A novel idea, a bad ending

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The British Society of Automotive Historians elects members who have the required qualities. So I was very surprised to see a full-page portrait of Barbara Cartland when she was a young socialite, followed by two pages in its quarterly publication about a Movietone News film of the Brooklands race (shown recently) which she organised in December 1931 to prove that women were as good drivers as men. Surprised because while this is an interesting sliver of history, it is described as “Cartland taking on the whole of the Brooldands Establishment”, with no hint that what she did was actually a dangerous piece of farcical showing-off, quite out of keeping with the normal procedures at the Weybridge track. The girls were given white coats and lined up on the Railway Straight for filming. They and their nine MG Midgets then took to the Byfieet Banking for their race.

It was chaos, drivers swerving in front of one another, one spinning round twice, and was altogether dangerous. The drivers were Cartland herself, Hylda Banks, Clare Dean, Kathleen Meyrick, Mrs Wardrop and the well-known ones: Lady de Clifford, Paddy Naismith, the Hon Mrs Chetwynd and Princess Imeretinsky. The BARC had presumably arranged for a short amateur race and must have been very distressed at the outcome. Letters of criticism, some being jibes at the society girls who had participated, flooded in. Mrs Chetwynd, the accomplished racing and rally driver of Lea-Francis cars, wrote to The Motor saying what a farce it all was and that she should have refused to take part; she had never seen a more shattering exhibition of bad driving, from which she was lucky to emerge unscathed.

The Princess was the winner. She said she was doing 85-87mph, so her MG must have been an exceptionally fast Montlhéry Midget It was never disclosed who had lent the MGs; after all this time, can someone tell us?