A book about an air race

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“The Great Atlantic Air Race”, by Peter Rostock. 224 pp. 81 in. x 5 1/2 in. (J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd., Aldine House, Bedford Street, London, Wc2. 30s.)
The Daily Mail Tower-to-Tower Trans-Atlantic Air Race of 1969 aroused widespread interest, Press coverage of 130,000 column inches and TV and radio comments worth £3-million. But competitor; totalling 345 actual attempts in eight days, left from Britain and America with such frequency and in so many permutations of ground and air transport that those on the outside, looking on with admiration and astonishment, maybe tinged with a trace of envy, scarcely knew what was going on.

This has now been rectified, in this book by Peter Rostock who as Air Correspondent of the Daily Sketch was responsible for the day-to-day running of the race and who is now Public Relations Officer of the Daily Mail. He tells in this detailed account, competently indexed, all about this unique race, which one assumes may never be repeated. The way in which the idea germinated and was accepted by the Daily Mail (did MOTOR SPORT do its share of prompting? We are quoted above one chapter heading, so Rostock obviously reads us the stupendous task of getting it off the ground after a very disappointing and worrying dearth of entries changed to a positive flood on both sides of “the pond”, as the final day for filing them approached, and the various plans of would-be competitors, some wild, others very serious, but not all reaching fruition, form the early chapters. Rostock writes with only the slightest flavour of journalese in spite of his close connections with Fleet Street, and gives a good picture of the aeroplanes which were about at the time when the Great Race was mooted.

Moreover, he writes fearlessly, so that the apathy of the ‘air lines shows up clearly, as does the disinterest, amounting to obstruction, of some of our Government departments. But this did not prevent the race from becoming the most exciting and interesting event of the year, the prize money, as the author reminds us, outstripping that for the Daily Express London-Sydney Marathon. The pictures are good, there are appendices of the results, with times, and the various vehicles used and the times they achieved effectively lace the story together—those for the journey from the Post Office Tower to Heathrow, etc., by cars and racing motorcycle are fearlessly described, including that of the E-type Jaguar which outstripped the Police on the M4, covering the 15 miles in 16 minutes. But there were no serious accidents. It is interesting that the Daily Mail was anxious that the race should be regarded as a serious contest, so that comic entries, of which there were many, and the acceptance of Tina, the Brooke Bond’s Tea-drinking chimpanzee, by both the organisers and the P.O., whose Tower she had to enter, were a cause of initial concern apart from which, I do not approve of this dressing up of animals for human advantage.

That the race was a serious contest is clear when one reads of the careful Royal Navy preparations to win it, involving triple refuelling their Rolls-Royce Phantoms in the air, and of how the RAF eventually overcame bureaucratic obstacles and flew their Hawker Siddeley Harrier out of a London coal yard—as MOTOR SPORT wrote at the time, those citizens who complained couldn’t sec the prestige for the coal dust. (As the book makes clear, there would have been no need for this smutty landing and take-off had the Ministry of Works and Public Buildings sanctioned a pad in Regent’s Park, but the MWP/3 seemed not interested in selling British jet aircraft for export.) The Navy won, if you remember, in 5 hr. 11 min. 22.98 sec., New York-London.

These are the sort of refreshing adventures this book is all about. It makes a story which I think many of our readers will find as enthralling as I did. Many of the vintage and modern cars used by competitors are named by make, although only an illustration tells us that the “open-top vintage car” of Mrs. Cohen was a fine boat bodied Delage. Bostock’s industry in recalling the sequence of events leading up to the race is most commendable if, perhaps, a rather tedious part of the book.

The adventures of those crossing in light aeroplanes, like Slovak’s VW-powered glider, “a poor man’s tribute to Alcock and Brown”, are enthralling in this taken-for-granted age. Altogether, this is splendid reading, at a fair published price. I hope the author will one day find himself writing about a similar Daily Mail achievement and since BP scooped the London-Sydney Air Race for the smaller aeroplanes and the Daily Mirror the forthcoming London-Mexico World Cup car rally, perhaps it will be a 1974 Daily Mail repeat of the Lympne Light Aeroplane trials or a 1984 replica of the LondonMelbourne Air Race for all types of aircraft.

The things they say

“Racing drivers accept the challenge of speed. And from their experience the family motorist benefits. Motor racing, alas, does claim lives. But it helps to save many more.”—from an Editorial in the Daily Express last December.