Johnny Henderson
(Filed: 20/12/2003)
 

Johnny Henderson, who died on Tuesday aged 83, was a long-serving ADC to Field Marshal Montgomery, and later a popular and respected figure on the Turf and in the City.

Henderson was a 22-year-old captain in the 12th Royal Lancers when he was chosen to join Monty's staff in the North African desert in November 1942. After a few days he had doubts, and asked to be returned to his regiment; he was told to stay until a replacement could be found, and to accompany Montgomery to Cairo for the thanksgiving service for the victory at El Alamein.

While there, Henderson took time to visit the zoo with a friend, who offered Henderson's hat to an elephant - which promptly chewed it up, spitting out the Lancers' badge. Henderson, bareheaded, had to lurk in the distance at the guard of honour for their departure back to the desert next morning.

When Monty asked why, Henderson explained that his hat had been eaten by an elephant. "If you feel as bad as that," came the reply, "you had better go inside and lie down."

Somehow the incident cemented their relationship, and Henderson stayed in post through the Italian campaign and the advance from the Normandy landings to the German surrender, and for a year when Montgomery was CIGS in London.

The role of ADC proved a good deal more congenial than Monty's martinet reputation had led Henderson to expect. The great commander liked to be surrounded by lively young officers, treated them generously, and expected them to speak frankly to him. A degree of jocularity was generally encouraged - though Monty was not amused to be told, in France, that Henderson had been plying him with flasks of hot coffee in order to win a bet as to how often he would relieve himself during the day.

Among Henderson's many other duties was to find King George VI a seat for his thunderbox - preferably one which had not been freshly painted, it was intimated - during a royal visit to the desert. He also had to entertain Winston Churchill late into the night while Montgomery stuck to his rigid habit of retiring to bed shortly after 9 pm.

A less welcome assignment was to fly in the glass nose of the Flying Fortress which was Monty's preferred means of transport during the Sicilian campaign, not least as a form of one-upmanship over his American rival General George Patton.

Landing at Palermo to visit Patton's HQ, they found the runway significantly too short for the lumbering plane, leaving the pilot no option but to swing around at the last moment and crash sideways into a hangar. It was, said Henderson, "the most frightening thing that ever happened to me".

But he remained devoted to Montgomery throughout their time together, and was in friendly contact with him until the Field Marshal's death in 1976.

In the racing world, Johnny Henderson was well known as an owner, a former amateur jockey and as the father of the leading National Hunt trainer Nicky Henderson. But his great contribution to the sport was as the financial brain behind the creation of Racecourse Holdings Trust, a non-profit-making body which stepped in to save a number of struggling courses in an era before broadcasting revenues made them more viable.

The venture had its origins at Cheltenham where, in response to a threatened takeover by property developers, Henderson brought together a group of investors to buy the racecourse for 240,000 in 1963. RHT was set up the following year, and a decade later Henderson and his fellow subscribers gave their shares in it to the Jockey Club at a nominal price, ensuring that all RHT's revenues would be ploughed back into racing.

Over the years RHT became the owner of Wincanton, Nottingham, Warwick, Market Rasen, Haydock, Newmarket and also Aintree, where Henderson joined the pantheon of racing figures who can claim over the years to have rescued the Grand National.

From 1973 to 1985 he was also a trustee of Ascot, which was still suffering the financial burden of its 1960s redevelopment. Henderson initiated a sinking fund which became the foundation for the rebuilding due to begin shortly, and had been looking forward to attending this week's race meeting.

John Ronald Henderson, always known as Johnny, was born on May 6 1920. His grandfather Harry was the younger brother and right-hand man of Alexander Henderson, the first Lord Faringdon, who made a fortune financing railways across Argentina and Spain.

Johnny was brought up by his mother - a Garrard, of the jewellery family - after his father abandoned them, and was also much influenced by his housemaster's wife at Eton, the celebrated Grizel Hartley, whose letters he later helped to publish. He went on to read History at Trinity College, Cambridge.

After leaving the Army as a major in 1946, Henderson joined Cazenove & Co, the blue-blooded stockbroking house into which a family firm, Greenwood Henderson, had been merged in 1932. He became a partner in 1954, bringing to the business not only his valuable range of social contacts but a very shrewd judgment of investments and people; the firm's historian described him as "deceptively hard-working".

As the pension fund industry grew in the 1950s and 1960s, Henderson built relationships with fund managers which gave Cazenove its formidable "placing power" for share issues.

Internally, he was one of the partners responsible for selections, nurturing the sub-fusc professional style and quasi-regimental esprit de corps for which the firm was universally admired. He also made frequent entries in the partners' wagers book, whether betting on elections, cricket scores or the number of cherry stones left by a fellow partner on his lunch plate.

He retired from Cazenove at the end of 1982 to become chairman of Henderson Administration, the fund management group originally established in the 1930s to look after his grandfather's and great-uncle's holdings. He was also a director of Barclays Bank, where he was one of the minority of the board who voted against severing the bank's ties with South Africa in 1986, and the chairman of its trust company.

Johnny Henderson was appointed MBE in 1945, and OBE and CVO in 1985. In all his activities - he was also Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire, and chairman of White's club - he was cheerful, loyal, gregarious and genuinely interested in everyone he met, whatever their station.

He loved good company and funny stories, and was happiest among the people of West Woodhay, the estate near Newbury which he inherited from his Henderson grandfather, or on the racecourse.

He had had the pleasure of seeing his horse Mighty Strong, trained by Nicky, win three times at Newbury in recent weeks.

In 1949 he married Sarah Beckwith-Smith, with whom he had two sons and a daughter. Sarah died in a hunting accident in 1972, and he married secondly, in 1976, Catherine Christian, who had a son and two daughters by a previous marriage.