Thanks to Sir Jackie Stewart’s wife Helen, we now have a unique perspective on his racing career
By Nigel Roebuck
I have always loved scrapbooks. When I was a kid, I kept one devoted to the doings of Jean Behra, my great hero, and absolutely nothing got in the way of it – I would blithely, to the horror of my father, cut photographs even from Automobile Year so as to have them where they belonged – in my scrapbook. It constituted, in its way, my first attempt at ‘writing about racing’, for each photograph was elaborately captioned – at 10 I was wont (I recall with some embarrassment) to use phrases like ‘Courage Indeed!’
The green-covered book rarely left my side, but somehow – alas – it went missing in the course of a house move 20 or so years after Behra’s death. I would part with a great deal to have it back now – in its way it was as much about my own life as his.
Having spent almost all of my career around motor racing, I have been privileged over time to examine a great many ‘personal’ scrapbooks kept by the great and good – I remember, for example, the exquisitely presented volumes put together by Rob and Betty, detailing all the years of the ‘R.R.C. Walker Racing Team’, when such as Jo Siffert, Maurice Trintignant and, above all, Stirling Moss drove for this most celebrated of all ‘private’ teams.
Then there are the books – 17 in total – put together over the years by Helen Stewart, documenting the career of her husband and recording their lives together. Many a time, when visiting them, I have studied them with Jackie – it always starts when he seeks to remember a detail of a particular race weekend or party or journey, but as soon as the books are open this leads to that, and an hour passes in a flash.
The great thing about them, I always thought, was that although they were creatively laid out by Helen, they were not in any sense ‘professional’ – nor would she claim them to be, and nor, I imagine, wish them to be. Photographs and cuttings from newspapers and magazines are included, of course, but so also are programme covers, driver’s passes, postcards, telegrams and the like – and it is these that make the whole thing live, that provide memories of what it was really like that weekend at Monza or Clermont-Ferrand, in 1965 or ’69 or whenever.
An entire page, for example, is given over to the First Class menu on a TWA transatlantic flight of the time, and it’s enough to make you dewy-eyed for an era long gone. Back in 1965, his first year in Formula 1, Jackie was accustomed to flying economy. But on this occasion, he says, someone must have paid for the upgrade, for it was his first time at the front of the aeroplane – memorable enough for him to keep the menu. Caviar, lobster, champagne, French pastries… you know the kind of food you get on a plane…
Now, nearly 37 years on from Stewart’s retirement as a racing driver, Genesis Publications has put together a sumptuous book, which faithfully reproduces highlights from the original scrapbooks and is entitled, Collage: Jackie Stewart’s Grand Prix Album. As you’d expect of anything to do with JYS, it is manufactured to the highest standards, complete with hand-finished fine leather bindings. A limited edition of 1500 individually numbered books have been printed, each one signed by Stewart.
“This is Helen’s book, not mine,” says Jackie as we look through it together. “She did all the work, and I must admit that at the time I perhaps didn’t take as much notice as I should have done. Once I’d retired, though, I was so glad she’d kept on with them, so grateful to have them.”
In point of fact, it was Stewart’s mother who began the practice of collecting clippings and photographs to do with Jackie’s career, notably in his clay pigeon shooting days, when he represented Great Britain and was of Olympic standard. A page of the book is given over to his days with the gun, and then we are on to his marriage to Helen, early races with Ecurie Ecosse – and then to what was to be the most important professional relationship of his life, with Ken Tyrrell, for whom he raced a Cooper in F3 in 1964.
‘Jack Stewart’, reads a cutting on page 15, ‘kept up his brilliant run of victories in Formula Three racing at Oulton Park yesterday’.
Throughout the book are short pieces by Stewart, giving a slice of background to the situation of the moment. His first important win, without a doubt, came in the F3 race at Monaco in 1964 – his very first race ‘abroad’. The plan had been for him to drive down from Scotland with Helen in an MGB convertible, staying en route with Bruce McLaren and his wife at their Surbiton flat. Come the next morning, they left for Dover, Jackie omitting to notice that his briefcase – containing passports, tickets, money – was on the roof of the car as they drove off.
Nearing Dover the briefcase’s absence was noted, whereupon Stewart phoned McLaren, who fortunately had seen it fly off the roof and said he would leave it at the police station before himself leaving for Monaco – “Because he was an F1 driver, they were flying down…”
By the time the Stewarts had driven back for the case, it was too late to drive down the length of France in time, so they flew to Nice via Geneva: “I didn’t have enough money for two return tickets, so I bought a one-way for myself, thinking I’d get a ride back with someone…”
In some respects, a scrapbook of this kind tells a tale in a way that a formal autobiography never can. ‘New Ace in the Motor Racing Pack’ reads the headline above a story about Stewart in November 1964, and on closer inspection you realise it is from the Eagle comic. “I always used to get it when I was a boy,” Jackie says. “When I was featured in the Eagle, that was a really big deal for me!”
