The Brooklands Society controversy
Readers' reactions to last months editorial and correspondence
It is a pity that The Brooklands Society's very long reply to my letter, which you were kind enough to publish in your January issue, does little to assuage the misgivings of many Members. Indeed, it leaves most of my queries unanswered.
I asked why Members had been told last March that Brooklands Track Ltd. had been formed when in fact it had not. It was not formed until November 22nd after another Member had asked a similar question and requested a copy of the Articles of Association and Memorandum of a limited company which had supposedly been registered eight months before. And is the Membership quite happy about £2,000 of their money being used to form this company? It usually costs less than £100. The method of buying a "paper" company and then changing the name, re-registering it, and changing all the Articles of Association, is quite the most expensive way of doing things. A prudent Committee might well ask why a "firm of City Solicitors" is being employed when a first-class solicitor has been a member of that Committee for a great number of years?
With regard to the denial that "The Steering Wheel Club" is, in fact, 47 Curzon Street, Mayfair, one can only leave it to the great majority of sporting motorists to know that the two are synonymous. And whether the two nominations were received 8 days, 8 hours or 8 minutes before closing time is quite irrelevant, It merely confirms the inefficiency of using this accommodation address,
There could be no other answer to my question as to whether there had ever been any offer of the "40 Acres". The Hon. Secretary's letter just confirms that there has not!
If one can rely on the figures quoted for Membership, then some 1,550 Members rely on the Gazette for information as to what takes place at an AGM and they are entitled to a full report, especially when there are controversial items being discussed. E.g., Members should know how many Committee Meetings various Members have attended (or missed)! No answer was forthcoming when this question was asked at the AGM. It should have been easily verified by reference to the Minutes.
The extremely lengthy, even if unsatisfactory, reply to my letter confirms if confirmation is necessary) the defensive attitude taken by certain officers of the Society and the number of red-herrings liberally sprinkled throughout this reply are only likely to satisfy the most gullible.
With regard to the penultimate paragraph of the Hon. Secretary's letter, he says that the "initial directors know what Brooklands is all about." As far as Mr. Roy Nockolds is concerned, I wholeheartedly agree. But the rest? Do Tell!
Finally, why are Members of the Society, which has a £2,000 stake in Brooklands Track Ltd., being refused Articles of Association of that company?
Beckenham R. O. WILSON-KITCHEN
I find myself in the unusual, if not unique, situation of writing a reply to a letter in Motor Sport in advance of its publication. I refer to the correspondence in the January 1978 edition which voiced concern over recent Brooklands Society matters. To clarify matters to readers of Motor Sport who are not members of the Society, the explanation of my first sentence lies in the fact that the President felt moved to send all members copies of the correspondence in advance of its being published thereby underlining one of the points in Mr. Wilson-Kitchen's letter, that the Committee adopt a very heavy-handed approach to all formsof criticism or enquiry front members which borders almost upon the sinister when viewed in the context of a Society such as ours.
I have written a couple of letters to the Gazette over matters which have concerned me and to their credit (but with much reluctance behind the scenes I gather) they have published them. But a letter to the Secretary asking him for a copy of the Articles of Association of the newly formed Brooklands Track Ltd. resulted in a cold refusal to let me have them. (This being November 11th 1977 - the membership having been told of the existence of the Company in the Spring edition of the Gazette). A check made at Companies House on November 18th 1977 showed that no such company had been registered. I was also advised of a number of possible leg-al infringements and of their possible consequences though I was more concerned with the series of misleading statements which have been made to members. Why? To let them feel more was being achieved than was the case? Whose purpose was this serving?
