CARS IN BOOKS, April 1960



THOSE who admire the works of John Begelman will know that reference to cars occurs quite frequently in his poems. For example, in “John Betjeman’s Collected Poems” (John Murray, 1958) we meet the Hillman that took Miss J. Hunter Dunn and her subaltern from Aldershot to the dance at Camberley, the chauffeur-driven Lagonda, Hupmobile and Deluge ears that convey their young occupants to Wendy’s party near Newbury, the” sportsBugatti from Thorne that belonged to a man in Magdalen” and the Rover landaulette of presumably the early ‘twenties in which Betjeman, as a boy, used to drive with his father to shooting parties in Hertfordshire before urbanism ruined the countryside :— “The slow drive home by motor-car A heavy Rover landaulette, Through Welwyn, Hatfield, Potters Bar,

Tweed and cigar smoke, gloom and wet.”

I also found in these poems an Exeter doctor’s Morris which hit a tram and note that Begernan’s families travel to the seaside in Morris Eights and get overtaken by richer folk in their Rovers !

I have observed before how remarkable it is that cars are mentioned by make in so many books, fiction and autobiography, which I read as a means of escape from just that subject ! For instance, it came as a surprise to learn from ” The Finish ” by Sir Alfred Munnings, K.C.V.O. (Museum Press, 1952) that this famous painter, who was President of the Royal Academy from 1944 to 1949, when not on a horse, used a 1921 30-h.p. Buick all-weather up to the outbreak of war in 1939. He is obviously appreciative of vintage cars, describing the old Buick as ” deep-seated. holidayfied, roomy, comfortable. An open car in fine weather, the sky above our heath, the Suffolk landscape around us…. When it rained, up and over went the top—a perfect contrivance for me.”

Later the author took to hiring a Rolls-Royce u ith driver, in which he once made an intriguing journey, getting into the car by a grass lane by the Cesarewitch course at Newmarket after the last race, the Rolls-Royce then going up the track alongside the course and out onto the Swaffliant road. Then it sped to London. to park in -a corner of the Royal Academy yard, while Sir Alfred Munnings changed into full evening dress and P.R.A.’s decorations, attended an Academy party and was afterwards driven in the Rolls back to Newmarket, arriving just before 2 a.m.

Further appreciation of cars of this kind is shown when, of a large hired Daimler he writes : ” … not cramped, low and streamlined. hut comfortable and of dignified shape, with proper windows so that we saw the countryside on our way.” And, as this fine motor-car rolled to a standstill outside Thoresby l’ark in The Dukeries ” we blessed the magnificent Daimler which gave us a sense of importante; for the size of the mansion was devastating !” Clearly, Sir Alfred would be an understanding white elephant turner! Incidentally. some chapters of “The Finish ” offer an excellent account of driving in the Suffolk countryside, and on tlic rural

journeys by Rolls-Royce we encounter another Daimler—that of Mr. Bowcher of Iligham Flill, owner of the National Hunt winner of 1928, a car ” which tands in the open, day and night, winter and summer ” in its owner’s drive.—W. B.