Thursday 22 February 2018

Obituary: Valentine Lamb

Journalist and editor who turned the 'Irish Field' into a bible for equestrians and racegoers

Val Lamb, far right, who has died
Val Lamb, far right, who has died

Valentine Lamb, who died last weekend aged 76, was for 33 years the editor of the Irish Field and a highly respected figure on the racing and bloodstock scene. Under his editorship, the paper's reputation was considerably enhanced and it is now the leading chronicle of equestrian sports here.

Valentine Edward Martin Lamb (known as "Val") was born on January 26, 1939, at Coombe Bissett, Wiltshire, the son of the artist Henry Lamb and his wife, the writer, Lady Pansy Pakenham. Lady Pansy was the eldest daughter of the 4th Earl of Longford, who had been killed at Gallipoli, and much of her youth was spent at Pakenham Hall (now Tullynally), in Castlepollard, Co Westmeath, where Val's love of this country was fostered.

Life at Coombe Bissett for Val and his two older sisters, Henrietta and Felicia, was a gently bohemian existence in the post-war literary and artistic world inhabited by their parents. Their father had served as a medical officer in the First World War, and was awarded the MC. After demobilisation, however, having been badly gassed, he became a much-admired portraitist.

The Lambs' circle of friends in Wiltshire included the writers David Cecil, John Betjeman and LP Hartley. Two of Lady Pansy's sisters, Lady Violet Powell (wife of the novelist Anthony Powell) and Lady Julia Mount, also lived nearby; Val's cousin, the author and journalist Ferdinand Mount, was a childhood friend.

The three Lamb children sat for their father on numerous occasions and portraits of them hang in galleries and private collections around the country. Their father would pay them sixpence an hour for sitting, and sixpence an hour for amusing a sitter - an equally demanding task.

Boy with a Toy, depicting an angelic-looking five-year-old Val pulling a toy train on a string, is in the National Museum Wales, and the prophetic Sports News shows him lounging on a sofa, engrossed in the racing pages of a newspaper.

Valentine attended Salisbury Cathedral School, where he was relegated to the role of official page-turner to the music master. He went on to King's Bruton School in Somerset, then spent two years working as a clerk in Salisbury, before being called up for National Service in the Air Force. He would later recall with amusement his drill sergeant shouting at him: "Your mother wanted a girl and your father wanted a boy - and they were both disappointed!"

Lamb's first job in journalism was as a statistician at the Financial Times. Having grown up near Salisbury racecourse, however, his true passion was the turf and he was already a regular racegoer, attending every possible meeting both in England and in Ireland, where he would visit his uncle and aunt at Pakenham Hall.

Even in his early teens, he made trips to the Salisbury course, where he would gain free entry as a child and then put a cap on to make himself look old enough to place a bet.

In 1965, he moved to Ireland and joined the Irish Times as a financial journalist; he was soon made financial editor. Five years later, he was appointed editor of the Irish Field, where he remained until his retirement in 2003.

When Lamb took over at the paper, it was a rather neglected arm of the Irish Times, but his business acumen, love of racing and familiarity with the Irish racing scene helped to turn the Irish Field into a "bible" for enthusiasts in Ireland. Affable and friendly, he was a shrewd analyst of the political machinations behind the scenes in the industry, and a keen gambler.

From an early age, Lamb's three daughters would be taken to the races on Saturdays. There, Lamb would bet until either the money ran out or he "won the jackpot" by predicting the winner of six races in a row. This happened not infrequently and the girls would find that, instead of going home, they would be taken out to dinner on his winnings.

Lamb married Ann Greacen in 1970; the marriage was dissolved. He married, secondly, Marie Widger. She survives him with three daughters from his first marriage.

Sunday Independent

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