Foreword by Sir Stirling Moss
Motor Sport is an institution. Now it’s celebrating its 1000th issue, and I reckon I must have read at least 750 of them. When I started racing more than 60 years ago, I made sure I got it every month. You always did, first of all to see if you’d got a mention!
Whatever Motor Sport said really mattered, because it was always authoritative. Bill Boddy, the editor, spoke as he found, whether he was road-testing a car or taking a Transport Minister to task. And of course Denis Jenkinson never pulled any punches. Jenks understood motor racing better than any of the other reporters, because he was always there on the spot – poking into everything in the paddock, watching at all the difficult corners, seeing who was doing what – and because he’d been a racer himself. His reports were extraordinarily outspoken for those gentlemanly times, and they went into great detail. If they didn’t fit into the allotted pages they were never cut: they just ran on in smaller and smaller type, squeezed in. But every word was always worth reading.
Actually I first met Jenks in the late 1940s, even before he did the Motor Sport Grand Prix reports. I was competing at a Continental meeting that had races for bikes as well as cars, and he was still a bike racer back then. By the time I was in Formula 1 he was a fixture as the magazine’s Continental Correspondent, one of the boys that you saw at every event, and he became a respected friend – even though I didn’t always agree with everything he wrote. Of course he came with me on the Mille Miglia, in 1955 when we won, and the two years after that when things didn’t turn out so well. Doing our recce – we did several complete laps of the course beforehand – we got to know each other pretty well. In the race he was my eyes and ears with his famous roll of paper. He was absolutely fearless, and what he did allowed me to concentrate on the driving. And then he wrote a pretty good report about it afterwards!
The photographs were always good in Motor Sport, too. They used to have four or eight pages on shiny paper in the middle of the magazine to show off the best shots, when most other magazines at the time seemed to be printed on bog paper.
Today Motor Sport is just as essential for me as it always was. It’s still outspoken about the racing world. It also manages to come up with fresh insights into the past, going back to my days and beyond. And it still seems to use the best writers.
I know most of them pretty well, and they remain true to the precepts of Jenks and The Bod. So what Motor Sport has to say still matters. The photographs are very fine, too. The magazine looks a lot better now than it did, and you don’t need a magnifying glass any more to get to the end of the longer articles…
I won’t be around to read the 2000th issue, which should be along in 2091. But I have an idea that, if motor sport is still going, Motor Sport will be too.
How we got here
How and why a magazine called the Brooklands Gazette made it to the bookstalls in 1924 is lost in the shadows, but it’s certain that its next decade was a rocky time. Renaming itself Motor Sport in 1925 was a sensible move, but under a dozen different owner-editors it stumbled on, making no money. Yet the enthusiastically random mixture of contents gave it a life of its own, veering from Grands Prix to club trials, testing cars, boats and even aircraft, interviewing the famous, the forgotten and the frankly anonymous. Some issues failed to appear and in 1929 it briefly ceased altogether. When in 1936 the last of these private helmsmen had had enough and could not pay the print bill, he gave the title to the printers, whose MD passed it to his son to run. The son was Wesley J Tee, who was to turn the title round.
A regular contributor to the magazine was freelance motoring writer Bill Boddy, whose first story in Motor Sport had been on the history of Brooklands – written in 1930. WJT sacked the ineffectual editor and asked WB to run it, beginning a partnership which saw the magazine rise to a position of immense influence by the 1960s. WB’s only precept was that he would include anything which interested him, so as well as racing and road tests, Motor Sport talked about model cars, speed limits and ancient motoring history, while the burgeoning classifieds became the only place to sell a sporting car. Boddy’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the arcane byways of his subject made the mag a vital historical archive; indeed, without WB’s passion many of the vintage cars that race today would never have been rescued. Why just the initials? Because WJT, fearful other titles might poach his staff, forbade names in the magazine, a tradition which lasted until the 1990s.
When war came Mr Tee planned to shut the mag, but WB persuaded him to keep it going, running it by ’phone and filling it with history and motoring memories. He even managed a road test while a dog-fight raged overhead. Paper was rationed, but Mr Tee printed ration books… While working at the Royal Aircraft Establishment WB met Denis Jenkinson, and, impressed by his knowledge and no-nonsense attitude, asked him to write for MS. It proved a memorable partnership. Jenks became our Continental Correspondent, roaming Europe all summer, visiting race teams in between GPs and sending back lively, incisive reports which became the definitive analysis of the sport.
In London WB combined detailed automotive history with road tests of everything new, from Maserati to Citroën 2CV, championing small car economy long before today’s crises. At a time when the motoring press was innately deferential, Motor Sport’s criticism, whether of cars, teams or drivers, was utterly fearless, resulting in test car bans and court cases, in which Mr Tee always backed WB and DSJ completely even if it meant losing advertising. Meanwhile WB created the 750MC, helped inspire the ground-breaking 500cc movement, and founded the Brooklands Society, fostering an interest which would save the world’s first race track. Despite moving to Wales WB continued to be the magazine’s figurehead, only giving up the title of Editor in 1991, to become Founder Editor – not accurate, but appropriate for one who formed the title’s character.
When WJT died in 1996, aged 90, Teesdale was bought by Haymarket and became a purely historic title, but in 2006 it again went private, returned to London, resumed the green cover and began a new era of fearless commentary on Grand Prix racing. And remarkably, Bill Boddy still writes every month – at 95, continuing the world’s longest journalistic career. GC