Actor John Challis is renowned for his role as Boycie, originally in television classic Only Fools and Horses, and more recently, in The Green Green Grass where ‘townie’ Boycie and his wife Marlene have moved to the country to escape from the Driscoll Brothers after Boycie turned supergrass.
Boycie finds rural life rather strange after London, and The Green Green Grass charts his adventures as he learns to adapt to his new surroundings.
Unlike his screen persona, however, John Challis is very much at home in the country, and particularly enjoys a good day out at the local racecourse or point-to-point:
How often do you go racing?
I can’t say I go terribly often but it’s been part of my life since I was a kid. My mother was a great racing fan – well more to do with the betting side of it I think, she loved to gamble! – and she inherited that from her parents who were great racegoers. Her side of the family had quite a connection with it really because her uncle used to breed racehorses and had a lot of runners down in Somerset – Taunton, Wincanton, places like that. We even went up to Sandown to see them run.
Did you learn to ride?
They always used to put me on the back of the horses so I’ve always been around horses and I’ve always felt very comfortable with them.
Why do you enjoy racing?
I just love to see them running – we live near Ludlow, so we’ve been there quite a few times; they have charity point-to-points as well as race meetings and other events, and we go there on a fairly regular basis.
Have you ever been to a ‘big’ race meeting?
There was a time we were lucky enough, through a connection of my wife, to go to Royal Ascot – that was about five or six years ago – to the Royal Enclosure, which was wonderful. The whole Society thing really was extraordinary just to be in amongst, not that one really was part of it. But we knew some people who used to have picnics in the car park and so on, and they were very amused by the fact that we wanted to go and see the racing – everybody else wanted to eat smoked salmon and drink champagne in the car park! The great thing about being in the Royal Enclosure was that you would see the Royal Family – or some of them – and one of the great delights was seeing the Queen watching the racing because she gets so excited. She’s always had racehorses of course and she behaves – in my experience anyway – like any other punter who has put money on a horse and gets terribly excited when her horse is in the shake-up at the end, so that was terrific.
Any other favourites?
My parents lived near Epsom so I always had a great connection with there and knew the Epsom Downs very well indeed from walking the dog, and I used to go a lot and see The Derby and The Oaks etc. there.
Do you like to bet?
I’m not a great betting man – I really only have about two bets a year, on the Grand National and The Derby. Occasionally I win about three quid and get terribly excited but I usually go to the races and come back losing about £50 on the day.
How do you select which horse to bet on?
Sometimes it’s the jockey and sometimes the horses – it’s usually to do with the horse’s name, a sort of coincidental significance – and I love grey horses, so I usually back a grey horse just because it’s grey. And I like to do some each way bets on outsiders. I could study the form but I’m a bit lazy about all that really!
Have you ever been tempted to own a racehorse yourself?
No, I haven’t. I’ve met various people who have tried to get me on board – you can own half the tail or one leg or whatever it is – but I have never done that. I think if I had a lot more money than I’ve got I might consider it – it must be nice to see your own horse running. A neighbour of ours has got a leg of a horse or a leg of a couple or racehorses and she is having a great time. And living in the country we’ve got horses all over the place really.
Would owning a racehorse be something that might interest Boycie in his new country lifestyle, in The Green Green Grass?
I’m not sure Boycie would own one because he would need a decent return on it but he probably would have a bet after he’d got some sort of nefarious tip from somewhere and he’d probably be on the fringe of some slightly criminal gambling activity.
Would it not fit in with his ‘Lord of the Manor’ persona?
I suppose it might, but at the moment he’s still living in the country and being a bit urban and still trying to find the sort of deals he used to do in London – and he probably wouldn’t trust an animal at all!
Would you recommend a racing day out to people who haven’t yet tried it?
Yes I would, I think it’s a great day out. I would say go there prepared to lose money but if you like horses and you like a colourful spectacle it’s a great day, a terrific day. My advice would be to plan ahead – like down here in Ludlow you can ring up in advance: arrange something nice to eat – have a nice lunch, go with a few chums and have something to drink (and get someone else to drive back!) and just enjoy it. Racing is terribly exciting whether you’re in Ludlow, or Ascot, or Pontefract or at some point-to-point in the middle of the country: if your horse that you’ve put your two-and-sixpence on is in the shake-up coming towards the finish, it is so exciting, it’s a real thrill.
Are you planning to go to any big meetings this year, such as the Grand National?
I’ve never actually been to the Grand National, I usually sit and watch it on the telly which is one of those really heart-in-mouth experiences, when they keep falling over etc. So no great plans for racing this year, although I’m sure we’ll go to Ludlow sometime, but the Grand National is quite an idea – it’s not too far up to Aintree from here…
The latest series of The Green Green Grass is currently showing on BBC 1 on Thursdays at 8.30pm. For more information about the series see www.thegreengreengrass.co.uk