Genevive, that film of a fictitious Brighton run first shown in 1953, was a box office sell-out and put veteran cars on the map for ordinary folk. Them have been other dramas of a similar kind since, such as The Yellow Rolls-Royce, etc, but nothing has matched Genevieve for entertainment and putting the public on our side in the old-car movement.
Surely it is time for another such cinema or TV film? In my opinion a suitable storyline exists in that remarkable book The Lightning Conductor, the first edition of which was published in 1902. Written by Mr and Mrs C N and A M Williamson, it is astonishing that at the beginning of the motor age it went to at least 18 editions and by 1925 had sold over a million copies. The motor-minded couple wrote nine more titles in a similar style, and STD Register members may like to know that their last novel was about a tour of England, circa 1932, in a Sunbeam saloon.
The plot of The Lightning Conductor is made for filming. It lacks the sex and violence expected of modem drama but it offers ample opportunity for a producer to expand the text slightly to include material for depraved tastes. It is about an American girl embarking on a European tour with an aunt as a chaperone, after buying a dubious Orient Express car and hiring a rogue chauffeur. They start from the White Hart at Cobham, still there for the cameras, but in ‘lance the machine begins to break belts and chains and generally prove a problem.
On one such occasion the wealthy Hon Jack Winston, on his way to the Riviera on his new Napier, offers to help but is refused. However, it is love-at-first-sight and he is determined not to lose contact (not literally, of course) with the girl. His opportunity comes when the Orient Express breaks down in Paris, the chauffeur having starved it of oil. The latter, given money to get spares to repair it, sets off but never returns. The Etonian aristocrat then poses as a substitute chauffeur and the tour continues. His own chauffeur is instructed to follow in the Napier, out of sight, but ready to take him, now adopting the humble name ‘Brown’, to his hotel each night.
Brown’s luck is in. A Frenchman with a little Pieper automobile whom Molly, the beautiful American girl, has rejected, sets fire to the Orient Express (an opportunity here for a fight scene between him and Brown!). This enables Brown to tell the ladies that his master is not averse to hiring out the Napier, which he can arrange. They accept and the lucky Brown takes them on to Nice and Sicily in his own car. If the producer’s budget allows some fine Continental backgrounds are available: otherwise I suppose Clapham Common and Wales would have to suffice.
The story embraces situations which any film company should relish. Brown drives the Napier up the corkscrew ramp inside the tower of the Chateau de Amboise “where no auto has gone before”. (I leave it to Napier historian David Venables to tell us whether this is fiction or an actual S F Edge stunt). They see an enormous racing-car rushing towards them in a cloud of dust at 70mph on the road to Salon (“perhaps driven by the great Fournier himself”), Brown is in trouble for playing golf in his master’s name at a famous course, peasants turn nasty when the Napier overturns their cart, and after the arson episode Molly finds herself stranded overnight with Brown but sans her aunt. Brown’s cover is nearly broken when the lady expresses surprise at his good table manners and knowledge of history after inviting him to join her for dinner. In a modern film they would of course go to bed together…
Surely this must be filmed? VCC members would no doubt be able to hire out appropriate cars, if not exactly those in the book, and of course the story ends happily when Brown’s mother and his friend Lord Lane reveal his identity and he proposes to Molly. Who would you pick for the leading parts? The book was based on the authors’ actual tour in their Orient Express and is often available from specialist booksellers for about £12.