Colourful Characters

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Colourful Characters' page

Photo by kind permission of Edward Scale.

Photo:Ras Prince Monolulu

Ras Prince Monolulu

From the private collection of Trevor Chepstow

Ras Prince Monolulu 1880-1965

By Trevor Chepstow

My first recollection of Prince Monolulu was as a six year old boy in the early fifties when my grandfather used me to take to the Brighton races with him. Part of the excitement for me was the trolley bus ride up Elm Groove, my grandfather and me sitting on the top deck looking at all the punters making their way laboriously up the steep hill on a summer's day.

A giant black man
To a six year old lad the first sight of him was amazing, there was this giant black man in a brightly coloured outfit with large coloured ostrich feathered plumes from his hat. The first sighting made all the more exciting when my grandfather told me he was a Zulu Prince from Africa!  At six years old I had never seen a black man before let alone a black prince!

A tipster in fancy dress
My grandfather was a regular visitor to Brighton race course and knew him well.  On the first occasion my grandfather introduced me to him I remember standing there petrified!   Fifty odd years later I can still see the man and him shouting, "I Gotta Horse" to anyone that would listen as he strode around the course in his fancy costume and plumes.

Does anyone have photos?
I'm sure many local people will remember this colourful character from his many visits to Brighton and I look forward to viewing reader's comments and hopefully some local photographs of him on the racecourse and in and around Brighton.

The most famous black man
Ras Prince Monolulu was the most famous black man in Britain. Between the wars, he was a national icon renowned for his eccentricity, a racing tipster of such theatricality that even in the days when newspapers carried few photographs and television was in its infancy, he was still the most recognisable racing personality other than the top jockeys.

Catchphrase - "I gotta horse!"
Everyone knew that he wore a bizarre costume of massive baggy trousers, and a headdress of ostrich feathers atop ornate waistcoats, and colourful jackets. Prince Monolulu would be at all the important race meetings where he would sell his tipping sheets in envelopes. He was very funny, and would have the crowds in stitches with his banter - just like a market trader, only with much more style. His catchphrase "I Gotta Horse" guaranteed him a place in most newsreels of the day featuring racing.

Of Scottish descent
He claimed to be the chief of the Falasha tribe of Abyssinia, but in reality he came from Guyana, as it is now and was of Scottish descent - his real name was Peter Carl Mackay. According to his memoirs, called, funnily enough, "I Gotta Horse", he started out as a sailor but re-invented himself as a Prince after being press-ganged aboard an American ship in 1902. He was told princes were important people, and he figured a prince wouldn't be shanghaied again. He was soon off round the world, eating fire in a travelling circus, working in Germany as a model and boxing in France, pretending to be an opera singer in Russia, and becoming a fortune-teller in Italy.

Battle against racist attitudes
Interned in a German camp during the First World War, he emerged to become Britain's most famous racing tipster - unlike some of today's TV tipsters he was funnier, louder and considerably more accurate with his tips!  Indeed he came to prominence because of an extraordinary coup in the 1920 Derby. Virtually alone among tipsters he plumped for 'Spion Kop' the 100-6 outsider which romped home in record time to win him £8,000 - a fortune in those days. His career was made; soon no major race meeting was complete without a visit from the Prince and his envelopes of tips.  He was a figure of fun, yes, but he also contributed in his own uniquely humorous way to the battle against racist attitudes.

First black man on TV
Such was his fame that in 1936 he achieved a slice of immortality - on 2nd. November in that year, the BBC began its television service and Prince Ras Monolulu was the first black person to appear on screen on that very first day of British television broadcasting. He himself estimated that between 1919 and 1950, he made and lost up to £150,000 on the Turf, and while his health and fortunes declined in the late 1950s he was still a much-loved character.

Remembered as an amazing man
Prince Monolulu was always himself as a bit of a ladies man and was believed to have fathered many children and married several times. Once was to the actress, Nellie Adkins on the 21st August 1931. When he died of cancer on the 14th February 1965 at the age of 84, the Daily Telegraph and many other newspapers carried full obituaries of this amazing man.  Prince Monolulu, the man who had brought a ray of sunshine to the punters at many race courses throughout Britain regardless if they won or lost!

