Cars in Books, July 1996

I was pleased to find that in A A Milne — His Life, by Ann Thwaite (Faber & Faber, 1990), cars are listed in the index. The first such reference is to the famous teddy-bear “Winnie-the-Pooh” travelling between Mallard Street and Cotchford, a 1 1/4-hour journey each way, in the new car, a Sunbeam driven by Burnside, the chauffeur, around 1925. A A Milne would drive but preferred to be driven, the book tells us; a niece thought he drove terribly slowly and terribly badly. Milne later claimed to be the only man in Sussex for whom cars did not start — he had in mind a 1935 Fiat, I believe.

Milne’s son listed car journeys as one of the things he enjoyed in his father’s company. Father and son learned morse, so were able to converse while the chauffeur was driving them to Cotchford, their country place, although whether so that Burnside could not eavesdrop or because the car was unduly noisy isn’t explained. Later a blue Vauxhall had joined the Sunbeam. The only car picture is of P G Wodehouse at the wheel of Ian Hay’s aluminium-bodied 1928 AC two-seater. Similarly, there is but one picture of a car in Oscar From Africa (The Radcliffe Press, 1995) by Elizabeth Watkins, the biography of her father O F Watkins, DSO, OBE, that prominent Colonial character. It is what I am sure is an Overland Whippet tourer, the radiator of which Lt-Col Watkins is topping up, before his wife Olga sees him leave for his office in the late 1920s. Later in the book there is a reference to Watkins’s wife spending the money she earned from writing, mainly for Blackwood’s Magazine, on a £100 car, the smallest Ford on the market, presumably a Y-type saloon, as this was in England in the 1930s, although surely not actually a “£100” Ford? W B