Media myth-perpetuation

It was interesting to discover in the Daily Mail’s TV supplement that a motor racing item was involved, previewing the BBC2 programme History Detectives. A lady had found a photograph (below) of her grandfather, Jim Broadbent, which was said to show him as riding mechanic to the great Louis Coatalen on a Hillman-Coatalen in the 1907 Isle of Man TT.

However, I have good reason to believe that this was in the 1908 race. Coatalen, who was designing cars for the Hillman Company in Coventry before his historic move to Sunbeam’s in Wolverhampton, finished ninth, last but one in that TT.

Broadbent began as a bicycle mechanic before he went to Hillman’s, and was later described as a racing driver. He certainly deputised at Brooklands in 1914 when the usual driver of the pink works 1.3-litre Hillman was not available, with a win and a second and a third place, his best lap at 73.56mph.

Surprisingly for a paper of high standing, the Daily Mail then says that riding mechanics sometimes had to climb on to the bonnet at high speed to fix the engine, and quoted a motoring writer saying that if a car in front was in the way they would throw ball bearings at that car’s mechanic. What absolute rubbish; I have heard the ball bearing story before.

Another photograph appears to indicate that the one-time bike repairer had by 1920 become a senior executive of the Sunbeam Motor company, which was news to me.