This page was added on 09/03/2008.
Comments about this page

Oh what memories I had of this man. I remember him well at the Brighton races between the wars. He was also on a cigarette card but I cannot remember which series. It was a very rare card and all the boys wanted one. I had three and swapped two for an enormous pile of comics.

By John Wall (09/03/2008)

I was told by my mum Winnie (nee Gravett) that he sometimes lodged with my Nan (see Gravett's in Local Folk) before the Second World War I presume. I think there may be some photos of him in her belongings that I am slowly sifting through before I send the lot to the B&H collection. I know I have some pictures on my laptop of him but don't know if they were taken from the collection of my late mums or not. If you ask Jennifer, she can give you my email address if you want it.

By Patrick Collins (Catswhiskas) (10/03/2008)

As a young lad I used to see his waxworks effigy in the Cardiff Continental Wales. I remember seeing him in the flesh so to speak at Salisbury Races in the 1950s. He famous saying was "God made the bees, the bees made the honey, you have a bet and the bookies take your money.'' There were other sayings as well.

By brian lee (09/05/2008)

I heard my mum say many times that the first black man she ever saw was Prince Monolulu. She described him as a man that used to vist Windsor and wore tons of feathers and as a kid, her and 8 brothers and sisters and all the other kids in Windsor used to follow him everywhere, she said he was like the Pied Piper. Last Saturday she was talking about him again and I laughed and said mother are you sure this Prince Monolulu isnt a figment of your imagination. I looked him up on the net today and hes exactly as she described him, sounds like he was a real character.

By Caroline (27/08/2008)

I remember the Prince from Bridgwater's St Mathew's fair in Somerset. He was just as you describe, black, adorned with ostrich feathers and a top hat with the band stuffed with pound notes. As you arrived at the entrance to West Street, the first sound was a man slapping rolls of lino and then Prince Monolulu's shouts of "I've got a Horse". West Street was full of seedy looking characters flogging the latest plastic invention for the kitchen, watches with no works in them, and stalls of china seconds "Not £5, Not £3 not even £1. Give us Ten Bob, dear?" The only stalls that really seemed genuine flogged bulbs; crocuses, tulips and thousands of daffs'. But he was the star and set the tone of the outing. As you say, he was great fun and good value for money.

By Harold (17/09/2008)

My husband's father was a bookie at Epson Race Course. He missed a lot of schooling going to the races with his father and remembers Prince Monolulu. Well he really stood out from the crowd and had a great personality.

By lyn weston (21/12/2008)

I remember Prince Monalulu when i went to secondary school in Chester. In the first years of seondary school our classroom was over the Grosvenor Museum in Chester which is by the racecourse. During the Chester race meetings in May, which were held over three days, i used to spend my lunch hour with his briefcase which held his tip envlopes between my feet, standing at the foot at tree by the racecourse while he walked up and down the pavement shouting "Ive got a horse, who wants a horse?" Usually i was late back for school as he didn't collect his bag until the time of the first race and would then go down to the racecourse. I would be given half a crown (2/6pence) and had to explain to the teacher some lies as to why I was late back to school. It was worth it just to see him in his robes and feathers and to hear him shouting "Ive got a horse, who wants a horse?"

By Leslie (01/01/2009)

I am currently researching Monolulu for a undergraduate history project, I am interested to discover more about who he was, his prescence and his background. I am hoping to talk to people local to Brighton who may remember him. If you do and have a spare few minutes I would love to hear from you, please contact me on:laurakerr353@msn.com

By Laura Kerr (23/02/2009)

There are a number of newsreel clips of Prince Monolulu on the Movietone Digital Archive.

By David (07/03/2009)

I have misty recollections of seeing your man Monolulu in Petticoat Lane in the fifties when our dad took us down there for the Sunday morning market sometimes. He would dance on the spot (Monolulu, not dad) chanting "I gotta horse, I gotta horse" with a big crowd gathered around him. He certainly wore the ostrich feather headdress then but I recall he also wore a shabby old gingery coloured overcoat fastened with a couple of big safety pins. Seemed quite elderly by that stage and I always wondered whatever became of him, so this page confirms I wasn't just dreaming it, so thanks Trevor.

