Billy Fury really did have his own horse!
- Credit: Archant
As the British flat racing season traditionally begins this month, it is an opportune time to saddle up and canter back to 1964 when the Great Yarmouth course featured prominently in a cinema film being shot here.
I’ve Gotta Horse, released in 1965, was not a classic in either racing or screen terms, but it was good undemanding light family entertainment featuring a pop music idol whose summer-long show here at the Royal Aquarium had just ended.
In real life Billy Fury (Liverpudlian Ronald Wycherley) had shared top billing that summer with Rolf Harris and impressionist Mike Yarwood at the seafront venue - and with Amanda Barrie and Michael Medwin on the big screen.
The horse in the title was actually Anselmo, a thoroughbred owned by racing enthusiast and animal lover Billy Fury.
The staff at the borough’s publicity and entertainments department, whose job description and mission in life were to lift the resort to new heights by attracting more holidaymakers and day trippers, must have been tickled pink by the free nationwide boost the film gave us.
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I had never seen I’ve Gotta Horse until recently when it was screened by a television channel specialising in vintage films, TalkingPicturesTV. Mrs Peggotty and I enjoyed the lightweight picture not only for its story and music but also for the extra treat of seeing nostalgic views of Yarmouth in the so-called Swinging Sixties when the sun always seemed to be shining.
The Golden Mile, promenades and beaches viewers saw in colour on-screen were never thronged with happy holidaymakers and trippers, probably because the peak season was over and children had returned to school for the autumn term.
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The plot was centred around rehearsals for a Royal Aquarium summer offering, so the lack of crowds was realistic.
The Yare’s Brush Bend and North and South Piers were also seen on screen.
To the chagrin of the irascible show producer in the film, Billy Fury is more interested in his stray pet dogs than in rehearsals.
This stand-off is exacerbated when our animal loving hero sets out to buy a dog at an auction sale... but cannot resist successfully bidding for a horse.
He smuggles it back to the theatre, keeping it secret from the producer although it creates havoc.
But the bargain buy turns out to be a thoroughbred, and the film shows it apparently running at Yarmouth races – a genuine meeting, complete with crowds, stewards, trainers and bookmakers.
There are also scenes of a genuine Derby race at Epsom.
Five years ago, Amanda Barrie returned to Yarmouth, a nostalgic visit to the locations where she co-starred with Billy Fury in the movie in the Sixties, including the Royal Aquarium, today known as the Hollywood Cinema.
The nostalgia was tinged with bitter-sweetness for the actress because in the Sixties she and Billy Fury were a romantically linked “item”. Sadly Billy Fury died in 1983, aged only 42.
Amanda Barrie told Mercury editor Anne Edwards that her memories of Yarmouth were hazy but she did recall one scene, walking down the seafront when she and Billy were holding the hands of a chimpanzee – which twisted and slipped from their grasp, running off into a crowd of watching holidaymakers.
It headed towards youngsters wearing Wellington boots, prompting Amanda to declare, with a twinkle in her eye: “Fancy! A chimp with a rubber fetish!”
Amanda vividly remembered that location shooting at Yarmouth racecourse during an actual race meeting, with the director and cameraman ordering the actors to get on with the scenes despite disrupting the actual race-goers, trainers and owners.
It is well documented that coincidence often happens in this column.
Last July I wrote about Gorleston global traveller Malcolm Metcalf’s bygone autographs collection which included the signature of flamboyant racing tipster Ras Prince Monolulu, here for a Yarmouth meeting in 1949.
The tipster (real name, Peter Mackay) always shouted his presence with...”I gotta horse!”