At the time of the story, Stewart had recently signed his first Formula 1 contract, and would drive in 1965 for BRM – a car, it was breathlessly noted, worth £14,000! At the same time the Daily Sketch, with whom Jackie had signed a contract, revealed that he would be paid £100 a week to drive it…
The first Grand Prix of ’65 was in South Africa, and there Stewart duly scored his first World Championship point. His telegram to Helen, reproduced in the book, wasted no words: ‘Finished sixth. Jackie’.
Telegrams were so much more potent than e-mails, were they not? After the Monaco Grand Prix, in which JYS finished third, he received one from Sir Alfred Owen, frozen in another time: ‘Thank you for your wonderful efforts on Sunday at Monaco. Your courage, stickability and guts were outstanding, and the job of work you did was extremely well done. Keep it up’.
Sir Alfred Owen was British, by the way.
When we think of Jackie Stewart, we think primarily of Grand Prix racing, in which he was king of the hill for so many years, from 1968 to ’73. But fortunately Helen did not confine her scrapbooks to F1, so there are memories too of her husband’s activities in the Tasman Series, in sports cars and Can-Am – and at Indianapolis.
In 1966 I was one of many who trailed to a cinema – in my case in Manchester – to watch the Indy 500 on a big screen. Live coverage of the Indy 500… it was something unknown in those days, something from an alien world, and when we took our seats it felt like a big adventure. The cinema wasn’t quite full, but it wasn’t far off – and it turns out, as we learn from this book, that Helen watched the race in Glasgow, Graham Hill’s family together with Ken Tyrrell in London, Jimmy Clark’s family in Edinburgh.
“When Jackie was leading near the finish,” says Helen, “I was dying inside, because all he could do was break down or win. Everyone was getting the champagne out. I said, ‘Don’t do this – it’s not over yet’. I don’t count my chickens before they’re hatched. Anyway, they did get the champagne out, and of course he broke down…”
That same day Jackie got a telegram of commiseration from Steve McQueen, in whose forthcoming movie Day of the Champion he had been contracted to appear. In the event, though, the project came to nought, and I wondered why.
“You know,” Stewart says, “I have no idea. All I remember is that Jimmy [Clark] and I had signed to work in the McQueen film, and all the other lads were committed to doing Grand Prix, which was being made at the same time. To be honest, I think Jimmy and I were attracted to being in a McQueen film – he was a big star at that time. When it was cancelled, Grand Prix was still going on, so they came and asked us if we’d get involved – I don’t know if Jimmy took money from them or not, but I know I did! Come to that, we were also paid for the McQueen movie…”
At Spa in 1966 Stewart had the accident which transformed his attitude to the job he was doing, to what he felt were the unnecessary risks he, and all his fellows, were running week after week. Although he was fortunate to escape with only a broken collarbone, he was trapped in the BRM, soaked in fuel, and not surprisingly that registered with him. It took half an hour to release him from the car – and the work was done not by marshals (none around) but by fellow drivers Graham Hill and Bob Bondurant, who had to borrow spanners from a spectator’s car to remove the steering wheel.
Finally, ‘They took me to what they called the medical centre, and laid me on the floor on a canvas stretcher. I’ll never forget seeing the cigarette ends lying on the floor. It was filthy.’ Later Stewart was put in another ambulance and transported – with police escort – to hospital in Liège. The escort lost the ambulance – and the ambulance driver didn’t know the way…
“I was very sorry,” reads a telegram from Peter Sellers, “to read about your prang…”
The events at Spa marked the start of Stewart’s campaign for greater safety in racing, and in many quarters it made him extremely unpopular, as evidenced by a letter sent to Motor Sport at the time, and reproduced here. Whatever was the matter with the chap? Didn’t he want to die in a racing car? Well, no, he didn’t, and every driver to follow him into the sport is in his debt.
Of the folk who criticised him, Jackie says simply this: “What they seemed to forget was that it was my friends who were being killed.” And he considers that improvements in safety were his biggest contribution to motor sport – “Much more,” he says, “than winning three World Championships”.
Stewart was active in motor racing at a highly perilous time in the sport’s history. There are parts of his book Faster, which deals exclusively with the 1970 season, that are almost painful to read, and must have been excruciating at the time to relate. But this new scrapbook plays down the tragic aspects of life as a racing driver in the ’60s and ’70s, and deliberately so.
“I don’t think,” Jackie says, “that either the publisher or Helen or I would want to be accused of… sensationalising the way racing was in those days. There are some dreadful photographs around of some of the fatal accidents in that period, but we took a conscious decision not to linger on anything like that, not least out of consideration for the families of the people who were involved.”
There are poignant photographs of François Cevert with the Stewarts at Niagara Falls, and then Bermuda, immediately before his fatal accident in qualifying at Watkins Glen in 1973. This was to have been the 100th, and last, Grand Prix of Jackie’s career, but in the event, of course, Ken Tyrrell rightly withdrew his other cars. A little while later, at a function in London, Stewart formally announced his retirement. And, unlike some less fortunate souls, he has never regretted it for a second.
It wasn’t all good, this period of racing history, but the best of it was as glorious as the sport has known – not least for a certain innocence now long gone. This book captures it in its entirety.