Cars in Books, July 1984

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Perhaps one should not have expected to find much for this feature in the much-read, controversial “Peter Hall’s Diaries — The Story of a Dramatic Battle” (Hamish Hamilton, 1983, edited by John Goodwin), which is a rather sad book of modern strife and strikes in the world of the theatre, where fun and happiness used to prevail. But these revelations of Sir Peter Hall’s must be as enthralling to those interested in show business as books like W. O. Bentley’s autobiography and René Dreyfus’s “My Two Lives”, etc. are to motoring enthusiasts. It may even seem trite to look for references to cars in such books but that is my job, so what have we?

Well, first Sir Peter Hall remembers the large black Rolls-Royce, flying the Union Jack, which met him on the tarmac at Templehof in 1974, when he was going to Berlin to deliver the annual Queen’s Lecture. This one took him to the Ambassador’s residence. Another RollsRoyce then took Hall to dine with the Army, Sir Peter likens this to the end of the British Raj, with the Germans paying to keep the British Army in the past . . . The great actor Ralph Richardson was riding to the theatre on his motorcycle in 1974, wearing a large white crash helmet. Lord Cottesloe drove Hall back to the National Theatre, where Hall was Administrator, in his ancient Bentley in May 1976, at which time Hall drove the entire family to Cambridge in a Range-Rover, taking his son to his first term there and early in 1978 Hall tells of buying, on impulse, his first new car, a bright blue Ford Prefect. (Does he mean a Fiesta?) There is also a story of Harold and Antonia Fraser getting their old Mercedes bogged down in ditches twice while driving to Glyndebourne in 1978, and needing the help of tractor to get it out the first time, Hall saying he remembers this Mercedes nearly knocking down one of his gate-posts at Stratford around 1966 or 1968, so it was an old model, described by its owner as built like a tank . . . Hall mentions driving back from Scotland, 500 miles in 12 hours with big breaks for meals, in 1978, presumably in the Ford, which he found tiring. He saw the Spitfire film on TV, and the Schneider Trophy racing seaplanes, which he refers to as deep nostalgia, shades of his childhood, and the Dinky toys he treasured . . .

Austin 7 fans have a reader, Mr F. Solari of Stoke Poges, to thank for the following extract from “The Kangchujunga Adventure” by Frank Smythe (1930, about how the ubiquitous Seven aided tea-planters. The party had gathered at Darjeeling, and then:

“April 7 dawned mistily, but as the sun got up, the dense blanket of white, wet fog enwrapping Darjeeling quickly dissolved. Rifts were torn in the curtain disclosing Kangchenjunga, silvered, blue-shadowed, and remote. It was a morning full of calm promise.

“There were many friends and strangers to see us off, including an American lady who seemed particularly anxious for our welfare, and asked us whether we did not expect to find it `turrible slippery’ on Kangchenjunga.

“Four Austin Seven motor cars had been engaged for the first stage of our journey to Singla. There we were to be met by ponies and continue on them to Chakung. From Darjeeling to Singla a rough track descends tortuously 6,000 feet, in a distance as the crow flies of about five miles. Frequently the gradient is as much as 1:3 or 1:4, and hairpin bends are such as to necessitate reversing, with the wheels but a few inches from the edge of precipitous drops. “Baby cars have done much to improve the social amenities of the Darjeeling district. A few years ago the tea-planters, whose estates are scattered about the hillsides, were forced to use ponies or mules for transport. As a result, their existence was frequently a lonely one, for many of the plantations are twenty or thirty miles from Darjeeling. Recently, however, one of the planters bought a baby car as an experiment. He found to his surprise and delight that it was capable of negotiating the narrow zig-zagging tracks, and terrific hills of the district. Now practically every tea planter owns one, and the social life of the district has been vastly improved thereby.” — W.B.

From “Another World — 1887-1917” by Anthony Eden (the Earl of Avon, KG, PC, MC), published by Allen Lane in 1976, we learn that Anthony Eden’s father had two Benz, described as limousine in the country and a smaller one with brougham-type body in London, so that they were obviously not very early examples but the later, no doubt four-cylinder, Benz. These were supplemented by a Siddeley (perhaps a Siddeley-Deasy?) used at the family seat of Windlestone, in Durham. All had Hooper bodies and were in the care of Adolf, the Austrian chauffeur, who was interned when war broke out in 1914. Somewhere there was a fine open Napier, Eden as a small boy remembering being photographed with it, in company with his father, mother, a brother and a sister, in front of their London house of the time, in Grosvenor Crescent, after which they all got out, which the boy found very disappointing, as he had expected a thrilling ride — perhaps a publicity photograph for S. F. Edge, or Lord Montagu’s magazine? His father’s yellow Benz was used by young Anthony Eden for driving round recruiting the Durham Yeomanry in 1915, of which he was to command a platoon. He also recalls the summer of 1914, when, after the Eton and Harrow match that July he was lunched at the Cavalry Club by his elder brother Jack, before they left in the latter’s Austro-Daimler for Lord’s. The Napier, which looks like a circa-1905 car, chain-drive with open bodywork, perhaps the 40 hp four-cylinder model, is illustrated in the book, as are some other early cars at a bazaar in 1906 with Lady Eden, and Prince Francis of Tech, who was to become a member of the Brooklands ARC Committee, in attendance. — W.B.