Preserving the legend

The disclosure of initial plans to redevelop the Jim Clark Memorial Trophy Room met with a storm of protest, but what is the truth behind them?

Jim Clark stands out as one of the world’s greatest racing drivers. His record proves this beyond doubt. His tragic accident at Hockenheim on the 7th of April 1968 terminated a brilliant and ongoing career over more than a decade when his skill, style and natural ability were demonstrated worldwide. He was the finest driver of his time, and perhaps of all time, allied to which was his reputation as a gentleman, for he was a true credit to rnotorsport as readers will be well aware.

It must therefore seem incredible to motor racing enthusiasts and those who just knew him as a brilliant sportsman in his field, that a proposal was put forward earlier this year by the Berwickshire District Council’s Museums Department, as reported in the local press, to change the name of the Jim Clark Memorial Room, which was established in the first place as a permanent dedication to Jim and Jim alone, and establish a ‘Museum of Berwickshire Motorsport’ therein.

“The Jim Clark Memorial Room was never intended as a museum but as a unique and sole permanent tribute and anyway who, knowing anything of the life and times of Jim, would wish to associate him with the image of a museum?

“Much thought and attention went into the setting up of the memorial room in the first place and the form which it took and in which it remains to this day was with the approval of his late parents, which one may think would be the way Jim would have wanted it and which in itself is more than enough reason to leave it as it has always been.

“I would ask any reader who feels that Jim’s room should remain a tribute to him alone to write to the Berwickshire District Council requesting that the letter be put before the next meeting at which the matter is discussed and the objection to any changes in name or format noted.”

Thus wrote reader W. H. Stoves to our weekly sister Motoring News last year when the proposals to change Clark’s memorial were first mooted. Mr Stoves was certainly not alone, as our joint postbags testified.

According to popular rumour, this quiet, dignified room was to be transformed into an all-singing, all-dancing museum that incorporated other local celebrities as well as the man still thought by many motor racing cognoscenti to have been the greatest of them all.

But what was the real truth?

On a personal level, I have always enjoyed the Jim Clark Memorial Trophy Room, as it nestles quietly at 44 Newtown Street, Duns just north of the border. My wife and I went there on our honeymoon in 1979, and again early in 1990 when, indirectly, the visit inspired the book Racers Apart. Late last year, in company with Clark’s articulate biographer Graham Gauld, we went again to see what all the fuss was about.

Jeff Taylor is a quiet, bearded individual, responsible for the museums in the area to which he moved a couple of years ago. Far from having two heads and a penchant for eating children, he is an affable character aware that he is dealing with a subject that is surrounded by very strong emotion. “Really my job is to try and do something for this region,” he says as he explains the rationale behind the proposals. “We started off by having a meeting with the trustees to explain that we wanted to do something, and to ensure that they were quite happy with our ideas.

“We think we got our 200,000th visitor this year. Up to 1979 our first 10 years, we got our first 100,000, with around 30,000 in the first year. It’s gone downhill gradually since then, but we’ve managed to keep up the figures in the past couple of years with better marketing, stuff like that.”

Despite the attendance record, the Room has tended to be a well-kept secret, something with which Taylor agrees readily. “I think it has been, yes. I think before local reorganisation there was a lot of pride because it was the Duns Town Council. Since 1975 perhaps it hasn’t been quite the same.”

Nevertheless, many have been horrified at the thought that the essential character of the Room might – arbitrarily, it seemed – be changed. Where did such fears originate?

“When I first looked into it, I didn’t know very much about Jim Clark when I started in this job,” Taylor, who was not a racing fan, confesses openly. “It became obvious that it wasn’t just Jim Clark’s story, there was Charterhall and all that was going on there in the early ’50s, and also the link with what’s happened since Jim Clark died, with Louise Aitken-Walker and Andrew Cowan, people like that. It seemed to gel together as one story. A local dignitary suggested that we broaden the scope of the Room and call it something like the Berwickshire Motor Museum in order to incorporate those two sections. I think it was just the name that people latched on to. They didn’t know what we were intending to do, they just saw that the name might be changing. It has become obvious that that was a mistake on our part, but it actually got people talking.

“It was one sentence in a development plan, saying this is what we were suggesting, and it didn’t get very much reaction actually, for about three or four months. Then letters to the Berwickshire News got the thing going.

“It was difficult for me because the District Council hadn’t agreed anything, so I couldn’t write to somebody and say this is what we’re going to do. I wasn’t that upset actually, because we were getting some reasonable publicity out of it. And it has provoked discussion.

“Basically, I just want people to find out more about Jim Clark, what he was like, how he raced, where he was bred.

“It would have been nice to do a feasibility study on Duns having a heritage centre in a separate building, but that’s something long-term. What we want to do is to get something going which can be ready in time for the 25th anniversary of Clark’s death in 1993.”