Because I was unhappy with the refusal to let me have a copy of the Articles of Association and by the very tone of the refusal, Committee Member Peter Harris brought the matter up on my behalf at the next Committee Meeting. He, and I on subsequent hearing, were annoyed when, seemingly anxious to find an excuse to whitewash the affair and to link me with Mr. Wilson-Kitchen, thereby in effect reducing the number of people critical of their dealings, Mr Peter Roddis, the Society's Public Relations Officer, declared that he had "carried out an investigation into correspondence to the Society by Mr. Wilson-Kitchen and Mr. Palmer and had discovered through expert opinion that it had all been produced on the same typewriter". This can easily be disproved by a real expert, and I am sure that readers will find it all laughable and pitiful at the same time. I would have done, too,but for the implication that I require someone else todo my thinking for me, or that it is inconceivable for there to be more than one critic of the Committee at any given moment. I wrote on November 20th 1977 to the Chairman demanding an immediate apology and retraction of Mr. Roddis' statement and have not received a reply of today's date January 1st 1978. My letter also raised the matters both legal and moral regarding the (at the time) non-existent Brooklands Track Ltd. It also asked why the Society had told its members in the Spring Gazette that the 40 Acres it wished to buy had "now been formally offered to us by the British Aircraft Corporation", when they knew perfectly well that no such offer had been made. (Mr. Child, Hon. Sec., now admits in his answer last month that no offer in writing has yet been made by the owners a written offer is the only formal one acceptable in the world of big business). To all these important points raised in my letter (copy enclosed for the Editor's information) I have received no reply. I am apparently not the only one to be treated in this high-handed manner. I have tried to give the Society the benefit of the doubt, and have waited over long for a reply, so perhaps Mr. Wilson-Kitchen's letter will do some good by bringing things out into the fresh air of Motor Sports pages. In the first part of the Society's reply when talking about Brooklands Track Ltd., and its aims, the publication "Brooklands The Future" should not be dragged in, as we know that this was all about developing the whole of Brooklands as a unique National Transport Museum and these aims have now been abandoned by the present ruling body of the Committee. Indeed I have in my possession a copy of a letter from a Society Official to BAC agreeing to suspend all interest in developing the western side of the track. The proud mention of the Open Door Television programme (a pitiful shambles in my opinion) omits the fact that the script was vetted by the owners off the Byfleet side who would not allow the Society to state that its aims were for the whole of the circuit, and threatened to withdraw permission for the 1977 Re-union to take place. What hope is there for a Society which is frightened to say what its aims are, whether they are achievable or not?
On point two, to say that 47 Curzon Street is not the same as the Steering Wheel Club, is like saying that 10 Downing Street is not also the official London Residence of the British Prime Minister. I must agree that this accommodation address is inefficient even if it only causes unnecessary delay. And it is not true to say that every edition of the Gazette contains the Hon. Sec.'s address as this appeared for the first time in the Autumn edition coincidentally(?) with a letter of mine criticising this very subject. That two AGM nominations were lost, shows the system to be a bad one, despite the excuses. To then print the Hon. Sec.'s. address and state that all Society correspondence should go to Curzon Street is to my mind compounding confusion on top of inefficiency!
In item 5 we are told that we do not have a defensive committee and that we may raise matters through members servingon that committee. Peter Harris was shouted down when he raised the matter of the letter I had received from the Secretary. They did not appear to care that they had a legal duty to supply me with a copy of the Articles upon request and they were indifferent to the tone of the letter to me. Furthermore when minutes of that meeting were circulated no mention was made of the entire incident. Peter Harris has pressed for proper minuting of the affair.
There seems to be a serious situation developing when one learns of improper minuting, committee members not being kept up to date with affairs, AGM's not being held correctly (no votes taken), companies being proclaimed before being formed in defiance with the Companies Act (and then being formed hastily and expensively), money being spent without members having any say in the matter. Articles of Association being illegally withheld from members (I still have not been sent a copy), but most of all members being deceived by their committee.
I hope others who have been heard to criticise the present regime will have the courage to put pen to paper now that the ice has been broken. I feel that those of us who hope to see this unique site preserved with its own museum proclaiming Brooklands' importance in the history of aviation and the motor car have been misled by the Society. There may be precious little time left to do something about it.
London, SW 7 B. J. PALMER
Considering all the so-called facts, surely the future of this or any enterprise now confronting the Society should be put to an extraordinary General Meeting, at which time all officers of the club should resign and present themselves for possible re-election.
It is a sad commentary on the Society's affairs that it should have become necessary for members to first learn of plans and schemes which concern them from television and publications rather than the Society itself.
