How and why a magazine called the Brooklands Gazette made it to the bookstalls in 1924 is lost in the shadows, but it’s certain that its next decade was a rocky time. Renaming itself Motor Sport in 1925 was a sensible move, but under a dozen different owner-editors it stumbled on, making no money. Yet the enthusiastically random mixture of contents gave it a life of its own, veering from Grands Prix to club trials, testing cars, boats and even aircraft, interviewing the famous, the forgotten and the frankly anonymous. Some issues failed to appear and in 1929 it briefly ceased altogether. When in 1936 the last of these private helmsmen had had enough and could not pay the print bill, he gave the title to the printers, whose MD passed it to his son to run. The son was Wesley J Tee, who was to turn the title round.
A regular contributor to the magazine was freelance motoring writer Bill Boddy, whose first story in Motor Sport had been on the history of Brooklands – written in 1930. WJT sacked the ineffectual editor and asked WB to run it, beginning a partnership which saw the magazine rise to a position of immense influence by the 1960s. WB’s only precept was that he would include anything which interested him, so as well as racing and road tests, Motor Sport talked about model cars, speed limits and ancient motoring history, while the burgeoning classifieds became the only place to sell a sporting car. Boddy’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the arcane byways of his subject made the mag a vital historical archive; indeed, without WB’s passion many of the vintage cars that race today would never have been rescued. Why just the initials? Because WJT, fearful other titles might poach his staff, forbade names in the magazine, a tradition which lasted until the 1990s.
When war came Mr Tee planned to shut the mag, but WB persuaded him to keep it going, running it by ’phone and filling it with history and motoring memories. He even managed a road test while a dog-fight raged overhead. Paper was rationed, but Mr Tee printed ration books… While working at the Royal Aircraft Establishment WB met Denis Jenkinson, and, impressed by his knowledge and no-nonsense attitude, asked him to write for MS. It proved a memorable partnership. Jenks became our Continental Correspondent, roaming Europe all summer, visiting race teams in between GPs and sending back lively, incisive reports which became the definitive analysis of the sport.
In London WB combined detailed automotive history with road tests of everything new, from Maserati to Citroën 2CV, championing small car economy long before today’s crises. At a time when the motoring press was innately deferential, Motor Sport’s criticism, whether of cars, teams or drivers, was utterly fearless, resulting in test car bans and court cases, in which Mr Tee always backed WB and DSJ completely even if it meant losing advertising. Meanwhile WB created the 750MC, helped inspire the ground-breaking 500cc movement, and founded the Brooklands Society, fostering an interest which would save the world’s first race track. Despite moving to Wales WB continued to be the magazine’s figurehead, only giving up the title of Editor in 1991, to become Founder Editor – not accurate, but appropriate for one who formed the title’s character.
When WJT died in 1996, aged 90, Teesdale was bought by Haymarket and became a purely historic title, but in 2006 it again went private, returned to London, resumed the green cover and began a new era of fearless commentary on Grand Prix racing. Bill Boddy continued to write his column on motoring history until his death in July 2011, ending possibly the longest journalistic career ever – some 81 years.
Motor Sport continues to be intelligent, opinionated and knowledgeable on racing, road cars and motor racing history, contrasting the sport’s past with current events.