Contrary to the original scare stories, the character of the Room will not be altered, although one major change will be the simple expedient of up opening the windows, which are currently blacked out and thus give it the feel and appearance of a shrine. Taylor is enthusiastic about the idea. “Yes, it feels so closed in the way it is!”

Gauld, such a close friend to Clark and the author of the definitive books on his life, holds strong views on the entire subject of the Scot, and any memorial to him. “You know, you can go to any museum and see racing cars. There is something personal to this, which is why you don’t want to destroy the feel. We are talking about nearly a quarter of a million people who have done a major geographic job in even finding Duns.” One of the nicest things about it is that you just find the town (well signposted off the A1 in either direction) and then anyone is happy to direct you to the Room. Everyone in the town seems to know it.

The ‘museum’ threat has receded, and the plan now is simply to re-present the Room. The design study states its objectives in straightforward manner. ‘To tell the Story of Jim Clark’s career by putting the trophy collection into context and by using photographs, audio-visual aids and other memorabilia for interpretative purposes. To significantly increase the number of visitors to the room and in particular attract those potential visitors who know little or nothing of the Jim Clark legend. To put his career into a local context. To make a visit to the room a more pleasant and more comfortable experience. To produce a fascinating memorial to Jim Clark while still retaining the original feel of the trophy collection.’

“Opening up the window will make it all much lighter, and getting rid of this” Taylor gestures to the photograph board directly to a visitor’s right as he or she enters, and which blocks the view of the rest of the room and thus makes it appear even smaller “will improve things. This was put up some years ago, and the plan now is to incorporate pictures into neatly arranged graphic panels and the trophies into annotated cabinets.”

“There are a lot of pictures, behind which there are stories,” says Gauld, “and at present there are no stories there.”

The worries that the whole thing will be commercialised for the ’90s appear to be unfounded. Happily, there is no scare story to reveal. If the Jim Clark Memorial Trophy Room tells more of the story of the Scot, then so much the better. Personally, I like its feel, its atmosphere and its quaint manner, but there is great scope and need for the story to be presented in much greater, much more emotional detail. “One thing I feel.” says Taylor, “is that when I first came to Duns and visited the Room, I didn’t know much about Jim Clark. l went away feeling if anything that I knew less about him. The trophies are not in any order, and there is very little interpretation to them.”

Gauld: “In terms of general interest, some areas are almost wasted because these are relatively insignificant things. They could be closed up a lot more, whereas other things need to be expanded.”

Taylor: “We are looking for more photographs, obviously, we can’t just re-use all of those that we have. We’ll be trying to select those that tell much more about Clark.” Many of those currently on display are Gauld’s own. “I did many of them for another exhibition and just handed them on,” he says as he points to one in particular. “You see, that picture there, to me, tells me one hell of a lot about Jim Clark because it shows the state of his fingernails. And that’s why it was taken. There are others, such as the Lister or the DKVV, which also tell stories.”

“Of course, this is all just something that’s evolved through the years,” admits Taylor of the board. “The funny thing is that this is where most people go when they come in. They just whip round the trophies, and end up at the photos.” A trophy is a trophy, and while many of Clark’s have fascinating stories behind them, it is the photos that draw people. Taylor recalls when Ayrton Senna visited the Room last year. “When he came up I thought he would look at the trophies in great detail, but he just looked round very quickly, had a look at the photos, and was obviously bored by it all. He didn’t know much about Clark, from what he said, because he was asking a lot about him.

“You find that you have to explain things to people, all of the time. That’s okay, of course, but it would be nice if people could come round on their own and get something out of it.”

The next problem is whether to charge an entry fee, given that the District Council’s desire is to increase the number of visitors and to use the Room as a tourism attraction. Gauld again has strong views. “Clearly, if you want to do that you must charge people. It’s daft not to.” Taylor is ambivalent. “The District doesn’t have a policy on charging. It charges but it has never really thought it out. Once the renovation work has been carried out I will give the Council the option to up the charges or to get rid of them altogether.

“I don’t think that we’re looking to make money out of it. We’re looking to get people to visit. Some museums charge and the attendance goes down because they overcharge and they end up still only getting 5,000 people through the doors.”

Currently it costs only 50p to go into the Room and as Gauld says, “that’s one and a half copies of The Scotsman. Personally, to me 50p is an insult. don’t think people who know of Jim Clark would mind paying more; and I would have said of the 200,000, certainly 150,000 would have known of him.” Certainly, for many who have visited the trip has been a pilgrimage.

Taylor raises a counter point. “If I go somewhere with my family, and see that it’s going cost a couple of quid each to get in and then another 50p for the kids, then maybe I’ll think twice about it and go somewhere else.”