By Pat (26/03/2009)

Hello! My name is Peter Granwe 50 years old, I am born in Sweden where I also live now. Prince Monolulu was my grandfather and J collect everything that people remember about him and will give it to my son, 24 years old. If someone has any pictures to send I will be wery thankful. Thank you everyone for your comments. Sorry for my english! peter_granwe@hotmail.com

By Peter Granwe (29/03/2009)

Well I remember when we were there in Brick Lane when we were kids and he'd appear with a big crowd around him, in approx 1956 and he'd be there with his big robe and feathers and telling jokes and he'd get a big crowd around him and be sitting on a fold out shooting stick. I was a little kid then and he'd pull out his fan of pound notes and ten bob notes and say, "can you run?" and I said "yes", and he'd say "alright then I better hang on to it" and I was ready to run from there to Stepney.
With fond memories

By Terry Timms (19/04/2009)

I can remember him when I was about 10 years old which was 50 years ago. My Dad had taken me for a haircut at Fred Agers in the old rookery area in Newmarket when he burst into the shop saying his catchphrase. When he saw me in the chair he got quite excited (on reflection, not sure if this was an act though) and went on about it being his lucky day now because he had seen me. In those days I had bright red hair and he made out this was lucky and asked if he could have a piece, there was plenty of it so he did. The next bit is a bit vague but I have this recollection that in return for my hair he gave me a multi coloured ceramic type bead and I came upon this bead recently whilst sorting out my Mother's flat which stirred this memory. Anyone else had a similar experience? m.mingay@ntlworld.com

By Mike Mingay (05/01/2010)

For those who don't know, some of Prince Monolulu's jackets are featured in the BBC's A History of the World project: http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/suffolk/hi/people_and_places/history/newsid_8489000/8489857.stm

By Andrew Woodger (02/02/2010)

Ras Prince Monolulu. If you want to know anything about the old racing tipster please contact me or see the National Archives magazine 'Ancestors' of October, 2008. which is an article I wrote about him.

By John Pearson (12/02/2010)

I met Ras Prince Monolulu several times when I worked has a kitchen boy on British Rail Restaurant cars in the sixties. He was an amazing character travelling the train to Nottingham and other race tracks around the country, in the company of the regular tribe of bookmakers etc. We always prayed that they had a good day which meant big tips, bad days meant look out.

By Terence Beckett (05/04/2010)

I have been a horse racing fan for as long as I can remember and have now decided to become a writer and Ras Prince Monolulu fascinates me and I wish to gather as much history on him as possible so as to conclude one of my assignments. I have taken some email numbers so I will contact a few of you direct, though if any one wishes to contact me with anything please feel free to do so.

By Francis Lannon (13/07/2010)

I can remember my grandfather telling me that Prince Monolulu stayed at his lodging house - a doss house - in the 1950s or 60s Winchester St, Salisbury. It was great to see a pic. of him.

By Margaret Poulton (01/08/2010)

Sometime in the fifties I was coming out of Paddington Station in London with my grandmother. Coming down the ramp was this big black man with feathers in his hat. My grandmother stopped him and said "Have you gotta horse?" He laughed out loud and asked where we were from. "Cardiff" said my gran. He laughed and said "Boroda!" and walked on past us. At the time I had no idea who he was. I remember my gran saying what a nice man he was. I had forgotten this until a passing reference to him in an old BBC series re-kindled my interest.

By Rodney Nicholls (27/09/2010)

I can remember as a young boy in the fifties, seeing him in a London street. The cops appeared and he made a dash for it, straight between my late father and I, frightening the wits out of me  I still have my father's photo.

By Roger Page (18/12/2010)

Back in the early 1960s, aged around 10-11, my identical twin, Trevor, and I were at a race meeting at Great Yarmouth with our dad when we spotted the plumed and gaily adorned 'Prince' wandering about the course. He saw us twins and I imagine our identicality aroused his interest, so he strode up, bent over and clapped us on the shoulders, enthusiastically proclaiming that I would grow up to be a jockey and Trevor an actor. I reached six foot tall in my teens, so that was a bit unlikely but I remember the meeting with this colourful character as though it were yesterday.

