MINISTER OF SPORT
An interview with a very sporting
MOTOR SPORT penetrated the corridors of power at the Department of the Environment in order to interview Hector Motto, MP. Officially listed as Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, with special responsibility for sport. More popularly called Ministcr of Sport. A keen motorist with a strong interest in vintage sports Cars (particularly Bentleys, as an active member of the BDC), Mr. Morin, covered a wide range of topics that concerned MOTOR SPORT readers. Both on a personal and policy level, thc Member for Dumfries showed a keen interest and awareness of the problems that beset both competitor and private motorist; and a keen eye for the effect of legislation on the enthusiast.
MOTOR SPORT had pursued for some years the opportunity of an interview with the Minister of Transport. Whether Conservative or Labour, such a discussion was always denied was, usually by steady evasion, rather than outright denial of access to the Minister. W.B. was particularly keen to discover the views of those who decide our motoring fives, but gradually our interest shifted to the Ministry with responsibility for sport.
The title of our magazine naturally had some influence in mir choice, but it was the appointment of Hector Mono about a year ago (May 1979 to be precise) that influenced our decision.
This year we applied formally to the DoE through the Minister’s staff. That was at the Pace PetrolcumNigel Mansell presentation and tho date for the interview was fixed within a fortnight.
Excellent progress when Olympic considerations must have been uppermost in the minds of the Department.
The DoE is an unremarkable collection of tower blocks not far from the Thames-straddling Lambeth Bridge. Unremarkable until you remember how many Civil Servants are within those three towers and interconnecting offices! Outside North Tower we noticed that Leyland are at least getting Government support in Buying British, a fine of black Austin Princess saloons with sequential T-registrations looking suitably dignified for official duties. . . .
The 15th floor offices had the kind of open plan room for aides that you would expect, but Mr. Motto’s adjacent room was an inspirational spot in which to conduct our conversation. You can survey the upper architecture of Big Ben and Westminster Abbey and enjoy a new perspective on London’s skyline.
There is a straightforward long table around which conferences for a dozen people or so could be held, then a selection of drawing room low chairs and a conventional office oak desk in one corner. A magazine rack displayed a catholic collection of sporting publications including two monthly motoring periodicals. Ycs, Mr. Monro is a faithful and long-standing reader of ours, but self-congratulation can wait. Our conversation was conducted betv.een
W.B., who settled quickly into a blend of topical conversation and relevant reminiscences, a relaxed Hector Monro and the writer, who did his best to note everything down and pursue some current racing and rallying queries. From the adjoining office two members of the staff joined us — Jerry Bishop and Vic Shroot — bringing with them what we call a potted biography. Perhaps the surprise, conditioned as thc writer was to stori. and TV reportage of Whitehall, was the informality and efficiency of the occasion. Not a pinstripe to be seen, but relevant facts and a good all-round knowledge of Mr. Motto’s sporting contacts remained in evidence.
Motoring memories of a man at the top
Our first priority was to discover what kind of man could achieve such Ministerial heights. and retain a motoring enthusiasm that extends to looking up thr 0-60 m.p.h. time of a prospective new road car before purchase. Hector Munro was born in 1(022 and educated at Canford and King’s College Cambridge. Wt. asked whcn his interest in motoring began and the
riposte was swift, “I cannot remember not being interested! The atmosphere was exactly right (sea small boy interested in cars. The first car I drove was an M-type MG at eight years of age, at home.
Lees it as the ideal upbringing, with all the right kind of cars appearing in my boyhood — Bentley, Alvis and Talbot, that kind of thing.” W.B. wondered aloud if Mr. Monro had been able to attend Brookands? The query received a vigorous affirmative, with more comment to follow on the situation at Byfleet today.
The first car Hector Monro remembered driving legally on the road was a 1939 Morris 8 Tourer, “which we bought new and in which 1 passed my driving test just after my 17th birthday.”
However, the fond memories are reserved for two wheels, at a slightly earlier stage. “I had a 250 .c.c. BSA to smear my 16th birthday. I enjoyed my motorcycling immensely, going onto T90 and T100 Triumphs. These were good: if it wasn’t for the weather we have in Britain, I would have one again!
“Today I don’t ride very often, but I am keen oaths subject and try to follow what is going on. .1 think you could say I was always interested in Bentleys too. My introduction and enthusiasm came through the cars my cousin John Moller had, including a 41/2-litre and an 8-litre, one with the Gurney Nutting body in 1931.
“I got my own vintage 3/41/2 Bentley at a modest price sonce 25 years ago. I still have the car (SM 4) today and occasionally bring it up to London in the summer. I have also raced it, not very seriously, in BDC even., at Silverstone and elsewhere.
