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History 11

Precious footage of Stirling Moss

Footage. Not the billion specks of memory imprinted on sanitised microscopic chips. Rather the reels of it stacked in dusty storerooms: analogue stuff that you can touch – if not rotted beyond repair.

We are suffused with info and images by today’s digitised immediacy. Every Formula 1 angle is covered in pin-sharp clarity. Spoiled by Red Button choice, however, most is sluiced into our mental Trash.

Rewind 60 years – when a black-and-white world occasionally blinked into soft-focus pastel – and footage’s increasing rarity means every millimetre of it is precious.

Some elements lassoed by it leap from the screen: his insouciance at the wheel. If movement is tranquility, as Sir Stirling Moss insists it is, then he was economical with it.

racing history  Precious footage of Stirling Moss

Then there’s that shock of wavy, verging on unruly, hair that reminds you just how young ‘The Boy’ was – before premature baldness and those wearing, tearing accidents aged him.

Other elements, however, only emerge after you have stared at the foreground, paused and rewound (old phraseology dies hard), and scanned the background.

For example, what caused that ugly dent behind Moss’s head? Nurdles in Padua and Pescara, plus a spin on the Radicofani Pass, account for the dings in the nose and tail of his winning Mercedes-Benz 300SLR but not the one in its left-hand streamlined fairing. Hmm, I must revisit passenger Jenks’s account of the 1955 Mille Miglia. Never a chore, that.

And not all of Stirl’s famous waves – nine parts thank-you, one part showing-off – were hail fellow well met: inexperienced Mike Young is left in no doubt precisely where he ought to be driving his F2 Connaught during the 1954 International Trophy at Silverstone.

Clips such as these hooked me into the Beeb’s recent Racing Legends programme about Moss much more than did the distinguished-thespian intonation and body language of Sir Patrick ‘Make it so!’ Stewart. A fan of Moss and cars, no doubt, he has, however, yet to recover from the shock of losing the command of Starship Enterprise. (Chef James Martin would do a better job, both in and out of the cockpit, of guiding us through Sir Jackie Stewart’s career.)

racing history  Precious footage of Stirling Moss

What else ‘Moss’ caught my eye?

The large amount of negative rear camber on his Mercedes-Benz W196; his bemused expression as he climbed from the bemusing MG EX.181 record-breaker at the always bemusing Bonneville; and the celebratory cigs jutting perkily from fingertip or drooping rebelliously from bottom lip, more by way of physical affectation than for their chemical effect.

His automated Mayfair shagpad in all its 1960s James Bond pomp, complete with admiring rent-a-blonde, and with a standard light’s shade still in its cellophane wrapper. (Never daft with his money is Moss.)

The sunken left eye, wobbling departure on crutches from Atkinson Morley Hospital and disembarking stumble from an aeroplane – all direct consequences of his 1962 career-ending shunt. The ‘disguising’ beard (an indirect consequence?) that suited him, and the “sissy” crash helmet he wore unbuckled as a 1948 motor sport fledgling.

The half-emptied grandstands like galleons in full sail at the storm-lashed 1950 Dundrod TT. His constant leaping and bounding: into a Jag and away; out of a Jag and away to congratulate winners Peter Collins/Pat Griffith at the 1952 Goodwood Nine Hours.

The mud at, and general unpreparedness of, the inaugural 1954 Aintree 200: Moss’s first win in an F1 car. The nervy backwards glance and unsure hand signal to team leader Juan Fangio as they gunned their Mercs to the chequered flag of the British Grand Prix at the same venue the following year. And the three attentive mechanics helping a ginger Tony Brooks from his Vanwall there two years later so that Stirling might hop in – and win again – and the scuff on the former’s crash helmet that bore testimony, I presume, to the recent inversion at Le Mans that was the cause of his discomfort.

racing history  Precious footage of Stirling Moss

Madding crowds and the barely restrained jostling – and, oddly, cheek-pinching – of the victors, i.e. often Moss, at race finishes. The powfagged look and ‘Phew!’ blowing of the cheeks as he rolled into the pits after his miraculous winning of the 1959 Nürburgring 1000Km for Aston Martin – he was never more tired than he was that day. And the pre-race ‘nervous’ yawn and jokey chat with Graham Hill at Goodwood in 1962 that would gather deepening meaning in life-threatening consequence not much more than an hour later and with decades of hindsight thereafter.

Today, of course, is the history of tomorrow. Insight didn’t start, nor did it stop, with the Received Pronunciation of British Pathé’s newsreels. A rubber ball of a man, eightysomething Moss’s determinedly disguised hobbling through the gates at Ferrari without assistance and Brooks’s understated support – beige anorak and a few bons mots – alongside Stirling as Stewart hesitantly took the wheel of a Vanwall were indicative still of the characters of Britain’s most famous racing driver and the greatest racing driver that most Britons have never heard of.

