On a mild disturbance in the Midlands

During February 1944, that wartime-formed body, the Midland Motoring Enthusiasts’ Club, published, in the motoring Press, an invitation to the secretaries of the various motoring clubs to attend a meeting at which it was proposed to discuss a scheme which the MMEC had formulated in an attempt to reorganise the Sport after the war, and generally further motorists’ interests. Twelve clubs were specifically invited to attend this meeting, but apparently their secretaries felt that in the midst of a major strife, with so many of their members and committeemen gone for a soldier, the time for such a meeting was hardly opportune. The fact is that only the Enthusiasts’ Car Club, which is another war-time body, Mr Rivers-Fletcher, a few minor clubs and one or two individuals, sent replies. Notwithstanding, the whole thing came up again during October, and a meeting was called in Birmingham on the 29th of that month at which Raymond Mays took the chair, and for which invitations were sent to club secretaries and to many other interested parties. Beforehand, no one seemed to have any very clear idea as to what the meeting proposed to discuss, for, apart from a private and confidential memorandum prepared by Graham Dix (which we have since been requested to destroy) no explanation was offered either by the MMEC or by Raymond Mays. On the assumption that only good could result from a general airing of enthusiasts’ views, we made every endeavour to attend the meeting on the 29th, which was preceded by a film show and talk by Mays on the 28th, and when the Editor found he could not attend, he asked DS Jenkinson to go along and report what happened. Briefly, Jenkinson reported as follows :

Raymond Mays was in the chair, and with him to conduct the meeting was Stewart Forrest, for the MMEC, Graham Dix, and Wing-Cmdr Lester. Mays opened the meeting by saying some complimentary words about the Sport and stated that he wished to help the younger generation. Now was the time to further our cause and get things settled for when the boys come back. The RAC should be advised of enthusiasts’ wishes. Wing-Cmdr Lester followed, and said that motoring Sport should be part of the national way of living. Motor-racing is allied to politics. The nation must get mechanically-minded if it is to survive future wars, and racing offers the chance. The RAC can tackle the job of organisation, but if they do not, a new organisation must be called. A big organisation with all the clubs affiliated to it was visualised and should be Empire-embracing. To provide funds, Wing-Cmdr Lester suggested a tax on tickets to race meetings, quoting 100,000 members at 5s a year each and 8,000,000 spectators a year at 3d a head tax. This would call for properly-run motor-racing and the co-operation of big outside movements, like the Boy Scout movement, should be sought. Graham Dix said the MMEC had no quarrel with the RAC, but wanted cooperation between the Competitions Committee and the clubs. The RAC wanted to reorganise the Sport now, as Lester had outlined, and suggested dividing existing clubs into zones with zone committees, these zone committees to be responsible to a national committee, and this national committee to run the show, aided by, and with the approval of, the RAC. The MMEC had fought for motoring rights in the Press and wanted to control motoring politics, with proper parliamentary representation. Dix wanted to see the formation of a committee at this meeting to further these aims.

Rivers-Fletcher then read a message which Capt Phillips, of the RAC, had asked him to bring : ” I would be pleased to have any suggestions and am willing to help.” Rivers-Fletcher was pleased to note the enthusiasm shown by the MMEC, but he couldn’t agree with their proposals. They were not in a position to run the Sport in this country and, speaking generally, no one at the meeting represented motor-racing. Prod the RAC, he said, urge them that we were not satisfied with conditions prevailing before the war, and, particularly, keep enthusiasm alive. But do not put up wild schemes, and do not form additional committees and central bodies at the present time. Leslie Wilson, of the MAC, said his club is active and had decided to form a sub-committee of under 30 members, but would not do anything until “the boys are back from abroad.” Speaking as a member of the RAC Competitions Committee, he said that body was keen and it knows what it is talking about. (Incidentally, he gave the very good news that Shelsley Walsh will start again as soon as possible.) Raymond Mays emphasised that Great Britain’s position on the AIACR was pathetic and that we must put our views before the RAC and offer to help them.  Leslie Wilson then confirmed that the RAC does want suggestions, and advised getting at the British manufacturers, as they are at the root of British apathy for the Sport. Wing-Cmdr Lester practically said that unless the Sport is nationalised another war is inevitable. Dix agreed, and said the MMEC want to help in a new administration and to help the RAC. They have approached the manufacturers, without result.

Cecil Clutton now spoke. He wanted to associate himself with Rivers-Fletcher, and fearlessly said the meeting was not important, in fact, over-rated its own importance. Meetings are good things in their way, but the RAC is the only body which can get the Sport nationalised. The Competitions Committee have to keep the peace with the clubs, are Government cramped, and also cramped by their General Committee. We must stand by the RAC. The meeting was then thrown open for discussion. Peter Monkhouse thought Dix’s ideas fantastically ambitious. Before Lester’s plan can work it has to be sold to the Government. Parliamentary representation is needed. Dr Forrest said the spontaneous enthusiasm of wartime clubs was significant, and wanted the MMEC to form a committee to further it. Storey, for the Bristol MC and LCC, would express no opinion without consulting his club, except that he would rather back the RAC than an unknown organisation. John Cooper liked the zone committees suggestion and backed up the RAC, Kenneth Wharton said we all want to race and wanted a committee formed at the meeting. Discussion now veered from the future of the Sport to one-class racing, the ideal GP car, and kindred “Rembrandtian” topics, until brought to heel by Anthony Heal. Jenkinson suggested that everyone should think things over, report to their clubs, and meet again later. Instead, a committee was formed, composed of a representative of each of the war-time clubs, Heal to represent the veteran enthusiasts, Dick Caesar to represent. the amateur, with a sort of “opposition” composed of Rivers-Fletcher and Jenkinson. After lunch Raymond Mays suggested that the RAC should handle the whole matter of reorganisation and that the newly-formed committee should write and ask them to do just that. The following statement was then issued to the Press :—