“In today’s atmosphere, where trailcring a car to a meeting is normal, I remember one marvellous day in particular. In fact I even wrote an article about it for The Bentley Drivers’ Club Revieto.
“I left well before 2 a.m. from Dumfries and drove down to Silverstone in time for practice. Then we did an afternoon race. Then I took the car to a dinner in Sevenoaks, the same evening. I managed to do all that in the same car, race and attend my engagements; it seemed quite an achievement, covering it all in a day in the same car!”
Perhaps Hector Monro’s biggest regret of that early motoring period is that he did not hang onto some of the ears he owned in his early motoring life. “I had a Bugatti Type 37 too . . . I should never have got rid of that beautiful car. . . .” he says today. Mr. Monro was an active rally participant in the ’50s and continues to take a special personal interest in the sport. “I used to do most of my Club rallying with a TR2, which was a super car for driving tests, a kind of sport which I used to enjoy and specialise in at the time,” he told us. “I had an MG SA in about 1953,54 and even
managed some Internationals with this car, although more often I used the TR2. “I rather think we were third in the over-2-fitre class with the MG th the 1954 Scottish Rally, but of course there weren’t many cars in that class. It was very rough inside the MG, though we weren’t
doing the speeds they do today. “I particularly enjoyed the Scottish because you could meet your friends and gossip in the evening,” enthused this sporting Minister. “I still have a soft spot for the event today and will spectate when it comes to Dumfriesshire, to brig
as it does not clash with the BDC fixture.”
Mr. lvlonro told us that he gave up serious rallying because of the expense, and the pressures of running his farm in Dumfriesshire, but he continued with driving tests and weekend club rallies.
Flying: a common interest
“Judging by the interest the RFC Officer’s diaries have raised in your magazine.” Hector Monro commented. “we have another common interest outside VSCC matters.” He referred to flying and, “I had a Klemm for a while. I bought it in Ulster with a French Salmson motor. It did about 65 m.p.h., with cars whipping past as all day,” said with a shy smile. “It took a very long time to get it off the ground, but it was a delight in the air.”
Hector Macro’s flying experience included service th the RAF from 1941 onward, piloting Sunderland and Catalina flying-boats. By 1946 he was a member of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and flew Spitfires with 603 Squadron, from their Edinburgh base. He commented on that war experience, and a subsequent seven years in the RAAF (during which he earned the Air Efficiency Medal in 1953) “my memories are a his varied. When you were in the Far East with the flying-boats, they were a kthd of home from home. ‘You knew every nut and bolt and did all the maintenance yourselves. You used virtually on the boat and dived off the wing if you wanted a swim! It was damn hard work most of the time, of course, basil had these compensations, which made it most enjoyable. “When we got to serving with the Catalinas in the North of Scotland it mass different matter. Some of those patrols took 18 hours and that was very tiring work, without she climatic compensations that the Far East had scoffer. “The Spitfire? Well, please make it clear I was not a glamorous fighter-pilot during the war! I remember tho Spitfire a bag of nails on the
ground and beautiful in the air.”
At this point W.B. asked Mr. Monro if it was not rather difficult to manoeuvre the Spitfirc on the ground? Forthrightly ffie riposte was, “not difficult, damn impossible to sec ahead at all. You had to lean out of the cockpit if you wanted to see ahead on tho ground!” Mr. Monro still holds a Pilot’s Licence and he devotes considerable spare-time energy to the well-being of a glider club of which to is President in Dumfri.. But as he says frankly, “I prefer to have an engine to point the thing with. . . .” Since the war Mr. Monro has farmed 250 acr. in Dumfriesshire, J.W. asked if that wasn’t too small to be economic today? “I hops you’rc wrong,” Mr. Monro said with a smile. “we haven’t done tho accounts this year yct, so you might be right!” His farming concentrates on beef cattle and grain, that is when ffic RAC Rally 55 500 passing conveniently close by, in which case you will find .Mr. Monro spectating in tho local forests. tic docs not regard rally spectating as too dangerous and says resolutely “There should bc no major problem there.” Perhaps spectators in
Scotland arc better behaved (and a little less numerous) than in popular spectating points ftwther south? Thc political side of Hector Monro’s career includos a spell as a County Councillor from 1952-67, acting as tho Chairman of Dumfriesshire Council Planning and Policy Committee. Ho is still well known locally as a member of tho National Fartner’s Union in Scotland. Becoming an MP on behalf of the Conservative Party took until 1964. As the Member for Dumfries he sotm progressed at Westminster: Scottish Whip in 1967; Lord Commissioner of the TM., and Government Whip in the House of Commons 1970, and joint Parliament, Under-Secretary of State in tho Scottish Office. As Minister of Sport 1
Ascoulffig .tionutrieru Hill, Dalmally, with the MG S.. for Scotland, ho had founded tho Scottish Sports Council by 1972. In 1974 ho took the opposition roles of spokesman for both sport and Scotland. A practical, first-hand knowledge of sport is this quietly-spoken MP’s forte, too. Not just motor racing, but as a member of tho Scottish Rugby Union (1958-77, and President of the same body for 1976-77. Hector Munro also managed the Scottish Rugby XV that toured Canada in 1964 and Australia in 1970.