It was all there. You just had to scan and to stare – despite the improved picture quality.

racing history  Precious footage of Stirling Moss

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11 comments on Precious footage of Stirling Moss

  1. Michael Kavanagh, 3 January 2013 12:43

    Having recently watched a Peter Snow documentary about the rise of Lotus which was riddled with mistakes, it was refreshing to see the Patrick Stewart/Stirling Moss programme, in which the researchers and producers had clearly done their job properly. According to Mr Snow’s documentary it was Lotus who put the engine in the rear of an F1 car; Cooper weren’t even mentioned (nor indeed, Auto Union) …

  2. Michael Spitale, 3 January 2013 15:51

    Ha… with Ciggy in hand. You know Kimi would kill to have a cig on the podium.

  3. Mikey, 3 January 2013 16:05

    A respectful and well made programme, it had to be appealing to both die hard fans and channel surfers alike (for some reason). I enjoyed it not only for the old footage but because both this and the JYS episode showed us these personalities now. Time hasn’t diminished their characters has it? I remember JYS’ bonnet mounted fruit bowl from when I was young. Should be standard on all cars!

  4. Listerine, 3 January 2013 16:34

    Thanks Paul, a superb appreciation of a superb programme. I started to watch it at 3am, thinking I’d just take a sneak peek but inevitably staying up for the whole thing. The highlights for me were retracing the Mille through magnificent Italian scenery and the Vanwall’s run around Aintree’s forgotten tarmac, a jawdropping leap back through time. Good to see Tony Brooks there too. Also, the two old knights’ jaunt out to Bray in the Austin Seven – imagine passing that on the road! “But that’s Stirling Moss holding us all up… and… Captain Picard!” You’re right that Sir Patrick hammed it up a bit too much at times – his fake astonishment on being told why they were in the middle of Florence would certainly have won no Oscars – but beneath all that, his enthusiasm was pure and engaging. Michael is right to praise the show’s research. My only minor quibble was that Stirling’s 59-61 run of championship 3rd places was reported without noting that this followed four consecutive 2nds, but that’s more an omission than a mistake. Too long was spent speculating on the “what if” of Moss in Walker’s Ferrari, a subject covered by the mag recently. Now as then, I think it’s wishful thinking that the combination would have swept all before it, as the 156 was an outdated lorry by ’62 against Clark’s 25. Maybe Stirling would finally have taken the title in ’64 instead of Surtees if the deal had held that long (or in ’66, when unlike Big John he wouldn’t have had to suffer Dragoni) but I’d rather celebrate his real achievements than his fantasy ones, and the show did just that in the main.

  5. David Hock, 3 January 2013 21:30

    Thank you so much for this Paul! I never would have known about it otherwise. I look at the BBC f1 site most days and never noticed it there. (I see now it’s there but given little presence compared to the usual minutiae.)

    What a character of a man, makes those who think stats alone can make a real champion look pretty shallow.

  6. Dave Cook, 4 January 2013 10:18

    My Dad called him “The Master”. ‘Nuff said…….

  7. C C, 4 January 2013 12:30

    Both the Stirling Moss and JYS documentaries were great i thought. Good to see both made by genuine F1 fans as opposed to getting any old presenter in, though i was amused throughout at James Martin’s constant inability to say Formula 1 (Formilee 1…go back and watch it, i’m not making it up).

    The beeb have shown a few good Motorsport Documentaries in the last year or so, with the Jim Clark, Graham Hill, JYS, Le Mans documentaries. Though these films and the ones mentioned above do leave me slightly frustrated and unsure about exactly how much old Motorsport coverage the BBC have gathering dust in the vaults – though a lot of it appears to be clips from old news reels. It’d be great if they could somehow find a way to broadcast more of it.

  8. Katoom, 5 January 2013 17:13

    Sir Patrick ‘Make it so!’ Stewart was an arse, as he was in the BBC’s ‘Who am I’ series earlier in the year. Did you see how he treated his brother in that episode? The same came over during his time with Sir Stirling on the BBC.

    Witness the scene in the carbon lift; he had no idea, at all.

  9. Bill, 6 January 2013 20:11

    Sometimes, when mr Frankel reviews the same car twice in the space of two months, and mr Roebuck has his annual Schumacher bash, needing to explain why the 7 times champion really is not an F1 great, Im starting to doubt to get a motorsport subscription. But then I get reminded there are other great writers at Motorsport, like mr Fearnley, with great articles like this one. Thank you.

  10. John, 18 January 2013 08:33

    Bill 6th January 2013.

    Mr Roebuck is right Schumacher will never be a great, another ” 7 time Champion” has just admitted he cheated and was a bully boy, perhaps the above “Champion” should do the same!

  11. Nic Maennling, 26 January 2013 17:21

    Off topic perhaps…but a Moss story nevertheless. Sebring – early 1960s. Young American fans shouting “Hey Stoil, hey Stoil. Moss walks by without the slightest recognition. My friend says “Excuse me Mr. Moss” and the good man comes over to sign a programme.

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