“A Meeting representing many enthusiasts’ clubs and individual people who have the interests of motoring Sport at heart, took place at the Imperial Hotel, Birmingham, on Sunday October 29th. The chair was taken by Raymond Mays, who called the meeting on behalf of the Midland Motoring Enthusiasts’ Club. Their wish, when coincided with his own, was to call together as many of the clubs as possible, with a view to formulating any constructive Ideas as to the future of motoring Sport in this country. “On many occasions in the past Raymond Mays has expressed his desire and wish to help in any way possible as regards the furtherance of motoring Sport as a whole. He informs us that in view of this, and owing to the fact that he is constantly receiving letters from men in the Services on this subject, from all quarters of the globe, he agreed to call this meeting as he felt that it was only by hearing the many and varied views of such enthusiasts that the foundations of anything constructive could be laid. It, was most gratifying that over 100 people attended from various parts of England, including some from the Services, and a very representative meeting was held. Many interesting suggestions and discussions took place, and the views of all types of enthusiasts, from those who wished to give facilities and encouragement to a man of small means, right up to those interested in Grand Prix racing, were expressed. This meeting enabled such an expression of views to take place as has not happened previously. A sub-committee, combining the varying views of those interested in motoring Sport was elected, and this consists of Mr Raymond Mays (chairman), Mr Anthony Heal, Dr Forrest, and Mr Caesar. Certain resolutions were passed, and at a later date we hope to be able to give a more detailed report of the proceedings.”

Mr Linfield, of The Autocar, Laurence Pomeroy, of The Motor, and Eric Findon, of The Light Car, had been unable to attend. That is what constituted the mild disturbance in the Midlands, and it is extremely difficult to say whether one should feel regretful that the disturbance was so mild that it entirely escaped people like Craner, Edwards, Masters, Morgan, Scammell, etc, or whether to feel reassured that the very smallness of the disturbance prevented any harm being done at a difficult period in the history of the Sport. It did seem at one time as if the meeting, might become a crossing-of-swords with the Competitions Committee of the RAC but, in fact, it developed into a back-patting of that august body. It is not a bad thing to attempt to get all those clubs which ran peacetime events to tender suggestions to the RAC, and we must feel indebted to Raymond Mays, Anthony Heal and Dick Caesar for allowing the MMEC to elevate them on to a rather conspicuous committee which will endeavour to attain that end. The fact remains that if the business of total war makes it impossible for more than a few clubs to send representatives to such meetings, nothing more can be done, nor must it be overlooked that many quite big clubs probably have very little idea what they want from motoring politics, however well they may have organised peace-time races, trials and other events. The MMEC has apparently failed to get very far with ordinary motoring politics and, while we have no desire to discourage any attempt to obtain fairer conditions, we must emphasise that a body which has sprung up during the war, which has no well-known racing drivers on its committee, and which has no organising experience, can hardly presume to know what is good and what is not good for the future of the Sport. If it can persuade lots of knowledgeable and representative people to attend discussions and pass their findings on to the RAC, something may result. But it rather looks as if, at all events at the present time, knowledgeable and representative people prefer to trust in Capt Phillips and the possibility of a few new members joining his committee after the war. That Rivers-Fletcher and Cecil Clutton are not on the MMEC committee is perhaps significant in this respect.

It is important to remember that when the AIACR is re-formed, and only then can any international thought take place, and until that lime the RAC Competitions Committee represents the Sport in this country. It is not by any means such a black sheep as many people would have us believe. It may have been apathetic over British interests abroad, as implied by Raymond Mays, and it may sometimes have been rather strict in the eyes of hot-headed youth in its interpretation of safety rules and regulations. But, in our view, it has served very well.

Here it may be opportune to remark that Motor Sport has always advocated the RAC Permit scheme. This came into being at least as far back as 1906 and has never met with serious opposition. Except for International and Open events, no fee was charged, but third-party insurance was provided for the organising clubs at an exceptionally low rate through a master policy held by the RAC. It is true that after the accident at Kop in 1925, the RAC refused to grant permits for events to be held on public roads, but there seems no doubt that the Home Office would have intervened and probably prohibited all forms of competition on public highways if the RAC had not acted as it did. In any case the RAC had warned all clubs of the probable effects accidents at such meetings might have, before the 1925 season opened. From 1928 onwards theRAC tightened up its control and inspected speed trial courses, etc, before issuing permits. Even so very few events were prohibited as a result, and obviously the RAC  was acting in the best interests of theSport in taking this step. It will be remembered that when trials fell into disrepute in official circles, about a year before the war, it was in the RAC that the Government vested the opportunity of putting this department of the Sport in order. 

It is difficult to make useful suggestions to the RAC at present, so obscure is the future, but at all events the foregoing helps to explain why, when reorganisation is discussed, Motor Sport tends to keep an open mind and trust in Capt Phillips.