And so to today . . .
As our conversation turned to today, we realised that this personality was 500 000 to rest lightly on laurels already garnered.
As a general opener we asked if motoring sport was not tho poor relation amongst the sports? After all, direct Government moncy a09 million to the Sports C.ouncil at the last count, goos into sport annually, so why not into motor racing? Mr. Munro blanched a little at the thought of the kind of money that motor racing now absorbs and said that he felt any proportion of motor racing costs the Government offered to pay would be “derisory, compared with what motor racing consumes. You have to sec motoring sport as a part of tho whole spectrum of sports we dcal with. On a local level, if people want planning or assistance with running events. then we arc prepared to listen, but motoring VMS arc run by a pretty competent bunch of people in general. 1 dunttg hill-climb test m the /954 Scorrith
“Nobody could regard racing at tho top level as anything hots professional sport, so it is a sport that must rely on self-help, not Government aid.” Mr. Monro’s staff were particularly :it pains to point out that they were aware of the imbalance in money distributed in motor racing at present, obviously feeling that if tho lower echelons received more, the pr.sure for more money within motor racing would be alleviated. “Too much at the top,” was obviously the feeling.
Mr. Munro amplified on this thinking whcn asked to comment on the presence of commerce in motoring sports. “I believe in sponsorship and private enterprise, of course, so long as the governing bodies realise thcir responsibilities. They must never let tho sponsors take over. If that happens, and I believe it has happened in the past, II you let the sponsors take over, then the whole show is just run for publicity, not sport.
“In sensitive areas like tobacco sponsorship, it is up to all concerned to be very responsible. You know there has been a lot of discussion of what happened on the Safari Rally with the BBC crew flying homc. Perhaps that sponsorship was overdone: it’s up to everyone to work together to avoid this kind of situation.
“In general I have no specific comment to make regarding cigarette backing for sport. We have an agreement that has to be re-negotiated later this year.” Drink is another obvious arca where sponsorship might be open to criticism in a motoring connotation, but hcrc again Mr. Monte felt unable to offer specific comment, though he did shrewdly observe. “the important point in all sponsorship is that the sport itself should feel the lxnefit. In motor racing too much goes into socials and entertaining, rather than directly into the sport . .” Drawing our own conclusions from that remark, it would seem that thc large motor homes and PR parties have made an impact on thosc at thc top, though not perhaps the one that was originally cvisaged! As an adjunct to that, we enquired if we should not treat British achievement in arras Wu Formula One 2 little more respectfully. Perhaps following t he French example of jetting victors home for national TV coverage? Hector Munro snorted with suppressed laughter and rcplied. “France has been so long ill lho doldrums that they’re vet, excited about their ncw success. When we had mcn like jiin Clark, Stirling Moss and Jackie Stewart wc would havc had to stage a procession through tho London streets
weekend! Anyway, one GP is only a fraction of the season . . .”
From a personal viewpoint on the racing side and commerce Mr. Memo volunteered, “I see that sponsorship is creeping into more and more historic events, though not vintage. I have been following the correspondence on the subject of the cars raced in historic events, which seems all rather acrimonious”: “what an awful word ‘copies’ is”, W.B. added, while Mr. Munro nodded agreement.
Hector Monro has been concerned about the use of Forestry Commission land for rallying and related events for a long time, well before his present powerful position. He confirmed that he was involved in getting the original permission to use Esgair Dafyd, the present home for BBC TV Ftallysprints and a useful testing spot to the rally community. He also gratefully recalled the co-operation he had from the Commission when setting up the Dumfries-based glider establishment.
We asked if the Forestry Commission was not deriving income from two sources rather unfairly? On a major rally hundreds, if not thousands, of cars are charged for car parking to watch special stages on the Commission’s property (which forms the majority, by far, of a prestige event like the RAC) and yet those some stage-miles have been paid for by entry-fees, which are meant to go on repairing damage done to forest tracks. Mr. Monro answered, “I don’t think the charges are outrageous, and there is the need for repairs after a field of rally cars have been through, of that there can be no doubt. When we did the original negotiations of Esgair Dafyd, I remember car parking was assigned to the Commission! think promoter Nick Brittan now takes these rallysprint fees as compensation for the risk he takes promoting such events J.W.), which seemed fair at the time. I will certainly put the point to Sir David Montgomery at the Commission, but you must accept that they arc responsible for a vi.r, wide mnge of activities within their properties and, I think, their record over the past ten years shows they are prepared to help where possible. We most certainly are looking for further co-operatiOn from the Forestry people, rather than confrontation. A related question that concerned W.B. was the way M which MCC trials competitors, with fully taxed and insured mrs, were being asked to pay stiff additional fees, but Mr Minim assured Mr. Roddy that such money was certainly not going to the DoE. rrhe RAC arc the sole recipients of rho additional levies, so far as can he judged front this conversation. J.W.1
W.B. was also naturally concerned about recent events at Brooklands, an area in which the DoE have apparently been pretty active recently. Mr. Monro said, “we took up the alteration British Aerospace made to the original buildings and have now received an assurance from BA that the alterations made to doors and suchlike can all he
replaced, to return the buildings to their original condition.”