Radlett BRIAN R. HARVEY
Whilst I am no great believer in washing one's dirty linen in public, the publication of these letters does mean that Members can now raise various points that may have been worrying them without the feeling that they will be accused of rocking the boat. I feel that the committee have brought the house down round their own shoulders through a complete failure to communicate with the ordinary Member of the Society. The tremendous job they have undertaken is appreciated; the Society has become involved in a job which is quite outside the scope of its original inception, and for which its basic organisation is unsuitable, but this does not necessarily excuse the almost complete lack of effort to keep the ordinary Member informed of what is happening, or - worse - the publication of incomplete or misleading information. It should always be in the minds of Committee Members that more than 90 percent of the Members of' the Society do not have any direct contact with the Society's activities, and can only read the Gazette four times per year to keep in touch with the situation.
Perhaps we could take the various headings in the Society's letter.
1. Brooklands Track Ltd. It was obvious for a long time, that such an organisation would be needed to handle the complex financial and other matters arising out of the proposed acquisition of part or whole of the Brooklands track, but the first that most Members knew of this was the article in the Spring Gazette. This information subsequently proved to be incorrect, in that the new Company had not been registered. I had previously been assured by a Committee member that the formalities of registering the Company were complete. This situation appears to have been rectified, but again the information given is rather misleading. It is stated "On the advice of the Company's firm of City Solicitors, a paper Company was acquired and converted - a normal City practice". Well, I have been concerned with the formation of, and am a Director of, a number of Companies, one of which has a turnover of more than £1,000,000 per annum. I have queried this statement as to this method of forming a Company being normal practice, and I am assured that the only reason for adopting such a method is when time is of the essence, i.e. expediency or panic? It costs at least £50 to change the name of an already registered ltd. Company, and since it is unlikely that any already registered Company would have Articles of Association that would be the slightest use to B.T. Ltd., these will also have to be re-written at further expense. So it would appear to be a time-saving operation, thereby raising the question "Why was this method adopted" especially after references in para. 1 to the"careful consideration" of the Articles of Association of B.T. Ltd., and there being "no immediate urgency" to form the Company.
The Society's letter goes on to say that £20,000 of the authorised capital of B.T. Ltd. "is being raised", How? and from whom? To the best of my knowledge no Member of the Society has been offered an opportunity to acquire any of these shares. I am aware of the legal complications of offering shares, but are we going to wake up one day and find that all the shares are in the hands of other people. Can Members of the Society, who are after all the owners of the £2,000 worth of shares in BT acquired by BS, have a sight of the Articles of Association of B.T. Ltd? Ordinary members are again being presented with a fait accompli no effort seems to have been made to find out if Members of the Society have any business or professional experience which would be of use to B.T. Ltd., or even what they think about the matter. If I may digress slightly, the same criticism can be levelled at the Society's production of the "Open Door" TV programme, which judged purely as a film production was a disaster. I know that it aroused a lot of interest and attracted new Members, but this was in spite of its shortcomings rather than because of its effectiveness. Until this programme appeared, ordinary Members knew nothing about it, yet I know personally of two Members who have spent a great part of their professional and working life making Industrial P.R. films, and I myself have a business contact with a man who until a few years ago was a well known producer/director of short films. He, and the two members, would gladly have given their services gratis and thereby ensured a professional touch to the film, thereby making the most of a first class P.R. opportunity.
2. The Curzon Street address. No very strong feelings on this one, although it is probably inefficient. The comment about nominations being received at Curzon St. 8 hours before nominations closed is surely irrelevant. It could have been 1 hour it is up to the Society, having named this as the address to which nominations should be sent, to make sure that all such nominations were either collected or forwarded in good time.
3. The Forty Acres offer. If British Aerospace are not going to make an offer for this until B.T. Ltd. has enough money to make the purchase I feel that we are going to wait a very long time. It is my experience that, in business, nothing "goes without saying".
4. The AGM Summary. True so far as it goes, but it does not go far enough. Most Members cannot get to the AGM and the report should therefore be verbatim, otherwise how do we know what people are saying and/or doing. Not that this is always the same thing.
