Horse racing pundit turned reality TV favourite John McCririck has died aged 79.
McCririck – known as “Big Mac” to many in the racing world – was for many years the face of British horse racing.
And his unique appearance – deerstalker hat, sideburns and cigar – and outspoken character also made him a reality TV star.
McCririck was a familiar face on Channel 4’s coverage of the sport for many years, with his career on television spanning four decades.
Married to Jenny, who he called “the Booby”, McCririck thrived at the heart of what he called the “betting jungle”.
In 1981, he joined ITV Sport’s horse racing coverage, which then moved to Channel 4, where he would spend more than 25 years at his familiar spot in the betting ring.
He first took part in Celebrity Big Brother in 2005 along with Caprice Bourret, Germaine Greer, Jackie Stallone, Bez and Kenzie.
He caused controversy with his views on women but was back to take part in Ultimate Big Brother, featuring housemates from previous series such as Brian Dowling, Nikki Grahame, Chantelle Houghton, Preston, Makosi Musambasi, Coolio and Ulrika Jonsson.
McCririck also appeared on Celebrity Wife Swap – where former politician Edwina Currie tried to get him to cook and clean.
He acrimoniously left Channel 4 Racing in 2013, subsequently losing an age discrimination case made against the station and production company IMG Media Limited.
A statement released by his family said: “Award-winning journalist, broadcaster and for many years the face of British horse racing, John McCririck, passed away at a London hospital on Friday July 5 aged 79.”
McCririck “became a household name as part of the Channel 4 Racing team when they took over coverage of the sport in 1984,” the family said.
“His flamboyant broadcasting style from the heart of the betting ring proved extremely popular with racing fans and beyond.
“John continued to work for Channel 4 Racing until 2013, as well as satellite channel At The Races.
“In this time he transcended the world of racing, appearing on numerous mainstream TV news and light entertainment programmes including Question Time, The Weakest Link, Celebrity Wife Swap and Celebrity Big Brother in 2005 and 2010.
“Despite suffering ill health in recent months, John continued to make several TV and radio appearances.
“He is survived by Jenny, his wife of 48 years. His funeral will be private.”
The British Horseracing Authority paid tribute to McCririck, tweeting: “Throughout a lengthy and colourful career, one thing was always clear – his enduring passion and love for the sport of horse racing.
“He was a recognisable figure and resonated with the wider public. Our condolences go to his family.”
Record-breaking former jockey Tony McCoy tweeted: “Very sad to hear the news of John McCririck’s passing – one of the most recognisable faces from the world of horse racing and a great at promoting our sport.”