By Keith Harvey (26/04/2011)

I was talking today to my sons on another matter about my past when I lived in Brighton, and was trying to find it in the Argus paper and on this web site. I happened to mention the late Prince Ras Monolulu and his "I GOTTA HORSE", when I saw the article about him. I don't think my sons ever belived me until today and saw it for themselves, I can remember him coming over to my Mum and Dad shouting "I GOTTA HORSE!", he scared the living daylights out of me. He was the first black man I had ever seen, I was about 6 or 7 at the time.

By Don Waller (09/06/2011)

My wife and I have just seen Shirley Bassey, at Ascot, on the BBC. Her hat immediately reminded me of Rass Prince Monolulu who I first saw at York Races in the early fifties. I shouted out ¨I gotta a horse¨ (my wife thought I had finally gone mad). Showing her your page has gained some level of normality.

By Kevin (17/06/2011)

In Michael Portillo's TV programme on historical railway journeys based on Bradshaw's guide, there was a snatch of old film on horse racing at Newmarket and there in the background of a crowd scene is the unmistakable Prince Monolulu - fighting to reach a prominent position in front of the camera!

By Ken Taylor (06/07/2011)

I was with my daughter about five at East Lane Market. Prince Monolulu was shouting his usual "I gotta horse who wants a horse?" to a crowd. My usually shy little girl pushed her way through the legs and said in a sweet but piercing voice. "Please sir I would like a horse!". He looked down from his great height and grinned! Cheers from Ann, now in Oz.

By Ann Bunn (22/07/2011)

Prince Monolulu used to lodge at my great grandmother's house in Lincoln

By Anne (20/03/2012)

Hi everyone, I am embarking on a documentary regarding Prince Monolulu. If anyone has real life stories to tell regarding him I would be grateful if you could contact me with a view to filming you telling your story. Thanks, Frank Skully.

By Frank Skully (27/03/2012)

You can contact me by email via frankskully@hotmail.co.uk

By Frank Skully (28/03/2012)

The great Ras Prince Monolulu - before my time, but a legend nonetheless. My dearly departed mate, BB, told me often of his cries of "I've gotta horse to beat this favourite," which, apparently, he often did. What a crying shame that racing has no characters of this type nowadays. 

By Jon Dunning (20/04/2012)

In the early to late 30s I used to go to Brighton and Plumpton Races with my Dad. Monolulu was there most times. I seem to remember the cry was "I got an 'orse', but none of the previous comments appear to agree with me.

By Tony Burleton (20/07/2012)

A friend who's into horse racing in Australia contacted me about the Melbourne Cup. This reminded me of visits to Ascot and seeing Prince Momolulu in the 1950's and, seeing the interest here, I will look out some photos from those days if anyone is interested. Very good page.

By Peter Longhurst (15/10/2012)

In the course of my employment I met Peter McKay (Prince Monolulu) in the autumn of 1957. He wanted to show some measure of appreciation for a small favour and told me to back a horse next time it runs. I was to 'invest my shirt' on the outcome. Not being a racing man I did not check daily runners and never backed the horse. Our paths crossed again, in 1958, and he recognised me. He was disappointed that I did not 'invest my shirt'. He gave me the name of another horse and said I was to go straight to the bookie and back it to win the Gold Cup in 1959. I was to 'mortgage my house' and 'my shirt', and tell nobody else that he had told me of the tip. He was adamant that the horse would not lose. Faultless Speech won as predicted. I believe the odds were about 100-8. His parting words were never to bet on a horse if you are not 'in the know'. I didn't bet on Faultless Speech so, perhaps, it is fortunate that we never crossed paths again.

By Ted Brooke (16/10/2012)

Prince Monolulu was the first black man I ever met. He always had the same pitch at Doncaster on the corner close to the deaf school. It was considered good luck to shake the hand of this colourful character. This was during the fifties and I hadn't realised he had died in1965.

By Graham Wetton (07/03/2013)

I understand that Prince Monolulu was a close friend of Max Miller's.

By Heather Wilson (06/10/2013)

As a young boy in the fifties I lived just down the road from the Prince who lived in Cleveland Street next to where the GPO Tower was built in London. He was like pied piper - all the kid's following him around the streets! HaHaHa!

