John Budden (L 57)

15 February 2024

When the BBC organised a poll in 2014 to discover the identity of the greatest Cumbrian, the broadcaster Melvyn Bragg, the comedian Stan Laurel, Emperor Hadrian, the author Beatrix Potter, and Catherine Parr, the last of Henry VIII’s six wives, were the fancied frontrunners. There was another contender, less familiar to the outside world but known affectionately by William Hill Radio listeners as ‘Lord Budden’. 

John Budden had, in fact, been elevated to a peerage only by the BBC and the horse racing world. He was a course commentator whose clear diction, received pronunciation and commanding knowledge of his subject were a feature of coverage at venues such as Kelso and Musselburgh. He was a renowned and often successful tipster, although he would never himself bet more than a fiver, and a columnist for Sporting Life. He also wrote a column for The Cumberland News from 1966 until his death and authored a biography of Gordon Richards, the leading trainer. 

John Basil Budden grew up on the Kent coast at Walmer, the son of Major Basil Budden, who was in the Gloucestershire Regiment, and his wife, Mavis. He was evacuated to Cheltenham before returning home to an education at Stone House preparatory school in Broadstairs, where later he was to teach, and Wellington College. Disqualified from joining the Army owing to his flat feet, Budden became a management trainee at Lillywhites in Piccadilly before going into teaching at Stone House. He taught English, History, Maths and cricket, his other sporting passion apart from supporting Carlisle United FC.

In the 1980s, he decided to become a professional racing commentator and writer, as well as an informed tipster;“He was canny,” said his son, James. “A famous yet private coup was his backing of Jodami, a future Gold Cup winner trained by his friend Peter Beaumont and ridden by Peter’s daughter, Anthea, when the horse first ran at Kelso in 1990. Jodami won easily at 50-1.” 

Budden was a member of Kent County Cricket Club and founded his own cricket team called The Trogs, which would play touring matches against village X1s. This included schoolmasters, the author Simon Raven and the Kent batsman Graham Cowdrey. A doughty opening batsman, Budden played a particular shot known as ‘the grope’ outside off-stump, when the ball somehow went to the third man boundary. On occasion, when he was supposed to be supervising bowling and field changes, he would be spotted slipping into a telephone box beyond the boundary to contact one of his publications or a bookie. 

Even when his eyesight deteriorated in the last 15 years of his life and he had to give up commentating, he continued to write his columns. 

He retained his links with the Kent coast. His brother, Peter, was a long-serving master at Wellesley House, another prep school in Broadstairs, and Budden was a member of Royal St George’s at Sandwich for 50 years, playing off a handicap of ten. He was undeterred when he became severely ill through drinking a pint of beer before lunch in the clubhouse — the pipes of the keg had not been flushed through with water and retained elements of cleaning fluid. He spent a night in hospital but was soon teeing off again. 

In time-honoured fashion for a prep school bachelor master, Budden married the matron. Jackie Tattershall worked at Stone House when he was a junior master. She died in 2021. Their sons survive them: James works in investment management in Edinburgh and lives in the Borders; Simon is an accountant who lives in Walmer. 

Budden went abroad only twice, not wishing to miss any racing or cricket: to Paris for three days and the other occasion being when he was 20. He and a friend, Dick Williamson, purchased a Rolls-Royce and took it by sea from Liverpool to Boston on a freighter. They were the sole passengers and spent two weeks playing cards and drinking vodka with the Polish seamen. They then drove around the United States before selling the car to pay for their airfares back via Greenland. As with his betting, Budden ended up making a profit. 

Courtesy of The Times.