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Bob Champion

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March 2021 news flash!

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Racing Scoops

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Documentaries

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Uncategorized

The Ronnie Biggs Story.

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Background

A bit of my background. In 1964 I graduated from Oriel College, Oxford, and landed a trial on The Daily Express (the top selling middle market paper of the day). Having been turned down by fifteen provincial papers this was my last attempt at securing work as a journalist. Cut to ten years later and I had the scoop of the decade. I found Ronnie Biggs in Brazil – published in ‘The Daily Express‘ newspaper  – and told his story in a best selling book: Ronnie Biggs THE MOST WANTED MAN which was translated into ten languages. 

Colin Mackenzie on BBC’s The One show.

This is me at 40.44 on a BBC documentary talking about Biggs https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/b036tln3 

Ronnie Biggs, the Great Train Robber who escaped from Wandsworth prison in July 1965, came into my life courtesy of my neighbour Constantine Benckendorff. He had been back packing round South America in 1973 when he chanced upon a man calling himself Michael Haynes. This was the identity Biggs “borrowed” from a friend when he eluded the Australian police four years earlier. By now he was running out of money and ideas. It was stressful not having legal papers. So he asked Conti to find a journalist willing to do his story. It is bingo for me. Until it nearly went wrong – thanks to Daily ExpressEditor Iain McColl and Scotland Yard.

John Humphreys, Raimunda, Ronnie’s pregnant girlfriend and me. Her pregnancy meant that Biggs could stay in Brazil as the Brazilian government would not extradite fathers of Brazilian children.

Following my retirement I evolved into a documentary film maker, utilising tapes from my Biggs enterprise to make RONNIE BIGGS THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBER (Channel 5)

Many Queens…

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The Queen, The Queen Mother, Thatcher, Elizabeth Taylor and Quentin Crisp.

Royal trainer Ian Balding with Colin and the Queen

The Queen, and The Queen Mother.

I had the great privilege, through my job as racing correspondent for the Daily Mail to rub shoulders with the Queen and the Queen Mother. My wife Linda and I had a ten minute chat with the Queen Mother in the dining room of the Ascot racecourse Trustees. She was 91 and yet very aware of everything. For example she blocked the entreaties of a Channel Four executive who was begging her to use her influence to ditch the BBC contract at Ascot in favour of his employers. No joy. She and discussed how expensive it is to have racehorses in training.

Mrs Thatcher.

I met Mrs Thatcher several times in late 1969 and early 1970 when she was Shadow Education Minister. She was full of energy and mastered her brief very quickly. She was ante comprehensive schools, having herself been educated at a selective Grammar school in Grantham, Lincs. She found me and my fellow education correspondents very left wing in our views. There was one exception – the Daily Mail’s Rod Tyler who formed a friendship which resulted in his writing an acclaimed biography of the Iron Lady.

Elizabeth & Richard.

I was fortunate to meet Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton a couple of times. On the first occasion they were playing Dr Faustus at the New Theatre, Oxford in 1966. My wife and I sat down at a post performance party in the Randolph hotel and Burton came to join us because his best friends from Wales were talking to us. We had a whole evening with him and he promised me an interview at their hotel the following morning. Burton was as good as his word, sat down in the Bear, Woodstock, with a bottle of vodka while I had a coffee and croissants. Two years later I was at the Tower of London when they moored a huge yacht beside Traitors’ Gate. They had chartered the yacht so that Elizabeth could bring her pet dogs with her – otherwise they would have had to be quarantined!

Quentin Crisp.

The Naked Civil Servant, aka Quentin Crisp, was a regular lunchtime visitor at our Battersea home on Sundays in the early 1980s. He would come over from Chelsea with his friend Peter York, the man who created the Sloane Ranger phenomenon. It was like inviting Oscar Wilde to your home. He was excruciatingly funny with put downs which had everyone in stitches of laughter. He would never use your first names – we were always Mr and Mrs Mackenzie. His principal advice was not to bother with a cleaner – “My dears,” he would say. “The dirt gets no worse after three years without one.”

My mother Hazel Adair

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Hazel Adair

Hazel Adair in the black-sleeved dress with the cast of “Crossroads” & “Compact”

My mother was television pioneer Hazel Adair, who created TV hits Crossroads and Compact amongst many others. She wrote the first drama to be aired on the newly launched ITV in 1955 and helped set up The Writers Guild of Great Britain, becoming the first female co-chair alongside Denis Norden later down the line. Hazel played a significant part in black history by creating some of the first regular roles for black actors on TV see Guardian article here.

My mother Hazel Adair was a pioneer of television, having created several soaps, including Sixpenny Corner which was the very first programme ever broadcast by the new commercial channel Associated Rediffusion in September 1955. It was the precursor of Coronation Street and East Enders. She also worked on Emergency Ward Ten as a scriptwriter and created with her writing partner Peter Ling the long running Compact and Crossroads. She truly did break the glass ceiling in television which was very male dominated until the latter part of the 20th century.

Colin and daughters on “The Cate Mackenzie Show”

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It was thrilling to be interviewed by my three lovely daughters for my new website. They confessed that many of the stories in my book were new to them – many occurred before they were even born. They have a very different and healthy perspective on life and are much more “woke” than I. It was wonderful to hear their views on my life and story. For me I am just thrilled at how charming and beautiful they all are.