To me, the low price of entry is all part of the undying charm of the Room, along with the unfailing politeness of those who work around it. That matter of charges remains under discussion.

If all goes to plan, work will start on revamping the Room next October once it has closed for the winter period, in readiness to reopen on April 7 1993.

The one real area of controversy in the revised plan is the format of the graphic boards, as Taylor begins to talk of starting with Charterhall to set the scene into which Clark came when he started racing. “We intend to do things in chronological order, with a little bit of pre-Clark and then have the ’50s and then obviously the big things such ’63 and ’65, and Hockenheim. Then we’ll have a little bit on the legacy of Clark, Louise Aitken Walker and Andrew Cowan.”

A great deal depends on how tastefully a tactfully this is done. Louise and Andrew are gentle characters, neither of whom would wish to drawn into any sort of debate on the matter, and neither of whom is keen to see themselves portrayed as a significant figure in what many believe should remain a display devoted entirely to Jim Clark. Taylor, it is fair to say, is a man coming to appreciate the Scot’s full impact worldwide, and his true status. He gives every sign of awareness of the need to tread warily here.

“I’d like to put something about them in here, maybe a photograph or something. There is absolutely no way in which we are trying to compare them with Jim Clark, you can’t do that. We are trying to say that Jim Clark is dead, but there are still other people in the area who have the same enthusiasm for motorsport.”

That, I feel, could be a mistake if handled wrongly. Gauld is more trenchant still. Taylor believes that, if one is trying to tell a story, such people should not be left out. Yet this is a story of such magnitude that it does not need any selfserving embroidery. “It will only be a small section, point one percent of the display.” Taylor speaks of starting with a piece on Stirling Moss at Charterhall as the starting point.

Gauld bridles instantly. “Jimmy’s standing was, in many respects, probably better known than Stirling Moss’s. I appreciate that you are trying to tell a story, but Jimmy is the story.

‘I’m afraid a lot of people round here don’t realise that they’ve got a folk hero on their hands,” he contends. “They don’t realise that. I’m sorry, but they don’t understand the view of that man by people away from this country. They don’t want anyone else sitting at the feet of their hero.

“Two years ago I entertained the Australian Jaguar Club on its world tour, and this is one of the places they really wanted to visit. They came up by coach here and I stood in that corner explaining the significance of this and of that. That’s the effect Jim Clark still has.” Taylor has approached Gauld to act as consultant to the project so this discussion will doubtless continue.

It is also important that the Room offers for sale some things that visitors can take away with them. Not cheap souvenirs, but important, non-trivial mementos. Taylor has had pens and pencils produced, the sort of things that children like, and also a range of nice postcards depicting Clark at Indianapolis in 1967, for grown-up children. “I’m quite happy to do anything like that, within limits, but I got a lot of hassle over those cards,” he admits, rather surprisingly. “People told me no-one would buy them, they were too detailed.” They were wrong. Clark aficionados have long been starved of some really poignant or dramatic photographs. and there could be no better site for sale than the Room. Both old and new generations of fans could thus be served well.

He and Gauld are also discussing high-quality posters and some sort of information booklet – not expensive, fullblown books – but something that visitors can then read at their leisure to enhance their trip. If the exhibition is good enough, people will almost be inspired to buy associated products.

Taylor also plans to publicise the Room more through more aggressive advertising and marketing, “although it’s difficult at present to say just how because I don’t know what my budget is going to be next year but obviously there’s advertising locally, and using the local tourism press, that kind of thing. We’re thinking of doing a colour poster, leaflets, that sort of thing. We haven’t really thought until we get a Working Group together to propose just how we do all this, but on the 25th anniversary there should be an ideal opportunity for national and local television and press coverage.”

How far advanced are the plans and how firm is the budget? “The District Council has said it will put £20,000 in next year, and other sources have offered sums too.” It is intended that the project will seek grant-aid from the Scottish Tourist Board and the Scottish Museums Council, too. “Our overall budget is £40,000, which we believe will enable us to do a proper job. Some people think we may not increase the number of visitors and that it’s a lot of money, but I think we will if we do a good enough job. I think we could get two or three times the number we get at the moment.”

The Jim Clark Memorial Trophy Room needs to be more informative, but changes must be done with discretion. The latter point is what has most worried so many readers. Having spoken to Jeff Taylor, and knowing that Gauld will be involved, I have few doubts that the remodelling will be done in the sort of manner of which Jim Clark, a man to whom accuracy of the printed word and excellence of motorsport photographs were paramount, would have approved.

“To people, even today, Jim Clark represented values that they would like to apply to their children,” says Gauld. “Jimmy represented all the values that people seemed to think had gone in life.” And also that have gone from motor racing’s upper echelons. He was a giant. and remains that to an awful lot of fans. His Memorial Trophy Room should always reflect that quiet style and dignity that made him unique. DJT