Cars in books, July 1980

A few items of motoring interest occur in “Terence Rattigan — The Man and His Work” by Michael Darlow and Gillian Hodson (Quartet Books, 1979). The great playwright’s grandfather, Sir William Rattigan, was killed, we are told, in a motor accident in 1904. The motor-car was then scarcely established, so this must have aroused considerable comment at the time. In view of the recent Amy Johnson Anniversary happenings at the now-defunct Croydon Airport, it is interesting that when he flew to Germany from Croydon in 1933 Rattigan described the excitement of the flight, with its free champagne, etc, as very different from flying from Heathrow in 1975 and wanted back-ground sounds of the Croydon area to be introduced into his radio play “Cause Calibre”.

Around 1936 Rattigan bought his first Rolls-Royce, against his accountant’s wishes; I think there is also a motor racing link with Rattigan’s theatrical agents, HM Tennent and Linnit and Desire. By 1945 the playwright enjoyed being seen in the most-expensive restaurants, living in chambers at one of London’s exclusive addresses, and he was also driving “the newest Rolls-Royce”. His play about the war-time RAF, “Flare Path”, opened at the Apollo in 1942. I amused myself by turning up what I wrote about this in Motor Sport; I see that I was very favourably impressed. In the summer of 1949 Rattigan drove to Copenhagen with his chauffeur and secretary in his new Rolls-Royce and although he was well received in Denmark he felt that people in war-torn Germany were hostile because they recognised from his car that he was an Englishman.

“Flare Path” wasn’t Rattigan’s only play about aviation; “The Sound Barrier”, written at the time when Geoffrey de Havilland being killed flying a supersonic DH aeroplane during the Farnborough Air Display became the turning point of the script, Rattigan had envisaged after seeing what he thought was a Canberra land at Farnborough. By 1952 he had been earning some £30,000 a-year or more for a decade, and spent lavishly on Rolls-Royces . . . When driving Noel Coward down to Brighton Rattigan pointed out that his Rolls-Royce was more expensive than the one Coward owned! By 1957 he was in the £100,000-a-year bracket and he had been working in Hollywood, where he recalled how Rex Harrison had hired a temporary cook there, only to have the lady tell him she had just bought a Cadillac and would he send a chauffeur to drive it up the steep hill to his house; Harrison did not have a chauffeur so went down and drove the car up himself. The girl left the next day . . Rattigan would be driven in his Rolls-Royce to the Ascot races and we are informed that the idea for his film-script, “The Yellow Rolls-Royce”, came to him while he was sitting in his own Rolls-Royce in a London traffic jam, speculating on “the looks of hatred compounded of envy” he was receiving from occupants of other cars. He is also said to have remembered “the old Rolls-Royce found by Puffin Asquith and Anatole de Grunwald while looking for locations in Iraq for the abortive Lawrence film — a car said to have been used by General Allenby when he commanded his Armies in the Middle East during the First World War. What became of that one?— WB