Michael Tee: Photographer, reporter and MD 1949-77
Although I was photographing all the grands prix, the ‘Bod’ called me the Production Manager because I also had to chase all the sections, and strip in all the classifieds as they came in. Dad [Mr Tee] let me go to overseas GPs because I did both words and pictures, so he only had one ticket to buy. Myself and Peter Gamier of The Autocar were almost the only British journalists at overseas GPs, and organisers bent over backwards for us. Once when I had to fly straight back with the report, they arranged a helicopter and had the airliner held for 30min, with a customs official waiting on the runway.
At Sebring, in 1959, Bill France flew us up to see his new Daytona Beach circuit. On the way we had to divert round Cape Canaveral, and he said, “This you’ll remember for the rest of your life…” We saw a huge fireball and a pillar of smoke: it was the first launch of an Atlas rocket.
The year after we went to Daytona as Bill’s guests and he took us crocodile hunting before the race. The press room there was fantastic — over here there was no view, no information and you had to pre-book your telex to get a report back. If you didn’t know the right person at Monza you couldn’t get close to the track But once they knew you, and if the drivers didn’t complain about you, you could stand on the white line at the track edge. Colin Chapman said, “You’re safe — my cars’ll break if they hit the white line!” I often felt a wheel just touch my trousers. When I did eventually get hit it was only because a car hit the timber barrier, which hit me and broke my leg.
I was having breakfast with Jimmy Clark and Graham Hill before the 1962 East London GP, and I complained that the cars didn’t slide anymore, which made dull photos. Near the end I went to the hairpin to photograph Graham becoming world champion; he saw me, flicked me the Vs and put the car into a slide. We made £5000 from that shot; that was when Mr Tee realised there was money in pictures, so he bought a failed company called LAT and used the name for our photo library.
‘Jenks’ only came to the office a few times a year because the Old Man wouldn’t pay his ticket from Europe; instead, because of currency restrictions, I had to smuggle cash out to him on my motorbike.
And I went with WB on many trips; we were the First foreign writers to go to Volvo, and we were treated like royally. It was a wonderful time.