In the Picture:
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"For Your Added Interest":
"Some Stories of the Cinema"
"Supplement Page // Alpha:
Now Read This:
"Supplement Page // Beta:
"I've Gotta Horse"
PHOTO: Ras Prince Monolulu at a race meeting:
"Carry on Showing" -- Supplement Page // Beta
George Horsley was a Barton Bus driver who lived at Aldercar; I had known him for several years from my early days of working with Heanor U.D.C. I had travelled with him on two occasions, once to the Motor Show at Earle’s Court, and the other to a seaside resort on the south coast of England. It was no surprise to me to learn he was taking another bus party to see the Derby, to be run at a famous racecourse. My father liked a bet on the horses, and I went along to savour the ambience of the day.
This was my first chance to experience the thrill of live horse racing, and perhaps rub shoulder with nobility. It was at the racecourse that I met one of the most colourful characters to engrace the English Racing scene, and his name was Ras Prince Monalulu. I suspect ‘Ras’ was an abbreviation of the word ‘Rastafarian’, a name given to black people who originated from an area near The West Indies, and this is my tale…..
Prince Ras Monolulu was the most famous black man in Britain. Between the wars, he was a national icon renowned for his eccentricity, a racing tipster of such theatricality that even in the days when newspapers carried few photographs and television was in its infancy, he was still the most recognisable racing personality other than the top jockeys. Everyone knew that he wore a bizarre costume of massive baggy trousers, and a headdress of ostrich feathers atop ornate waistcoats, and colourful jackets. Prince Monolulu would be at all the important race meetings where he would sell his tipping sheets in envelopes. He was very funny, and would have the crows in stitches with his banter - just like a market trader, only with much more style. His catchphrase became "I gotta horse!" and the newsreels of the Derbies of the 1920s and 30s would always feature him.
He claimed to be the chief of the Falasha tribe of Abyssinia, but in reality he came from Guyana, as it is now, and was of Scottish descent - his real name was Peter Carl Mackay. According to his memoirs, called, funnily enough, "I Gotta Horse", he started out as a sailor but re-invented himself as a Prince after being press-ganged aboard an American ship in 1902. He was told princes were important people, and he figured a prince wouldn’t be shanghaied again. He was soon off round the world, eating fire in a travelling circus, working in Germany as a model, boxing in France, pretending to be an opera singer in Russia, and becoming a fortune-teller in Italy.
|Billy Fury's horse entered on the race - card: 'Anselmo'|
Interned in a German camp during the First World War, he emerged to become Britain’s most famous racing tipster - a bit like John McCririck, only louder, funnier and considerably more accurate with his tips. Indeed he came to prominence because of an extraordinary coup in the 1920 Derby. Virtually alone among tipsters he plumped for Spion Kop, the 100-6 outsider which romped home in record time to win him £8,000 - a fortune in those days. His career was made, and soon no major race meeting was complete without a visit from the Prince and his envelopes of tips. He was a figure of fun, yes, but he also contributed in his own uniquely humorous way to the battle against racist attitudes.
Such was his fame that in 1936 he achieved a slice of immortality - on 2nd. November in that year, the BBC began its television service and Prince Ras Monolulu was the first black person to appear on screen on that very first day of British television broadcasting. He himself estimated that between 1919 and 1950, he made and lost up to £150,000 on the Turf, and while his health and fortunes declined in the late 1950s he was still a much-loved character.
When he died in February 1965 at the age of 84, the Daily Telegraph and many other newspapers carried full obituaries of this amazing man. He is commemorated in the National Horse Racing Museum at Newmarket, which has some of his eye-popping jackets, and he is the only racing tipster to have his picture in the National Portrait Gallery in London. There have been many other famous figures of the Turf, both loveable and roguish, but the best-known loveable rogue was undoubtedly Prince Ras Monolulu.
A leading newspaper of the time carried the story:
”I come from Epsom, home of the Derby, and my family are no strangers to the pleasures of the turf. On one family visit to the Downs, I was distracted from the main pursuit of seeing if my money was enough to slow down any horse on which I cared to place it. I recalled my nan's reminiscences about Ras Prince Monolulu, the legendary tipster, who had livened up many an Epsom meeting with his ostrich feather head-dress and his shout of 'I Gotta Horse!'.
Some while later, I was delighted to find that he had committed his race-track spiel, complete with the laudable suggestion of skinning the bookie, to shellac some time around 1933, for the Regal Zonophone label”.
The choral refrain at the end is hilarious. According to the massed ranks of the Mormon Tabernacle Mr Cholmondeley-Warners, the Prince hails from 'Sunny Honolulu', presumably because that's the only place that rhymed. Prince Monolulu made his name before the Windrush days when the black Caribbean population of Britain was quite small and the role for black workers ill-defined. Any close examination of his career will reveal that he was a man who was a victim of racism in a society which was not the least bit multicultural in its approach to its citizens, but he was able to rise above it, beat it and in so doing make a mockery of it. He made a good living and became loved and respected, especially by people involved in racing. Prince Ras Monolulu, a huge African who stood out even more when he wore his ostrich-feather headdress”.
“White men for pluck, black men for luck," he would chant. For 10 shillings you could get his "nap" or best bet. If you introduced yourself as an Australian tourist he would give a special discount for his selections in every race and an autographed picture for a pound. Yes, he had an entertainment value and was an example that not all touts were scorned”.
It was two years later, while working at the Heanor ‘Empire’ Cinema, that I saw this character again, when he appeared in the film called, (of course), ‘ I’ve Gotta Horse’.
Synopsis of the film:
“I've Gotta Horse” was Liverpool pop sensation Billy Fury's first smash hit feature film. Fury is the star of a seaside summer show that pays little attention to rehearsals. Based on the star’s famous love of animals, he spends his time playing with the pack of pet dogs he keeps crammed in his dressing room. This crazy upbeat musical comedy sees Billy setting out to add a sheepdog to his vast entourage of animals . When he buys a racehorse, he goes out to the track to see it compete in the Derby. Being his irresponsible self, he forgets about the show's opening night, returning with no time to spare. Guest starring The Bachelors, the film featured no less than ten Top 10 hits. The soundtrack includes: ‘I’ve Gotta Horse’, ‘Stand By Me’, ‘Soft Shoe’, ‘I Like Animals’,’ Find Your Dream’, ‘Won’t Somebody Tell Me Why?’ Sung by Billy Fury; ‘He’s Got The Whole World in His Hands’, ‘Far Far Away’, sung by The Bachelors, and ‘I Cried All Night’ sung by The Gamblers. . Billy Fury’s own horse, Anselmo, did in fact, run in the 1964 Derby. Fury does a good job, but this film, like his singing career, is better forgotten. (This is not my personal comment).
There on the Big Screen was the ‘Prince’ himself, as large as life, and Just as I had seen him on our visit to the races. Although little is mentioned of him now, he left a vivid mental picture in my mind, which still remains today.
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