5. A "Defensive" Committee. All Committees tend to be defensive, since power tends to corrupt (using the word in the nicest sense). Our committee have done a marvellous job in many aspects of the running of the Society. It is an onerous, thankless, unpaid task, and there must be times when they wish they had never got involved with it, and that anyone who disagrees with them would vanish never to be heard of again. But this does not make them omnipotent, and they have tended to regard any critics as trouble makers. Yet all the critics known to me have the best interests of the Society at heart. Can anyone who knows Mr. R. O. Wilson-Kitchen really believe that he is planning the downfall of the Society? The man loves Brooklands far too much for that, and since the object of the exercise is to pull together for the future of this historical place which we all love so much, is it not time that criticism was welcomed, even encouraged? More contact between the Committee and ordinary Members, instead of everything being concentrated in the hands of a few people simply because they happen to live within 50 miles of Brooklands. Find out what Members can do; we must have business men, engineers, architects etc. among 1,600 Members. Can their skills and knowledge be used for the benefit of the Society and Brooklands? It may be said "Why don't they offer their skills" well, some people are like that. I offered the facilities of my professional knowledge and business to build up the Society's archives (photographic aitchives, that is) but if I hadn't offered I doubt if anyone would have approached me.
6. Connection between BS and BT. All very true, and must be accepted, but it again tiesup with para. i and the question of shares in B.T. Ltd. And please no nonsense about shares being "only in blocks of 500" which I am given to understand has been mentioned. A lot of Brooklands enthusiasts could not possibly invest £500.
I hope that all these criticisms will be accepted in the spirit in which they are offered. I am neither "pro" or "anti" any individual or group of people, and I shall continue to serve the Society to the best of my ability for as long as is necessary. Brooklands matters, not any individual's hurt pride or inflated ego let us see that this is the top priority for the future.
Cheltenham GEORGE GILBERT, Member No, 77
Our attention has been drawn to your timely editorial and the two letters concerning the activities of the Brooklands Society, and we feel sufficiently concerned with a remark made by that Society's current Secretary to ask space to reply. In this long and very woolly letter reference is made to the necessity of using a prestige address in Curzon Street, which is known to all as the "Steering Wheel Club", in preference to a private address. The letter infers that there has in the past been a Cost to the Society through the non-use of printed stationery following change of Secretaries.
As my wife and I held the position of Secretary and Assistant-Secretary for upwards of five years and as we loaned to the Society, free and gratis, our home address as that of its registered office, it could be taken that when we ultimately resigned from the Society in disgust at the committee's vaporisings, there was caused a loss to the society through an excess of printed stationery bearing our home address. This in fact was not so: when we left there was very little, probably too sheets of headed notepaper, possibly twice as many evelopes and a fair number of large printed envelopes for the Society's Bulletin, The Society's committee ultimately changed the format of the Bulletin and so presumably these envelopes could be classed as wasted stationery. Over this matter we had no control.
In conclusion, may we comment on the two letters printed. We note that Mr. Wilson-Kitchen is wholeheartedly in favour of an identical procedure to that for which he so roundly denounced us some four years ago, which illustrates the vagaries of the human mind, and from the details published in Mr. Child's letter we understand that the Society Committee has made absolutely no progress during the past three years, seems to be in a far worse muddle than we ever knew it and is still living in a state of euphoria a its own making, which are precisely the reasons which caused us to resign.
Weybridge J. H. and B.L. DUNN
What an unhappy chapter of events is unveiled in this month's "Matters of Moment" and its accompanying correspondence and how disappointing to us who had hoped that something worthwhile would be done to preserve this famous Motor Course. I can't help feeling that the attitude of the Society's directorate is in sad need of overhaul. Years ago they were keen and enthusiastic and, we understood, were achieving great things towards the preservation of Brooklands. Yet I was personally informed by one of their number that there seemed to be an unnecessary veil of secrecy concerning their approach to this matter. One could never find out exactly what was happening concerning the preservation and purchase of part of the track, an attitude which strikes me as contrary to everything I understand regarding business dealings of this nature.
Members must have the confidence of their committee, and that this may be so, the committee in turn must be seen to be active and forthcoming, which it does not appear to be. The remedy, I feel, is in the replacement of some of these worthy but unworldly people who seem to live in a cloud cuckoo world of imagination based on an era of the twenties and thirties.
