Obituary: Racing pundit John McCririck

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John McCririckImage source, PA Media
Image caption,
McCririck was the face of British horse racing for many years

John McCririck, who has died aged 79, made a career as the loud, garish and eccentric face of Channel 4's racing coverage.

Once described (by TV critic Nina Myskow) as having "all the charm of an armpit", he was a waiter, a bookmaker and a British Press Award-winning journalist before becoming a racing pundit for ITV.

In 1984 Channel 4 took over TV racing coverage and he went on to become the colourful figurehead of Channel 4 Racing for 29 years.

Known for his energetic dispatches from the racecourse, clad in tweed and gold jewellery and clutching giant Havana cigars, "Big Mac" was the punter's friend.

The fast-talking, wildly gesticulating tipster was raised in Jersey by wealthy parents and educated at Harrow.

Yet as he told The Guardian in 2001, he was only on television because he had "failed at everything else".

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The pundit, pictured far right in 1983, worked for ITV before moving to Channel 4

He had been sacked by the Dorchester Hotel for spilling soup over a customer and was dismissed by Sporting Life in 1984.

He was, he declared, "a failed punter, a failed bookmaker [and] a failed journalist". But he insisted that his on-screen character was "the real me".

"You are as you are on the telly," he said. "Anyone who tries to put on an act on telly over the years wouldn't get away with it."

Yet he also admitted playing a "pantomime villain" on such reality TV programmes as Celebrity Big Brother and Celebrity Wife Swap.

"This is a different persona," he said. "You are putting on a performance, you are doing a pantomime act."

Celebrity Wife Swap revealed his recumbent lifestyle at home in London with his wife Jenny - referred to by McCririck as "the booby".

He told The Guardian in 2004 the term was a reference to a South American bird that is "stupid and pathetically easy to catch [and] squawks a lot".

He appeared with Jenny on Celebrity Coach Trip in 2011. They became the only couple to be voted out unanimously - twice.

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Image caption,
The flamboyant dresser infamously referred to wife Jenny (right) as "the booby"

Before that he lasted just 12 days in the Celebrity Big Brother house in 2005, before being evicted amid accusations of sexism and misogyny.

McCririck denied he was "anti-women", saying he had never been asked to tone down his language on air.

He was replaced in October 2012 on Channel 4 by a new presenting team, headed by Clare Balding.

The following year he took legal action against Channel 4 and TV production company IMG Media Limited, claiming he was dropped because of his age.

An employment tribunal subsequently ruled he lost his job because his persona was "unpalatable" to a wide audience.

McCririck called the decision "a historic setback for all employees," saying it would allow "anonymous skirts and suits" to replace workers "whatever their unimpaired ability and merit".

McCririck made occasional appearances towards the end of his life on such shows as Big Brother's Bit on the Side and Britain's Got More Talent.

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