As a former spectator, Mr. Mom was naturally keen to know if W.B. really thought there was a chance of holding motor races there once mom? As Mr. Boddy understood it, there was no chance of doing much about the banking, which was in danger of being redeveloped, but sections of the Track like the Mountain Circuit and Campbell Circuit looked better prospects for complete restoration.
Mr. Monro was proud of his record in “keeping a sharp eye” on vintage mr legislation, pointing to the Construction and Use exemptions, and the exemption from Capital Gains tax, the latter secured back in the ‘sixties. He added that he would be going on the 75th Anniversary Ran, between Swindon and Bedford, for the VCC Golden Jubilee event. He didn’t know what car he would be in but admired, with a large grin, “the admirable mrs you always seem to equip yourself with, Mr. Boddy, for the London-Brighton. I should like to do that one day”. Mn. Munro recalled that his prep school was, “just outside Crawley and we used to watch them struggling uphill at Pease Pottage on thr Brighton Run.”
In a similar vein Mr. Monro had obviously enjoyed a recent visit to Tom Wheatcroft’s museum at Donington “he has some of the most exciting ears. I’ve always loved that super 8-litre Bentley of Jumbo Guddard’s . . .” This sporting MP has not been slow to gain track experienm himself, aside from his own Bentley exploits. Perhaps the most vivid memory is of the Tyrrell 008, chassis 4, that Depailler drove to victory in the 1978 Monaco Grand Prix. Last year Hector Monro was able to drive that car, then raced by Desir6 Wilson in the Aurora Championship. This memorable opportunity presented itself at Brands Hatch, and was laid on by the management the.. “The major problem was that I am not Desire’s shape”, said the adventuring MP with a light laugh. “My main impression was of the wontlerful roadholding. That hits one straight away, even at the modest speeds I drove. There is the enormous width of the car and tyres. They told me what revs swam, and an on, but I couldn’t see the ‘counter for the steering wheel! The only mblem I had was distinguishing between third and founh gears, they were just so close together. It was an exhilarating experience: Marlboin said I could have a go in one or theirs this summer I Laren presumably?] and I’m looking lOrwitrd to that. At least loan say I’ve done something that no other Minister has done! Mind you, I had to behave
myself. My staff were having kittens, and there were plenty of pundits and photographers around, who would have had a good story if I had made a mess of it!” His staff told us that he wasn’t by any means hanging about however.
For personal everyday transport, Hector Monro tends to u. a British Rail night-sleeper benveen England and Scotland, owning a 3-litre Ford Capri for normal road driving. He told us, “I always look as the figures before I buy a car How much money, what it will do 0-60 m.p.h. in, that son of thing. I go for performance per pound spent. That’s why this is my third Capri, but I’ve also owned two Dolomite Sprints for much the same reasons, high performance at moderate cost. I find the Ford more comfonable for me now, but I don’t often do the drive to and from Scotland: it just takes too long.” Mr. Monro has also raccd in several of the Commons versus Lords Celebrity events promoted by MCD and preferred the Talbot Ti to the Escorts used previously. He thoroughly approves of the Prime Minister’s son racing “He highlighted the alcohol fuel alternative when we in the Commons sorted out the Lords last year! Old Rollo Denbeigh, who normally wins
these things, ran out of steam and I think, with Mark Thatcher winning [in that alcohol car, which is a his faster, he reminded us! J.W.] and claiming fastest lap, I think the Commons could claim to have won Ian yam.” W.B. suggested that her son’s motor racing is yet another worry for the Prime Minister. “Mark has sympathetic parents”, was Mr. Monro’s comment. Thc Minister still has his vintage Bentley, of course.
Finally, we asked this man of many interests if he could sec historic sites like Brooklands getting Government money to aid restoration, in the same way that historic steam railways. etc. do? Amiably Mr. Munro said that the DoE was not currently promising anyone money for this son of project. But, as with all our questions, we left with the impression that motoring enthusiasts of diverse interests have, at last, a sympathetic “ear at the top.” J.W.