We are now in the late seventies regarding years of this century cannot the Society's leaders think and act in a similar fashion.
London W4 S. CLARKE
Your current editorial on the future of Brooklands and the accompanying letters have been read with interest. And a large magnifying glass.
However as Omar put it, I have left by the same door as in I went and would appreciate further and better particulars. Your Editorial defines the aim of the Brooklands Society as "to revive Brooklands in its entirety'. If my dictionary is correct this means "completely" i.e. exactly as it was.
Mr. Wilson-Kitchen refers to a publication wherein the Society has plans for the "preservation and use of Brooklands". However, he does not tell us the precise nature of the "use" to which the area might be put.
The Brooklands Track Ltd.'s letter informs us that the company was formed to handle the financial matters involved in the "purchase and restoration" of Brooklands. Later on the letter speaks of the "acquisition of the entire site" but again does not state what it intends to do with it. "Operating costs" are then mentioned. Of what? It then appreciates that no easy solution to the "Grand Scheme" was forthcoming. However, it puts off any decision on the problem by opting for the smaller "40 acre" scheme "to set op a working and profitable company". Doing what?
Then follows details of the formation of the company and its declared aim of raising a considerable sum of money to purchase the land and "get the project of the ground". Just exactly what is the "project"?
If your readers could be presented with a concrete (in both senses) proposal then they might give it their support. At the moment the idea appears to be little more than another case of Bet jamania.
Colchester B. H. CLINKARD Lt. Cdr.
As a lifelong reader of Motor Sport and an old Brooklands enthaiast of those happy days gone by, I read your leading article and the accompanying correspondence with no great surprise but considerable sorrow, for it could all have been so different.
Your idea, Sir, of starting this Society was excellent and we hoped for great things from its inception which regrettably do not appear to have been fulfilled. The idea of restoring Brooklands is truly excellent and some years ago in conjunction with many other people, I had hopes that this was to be so. Now, from the catalogue of woe I have read it appears that the Society is no further forward in this respect than it ever was.
Quite obviously as you suggest, something is wrong with the leadership of this organisation, which is very sad for they used to have a much brighter outlook. I remember that for some years a most charming and helpful couple looked after matters, organised the Reunions and arranged the Dinners and in fact did almost everything to build the Society up into something to be proud of. Then I was told that they had left the Society without, I understand, a word of thanks for all that they had achieved and from that day onwards things seem to have gone from bad to worse. Friends have applied to this new address for membership forms and received no reply, letters remain unanswered and now I read that the Society seems to be no nearer getting control of part of Brooklands than it was in the past and that some of our money is involved!
I for one sincerely hope that this unhappy state of affairs which Mr. R. O. Wilson-Kitchen condemns will be clarified as soon as possible. Perhaps a stronger leadership within the Society would assist matters and if the committee do not know what they are doing, as Mr. Child implies, I think it of little use him asking the advice of the average member after all, Sir, the committee is surely elected to run things on our behalf — may I suggest that they do so correctly.
Walton-on-Thames F. DOBBS
I've just read your editorial, and I'm not at all certain that it's a case of "no smoke without fire" - a "storm in a teacup" would be more like it.
From the facts and a little knowledge of the situation, it all seems quite clear. Mr, Wilson-Kitchen, for reasons best known to himself, resigned from the Brooklands Society Committee in a fit of pique, and when he decided that he wanted to return to it, the committee thought his absence better than his presence, hence his nomination got lost in the wash. Taking umbrage at this, he wrote the letter to you which you so thoughtfully published in this month's issue; the Society's Committee meanwhile continue to wander along in their rather inconsequential manner as before.
Those many people who know Mr. Wilson-Kitchen will, I think, agree with this explanation and continue to support their committee in whatever action it takes, although with a deal of forbearance, for its organisation is poor and its leadership worse. Since its inception, the only people who have made their mark with it have been the late Roland King-Farlow and the Dunns and I believe Mr. Wilson-Kitchen had a hand in forcing their resignation after they had really put the Society on the map.
I doubt whether you'll publish this but it's as near to the truth as you'll get and you would find sympathetic agreement from the greater majority of Society Members.
Hampstead, London. JOHN STEVENS