The Daily Telegraph

Michael Clayton

Leading light of equestrian­ism who went from war reporting and Today to editor of

- Horse & Hound Michael Clayton, born November 20 1934, died December 19 2022

MICHAEL CLAYTON, who has died aged 88, was a BBC war correspond­ent and presenter of the Today programme on Radio 4 when he was lured to edit Horse & Hound with the promise of a “company horse”; he took on the title in 1973 and for the next 21 years

H&H, with a weekly circulatio­n of more than 90,000, was widely considered to be the only place to buy a horse or read comprehens­ive results.

Clayton was an influentia­l figure in the equine industry and was not afraid to tackle sacred cows. His biting analyses, including one dissecting the British team’s poor performanc­e at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, were must-reads. Colleagues at

H&H, which he proudly referred to as a newspaper rather than a magazine, recalled receiving an exemplary education in news management, sports reporting and imaginativ­e lay-outs.

Technology, though, remained an alien concept, and on one occasion he inadverten­tly faxed his bank statement to the printers only for it to come back typeset with the galley proofs. Neverthele­ss, he won respect for his copy-editing skills, on one occasion producing the newspaper almost single-handed during a journalist­s’ strike.

Clayton was proud of H&H’S links with the Royal family and every Thursday two copies were collected for Buckingham Palace from IPC, his publisher. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh visited the offices in the 1970s and the Queen Mother in 1986. Yet he was far from being a traditiona­list, and helped to arrange the first British tour in 1989 by the controvers­ial horse whisperer Monty Roberts.

Despite his 6ft 2in frame, Clayton was a competent and brave horseman. His engaging manner, courtesy, calm temperamen­t and classless voice meant that he was a valuable ally of the hunting fraternity, even if he was a target for opponents. After breaking his leg on a hunt, a letter arrived saying: “Pity it wasn’t your neck.”

Indeed, over the years he endured many broken bones, and colleagues became accustomed to him dictating copy on Mondays, which was press day, from the casualty ward. He campaigned for protective headgear and endured ridicule for swapping his top hat for a crash helmet long before many of his peers. Yet his most troublesom­e knee injury arose from a boisterous game of table tennis after a meet was called off because of frost.

Michael Aylwin Clayton was born in Bournemout­h on November 20 1934, the son of Aylwin Clayton, an electricia­n who worked in the naval shipyards of Southampto­n, and Norah (née Banfield), a typist and bookmaker’s telephonis­t. Although largely insulated from the War, he tasted fear when a German fighter flew low over Bournemout­h Pleasure Gardens firing indiscrimi­nately at children sailing their toy boats. Michael’s father threw him into the bushes, sheltering him with his body, but one of his schoolmate­s was less fortunate.

Having got nowhere with piano lessons, he began riding aged seven and was soon jumping over small gorse bushes in the New Forest. His enthusiasm for mucking out the stables, making up beds and heaving hay and straw into boxes was rewarded with free rides. As a member of the Pony Club he was introduced to the Portman Hunt by the Master Sir Peter Farquhar, who “welcomed my unclipped, grass-fed pony at hill meets, showed me his hounds at the kennels, and encouraged me to keep hunting”.

He scraped through his 11-plus at the second attempt and was educated at Bournemout­h Grammar School. In a recent memoir, My Life in the News (2022), he recalled visiting the cinema expecting to see swashbuckl­ing newsreel images of the Second World War only to be confronted with the reality of squalid footage from the liberation of Bergen-belsen concentrat­ion camp, images which remained impressed on him for his lifetime.

His career began on local newspapers, and after National Service with the RAF in Germany he moved to Fleet Street, sharing a flat in Earl’s Court with the sportswrit­er Ian Wooldridge, and Gordon Williams, whose novel The Siege of Trencher’s Farm was turned into the Oscar-nominated film Straw Dogs. He covered the 1957 Lewisham rail crash for the London Evening News and worked briefly on the New Zealand Herald before joining the Evening Standard, where he reported on the Profumo affair of 1961 and the Great Train Robbery of 1963.

The following year he was appointed news editor at Southern TV and in 1965 moved to the BBC, which sent him to Vietnam and the Middle East, although his worst experience was reporting on the Aberfan disaster of 1966.

Meanwhile, he joined the Whaddon Chase hunt in Buckingham­shire and started filing reports of hunts for The Field. In autumn 1970 the editor had to advise readers that his hunting correspond­ent was unable to cover the new season on account of being trapped under gunfire in a Jordanian hotel. By 1973 he was presenting the Today programme.

When Walter Case, the longstandi­ng editor of H&H, announced his retirement in 1973, Dorian Williams, the television equestrian commentato­r and Master of the Whaddon Chase, recommende­d Clayton as his successor, making him only the third editor in the title’s history. For a couple of years he juggled both jobs, arriving at the newspaper’s offices direct from his early shift at the BBC studios.

“It was regarded as a bizarre decision by BBC colleagues, but proved to be the happiest career move,” he wrote, adding that in addition to a company horse he was given a company car. “My publisher expressed the hope that I would ‘only hunt on Sundays’. I advised him gently that hounds did not go out on the Sabbath in Britain, only in Ireland, but assured him I would ‘fit in’ hunting as part of the editorship.”

Using his horse’s name as a pseudonym, Clayton started the weekly “Foxford’s Hunting Diary”. The 1970s was a golden period for hunting: political threats were negligible; there was a surge of young masters who hunted their hounds themselves; and the best hunting terrain had yet to experience the onslaught of developmen­t. “We regularly jumped in and out across the A46 in the Quorn country to reach wonderful old turf and fences each side; now, it’s a four-lane highway bearing heavy traffic,” he wrote in sorrow.

Over the years he hunted with 230 packs in Britain, Ireland and the US. In one season alone he rode with 25 packs on 42 horses, many of them young animals because experience­d spares were becoming an increasing­ly rare commodity. In 1994 he was appointed editor-in-chief of IPC’S stable of rural magazines including H&H, The Field and Country Life, before retiring in 1997.

He wrote more than 20 books as well as equestrian obituaries for The Daily Telegraph, and served on several press and countrysid­e bodies; he was a founding member of the Press Complaints Commission (1991-93), and chairman of the British Horse Society (1998-2001). Though he had left H&H by the time the hunting ban came into effect in 2005, he contribute­d to the campaign against it, bringing his broadcasti­ng skills to bear as chairman of the Cottesmore Hunt.

Michael Clayton was married, first, to Mary Watson, a fellow journalist, and secondly, to Jane Ryman, whom he met at a H&H ball. Both marriages were dissolved, and in 1988 he married Marilyn Crowhurst, a property agent whom he knew from the equestrian world and consulted when he decided to launch a property column in H&H. She survives him with a stepdaught­er, and a son and a daughter from his first marriage.

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 ?? ?? Clayton: he was known to dictate copy down the telephone from his hospital bed after a fall during the weekend’s hunting
Clayton: he was known to dictate copy down the telephone from his hospital bed after a fall during the weekend’s hunting

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