By Henry Longhurst. 366 pp. 9 4/5 in. x 6 1/2 in. (Cassell & Co. Ltd., 3, Red Lion Square, London, WC1R 4SJ. £3.75.)
This is a non-motoring book, which strictly should be dealt with under “Cars in Books”. But it is currently published, so merits a full review. There is plenty about cars in it, including a chapter about the author’s family’s and his own cars and motorcycles (which included a 12/50 Alvis which he crashed) references to quick journeys to golf tournaments from Cambridge in Billy Fiske’s blower 4 ½ Bentley and less rapid ones in Longhurst’s bull-nose Morris and, as delightful as it is unexpected, a chapter about how the versatile Henry Longhurst made contact with the “strange, all-by-itself world of motor racing.” He did this by going as riding mechanic to his business partner, Lewis Byron, in a Type 35 Bugatti as Southport, driving their modified Gordon England Austin 7 on the road, and riding in an Amilcar Six in the 1931 JCC Double-Twelve at Brooklands—there are pictures to prove it.
Errors have, alas, crept in. For instance, Longhurst spoils what would have been a clever anecdote by thinking that his one-time Hudson Terraplane had a vee-eight engine like his present l.h.d. Ford Mustang convertible, whereas, of course, it was a straight-eight. he refers to Dr. Benjafield, the Bentley driver, as “Dr. Dangerfield”, mentions a Model T-Ford with a “B” on its brake lever, whereas I suspect this was on a pedal, nor can I believe that the aforesaid Amilcar Six averaged 100 m.p.h. for the first 12 hours of the Double-Twelve, from which, incidentally, it retired with a broken con. rod. And the Moss/Jenkinson Mercedes-Benz won the 1955 Mille Miglia at 97.96 m.p.h., not at 93.08 m.p.h. That, however, could be a mis-print, from which we also suffer! The book is actually very free from them. I had just remarked to my wife “do you know, I have not yet found a printer’s mistake in this book”, and she had replied “Oh, who are the publishers”, when I encountered two…. Those errors do not prevent the essay on this race from being one of the best pieces by a non-motoring writer about Brooklands that I have ever read. Coming to modern times, Graham Hill’s fascination for women has not escaped the author’s notice.
The rest of the book is packed with interest, it is splendidly written, essentially readable and full of good stories and anecdotes, about golf, the Home Guard, the Army, travel, politics, airlines, gliding, Charterhouse, Cambridge, the countryside, Fleet Street, boats, field sports, television, railways and what have you, all in autobiographical form, not forgetting, as I have said, Brooklands and “the strange world of motor racing”. Longhurst’s description of deep sea diving made me feel physically ill—he is an able writer—much as did Tom Rolt’s account of going down a coalmine. Rather unusually this entertaining autobiography is in a large format, but this enables a good many illustrations to be used on its art pages. If, as almost everyone does, you read the picture-captions first, these lead you to the irresistible text, appetite whetted. If, perforce, you want to escape for a while from cars, while not escaping entirely, buy “My Life and Soft Times” and enjoy it on Christmas afternoon. It is expensive, but it will occupy a lot of reading time. I recommend it—highly.—W. B.