was not all about winning. I remember what you told me just before the start of another National, as the nerves and tension were building: “I just hope they all come back safely.”
How sad that you were not be there for this year’s National.
Two months after the 2013 National, on a sunny day in June, the Queen was taking her customary carriage ride along the course at the opening of Royal Ascot.
Two other people were in that carriage; the Queen’s racing manager, and the late, great, Sir Peter O’Sullevan – the “Voice of Racing”, who counted both Her Majesty, and you, Tom, among his friends.
It didn’t take Sir Peter long afterwards to call you, excitedly, with some very interesting news. “She fancies Estimate!” he said, which you generously passed on to me.
Estimate, the Queen’s horse, duly romped home as the 7-2 favourite to land the Ascot Gold Cup, making Her Majesty the first reigning monarch to own the winner of that blue riband race in its 207-year history.
Your report of the race, and subsequent mentions, always referred to the “well-backed Estimate” in a not-so-private reference to the success and delight we shared.
So yes, you even got a tip from the Queen.
And then there was Sir Alex Ferguson, whom you patiently and carefully courted for interview. What clinched it was your assurance that you would not ask him a thing about football.
Perhaps inevitably, however, when the interview took place, Sir Alex strayed into football, saying how much he would like to see Leeds United back in the Premier League so they could renew their rivalry with his beloved Manchester United.
You faithfully wrote that exclusive; achieving the rare distinction of publishing comments from Sir Alex that Leeds fans heartily agreed with.
It was not without some trepidation, however, that you then took a call from Sir Alex. You need not have worried. “You have quoted me accurately, I’ll speak to you again,” he said. And he did.
There were many more encounters, and friendships, with the great and the good.
But perhaps more importantly, you never forgot or failed to utilise the power of journalism as a force for good.
You hated injustice and tackled it when you could, giving a voice to the voiceless, and campaigning on issues that affected people’s lives. You sought to hold politicians to their promises, and never failed to land a strategic punch for the region as a whole.
You did all this while continuing to be a great friend to me and others, always able and willing to offer advice and help. You ensured I was fully briefed when it was my turn to apply for a job at the YP. I was proud to again call you a colleague.
You taught me and many others an immeasurable amount.
I could not have asked for a better friend. You were often the first to congratulate me when something went well, and the first to offer support when it didn’t.
We had not seen each other recently, the pandemic saw to that, but you remained a constant presence in my life and stayed in touch by phone, text, and email.
How I miss the pillar that you were now you have gone.
So goodbye, my friend, and thank you for all of it.
I’ll leave the last words to you, dear Tom, the ones with which you often signed off from our calls.
“Yorkshire and England.”
Simon Bristow is a journalist who worked with Tom at The Yorkshire Post and Hull Daily Mail and was among his best friends.