Spend just a minute to remember Clement Freud

By Norman Giller
Without hesitation, repetition or deviation, we sports journalists should take just a minute to remember the amusing, affable and articulate Clement Freud, who has passed on to the great broadcasting house in the sky.

Like his grandfather Sigmund Freud, he had a brain the size of Mars and gave us years of entertainment in a uniquely erudite way. A minute’s silence is surely appropriate for an astonishing all-rounder whose perceptive writing about the racing world adorned newspapers as diverse as the “old” broadsheet Sun, the Telegraph and the Racing Post.

Legendary sports editor Frank Nicklin wanted a sports columnist from left field when the Daily Herald morphed into the broadsheet Sun in 1964.

There were open mouths of amazement in Fleet Street when he turned to Clement Freud as the new paper’s Voice of Sport.

The original Sun, then owned by IPC, was aimed at a left-leaning readership, and Clement – 40 and a licence-holding amateur jockey – composed a series of witty, perceptive and searing columns that got him on to the shortlist for Sports Writer of the Year.

When the broadsheet Sun became Murdoch’s brash tabloid, Clement was suddenly a great jockey on the wrong horse.

He toddled off for a career in politics, but never let go of his writing reins, popping up in an array of sports pages but always on a horse racing theme.

Clement once confided: “The reason I keep writing about racing is that it gets me a ticket to the car park and best seat in the house at every major racecourse. It also gets me close to the people with the best information.”

He was a compulsive gambler, even using his political connections to win a bet on an outsider. His most recent columnist’s work was with the Racing Post, and he wrote in 2006: “Politically, I was an anti-Conservative unable to join a Labour party hell-bent on nationalising everything that moved, so when a by-election occurred in East Anglia where I lived, I stood as a Liberal and was fortunate in getting in. I was quoted at 33-1 in this three-horse contest, so Ladbrokes paid for me to have rather more secretarial and research staff than other MPs, which helped to keep me in for five parliaments.”

Those of a certain age will remember the golden era of Radio 4’s Just A Minute, when Clement was a regular panellist against Peter Jones, Derek Nimmo and Kenneth Williams, all under the stopwatch chairmanship of Nicholas Parsons.

Clement would often buy himself time by reeling off names of all the classic winners, and Kenneth Williams once challenged on a claim of repetition … “because he used the same list last year”.

Back came Clement: “This is Just A Minute, not Just A Year …”

Yes, a minute’s silence please for one of the great wits of our time who served sports journalism well.

Click here for a picture gallery of Freud’s eclectic career

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