By Tony Engleman (10/10/2013)

I remember Prince Monalulu, when he came to my grandfather's house in Belsize Park, London. It was in the forties and I was very young. My grandfather was a bookmaker called Herbert Myers, but I think he changed it to Mears. If anyone out there responding to this is old enough to know my grandfather (I think he died around 1948 or 9, I would love to hear from them. My email is kanet@telus.net.

By Kami Kanetsuka (11/10/2013)

As a small boy probably in the early 1950's I was with my father in Petticoat Lane in London. Whilst in the fairly crowded lane we were approached by this fantastic colourful man the one and only "Prince", I only saw him once, but I am now in my 70's, and I have never forgotten that day. Once seen never forgotten.

By Derek Hall (17/03/2014)

Prince Momolulu lodged with a family in our street close to York Racecourse.  I was born in 1938 and he was fascinated by my blonde curly hair and asked my mother if he could push my pram, which he often did, until racing was stopped because of the war.  He came back after the war and was a charming and funny man.  He told everyone he was a Zulu prince and us kids looked forward to seeing him walk up the street in all his regalia.  

By Brenda Graham (06/04/2014)

I'm reading the biography of "The Earl of Petticoat Lane" by his grandson Andrew Millar. He recounts meeting Prince Monolulu in Brick Lane between the wars. I worked in Goodge Place just off Tottenham Court Road in 1961/1965 and regularly saw the Prince wandering the streets still shouting his catchphrase and waving envelopes of tips. I was warned not to take any by my boss who, I think, had been rather unlucky as a gambler. Thank you Tony Engleman for saying were he lived then, as I have often wondered. Coming from Blackpool with a background in sideshows & fairs it was still amazing to see such a character  on the streets of London. I was 20 in 1961.

By Pete Hale (29/08/2014)

In 1959 my late father took me to York races to see the Ebor handicap. I was 13 at the time, racing had always been part of our family. Greyhound in particular, but that day I wanted to see Parthia who was down to run, but did not. When we arrived at the course my father parked the  car and we set off across what seemed to me like a very large lawn. We approached a tent that was pitched on the grass and, as we were passing the tent, out jumped a big black man shouting 'I got a horse'.  He frightened me to death and my dad just laughed out loud. I can still see it as if it was just 10 minutes ago. Great times.  Thanks Dad.

By Kenneth Balshaw (19/05/2015)

I remember being in East Street, Brighton when this "huge man" with flowing robes held out his hand and said "shake".  I must have been about six or so and I have never forgotten this.

By John Upfold (02/08/2015)

Hi all, 

I'm making a documentary for BBC Radio 4 about Prince Monolulu - I'd love to hear from you with all your memories and stories, please get in touch with me direct if you could be interested in contributing to the programme - my email address is clairecrofton@gmail.com. I really look forward to hearing from you. 

By Claire Crofton (23/03/2016)

It was only when I punched in "I gotta horse", that I remembered the Prince. I saw him a couple of times in London streets and the tube in the early fifties and once seen never forgotten; he certainly was a colourful character. 

By A.Radway (Australia) (30/10/2016)

My father told me he used to stay at their house in Brown Street, Salisbury in Wiltshire when the races were on there.

By Maurice Dear (18/12/2016)

I remember the prince strolling through Shepherd's Bush Market, when I was a child. He caused quite a stir with his flamboyant clothes and larger than life personality. I was amazed; what a great character!

By Jenny lewis (30/04/2017)

I too remember meeting him at Windsor Races and being mightily impressed by this wonderfully dressed black man introduced by my dad. It was sometime in the 1950s: my dad and his family had met him in the East End of London in Brick Lane where he was a regular visitor. Made a great impression: was one of the first black men I met and talked to. Great personality.  Fond memories. 

By Mr Brian M Jacobs (17/05/2017)

Hi everyone - I'm making a big SCULPTURE of Ras Prince MONOLULU to bring him to life and again share his presence.  If you would like this, it would be a big help if you could email me christysym@aol.com so I can add it to other comments and stories of support to show that there is interest. I really look forward to hearing from you - thanks in advance!

By Christy Symington (21/05/2017)

I remember seeing Prince Monolulu in Doncaster market place in the 1950s. l got his autograph and still treasure it today.

By Stephen Wagstaff (04/06/2017)

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