Book reviews, June 1984, June 1984

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“The Bassett-Lowke Story” by Roland Fuller. 352 pp. 12 in x 8 in (New Cavendish Books, 23 Craven Hill, London W2. £18.50).

This book is far more about model locomotives, railways, ship-models and miniature constructional items, etc, than about the world of model cars. Nevertheless, I think it will be warmly welcomed by all who remember the famous Bassett-Lowke model shop at 257 High Holborn (opened in 1908) or that at No 112 (opened in 1910), so far as London was concerned — the Northampton Company had other branches — and the heart-stopping contents of their windows. I used to browse there without any hope of being able to afford even the most modest of the contents, and I was very unhappy when these formerly-irresistible shops turned into more or less ordinary toy-shops, in the 1960s. Bassett-Lowke made proper models for most of their existence, from catalogued items to splendid scale-replicas for museums, shipping lines, and the like. This book is about it all, and it is packed with fine illustrations of B-L products, to browse through which is almost as fascinating as being cast-back to look in the shop windows themselves. . . There is additional information contributed by Allen and Narisa Levy (the latter, Prince Chula’s daughter and custodian of one of the most original of all surviving ERAs), Ted Leech, Dudley Dimmock, and Robin Butterall, Dimmock contributing 30 pages of intimate memories of what it was like working for W. J. Bassett-Lowke and on his many model projects, at the shop at No 112, High Holborn and elsewhere. This, and the author’s long story, written as the last advisor to B-L (and as MD from 1953, after Bassett-Lowke’s death) before he himself died at the age of 77 early in 1981, are the mainstays of this quite remarkable book. But it contains much more — in the form of reproductions of B-L documents, lists of the locomotives they made, pages from their still-famous railway catalogues, details of the Companies involved, and lists of the exhibition ship-models and passenger-hauling model locos, etc, they supplied, and a lot more besides. Incidentally, the Sears family helped Bassett-Lowke with finance, in the beginning. I well remember, having gone to buy, for 10/6d, a clockwork 7.5 Citroën two-seater tin-plate toy from the actual Citroen car-showrooms in Piccadilly, seeing later a model of a Wolseley Ten in the showroom windows of the Wolseley Company in London and asking my war-widowed mother to try to buy it for me. I still recall her coming out to say she had been told it was not for sale, and the probable price they had told her Bassett-Lowke would charge for a similar model — far beyond our means, remembering that later, in the 1930s, B-L charged £500 for their 9½ in-gauge 2 in-scale 4-4-2 Atlantic locomotive. . . This new Cavendish book lists, among famous customers at the London B-L shop, Capt Malcolm Campbell, Prince Chula Chakrabongse, Lord Cowdray (who is thought to have at one time owned “Chitty III”), Capt R. H. Howey, the Earl of Moray, Terence Cuneo, Stirling Moss, Sir Henry Segrave (spelled incorrectly), “Dick” Seaman, and Count Zborowski, confining ourselves to people from the motoring world, for the range is much wider, including the Royal Princes and many famous authors from Kipling downwards. There are pictures of Prince Chula, Prince Bira and Sir Alex Issigonis with B-L ship and railway models. This is the stuff of which this book is made, including pictures and items from B-L’s Anniversary celebrations, a list of museums housing B-L models and of the miniature railway-layouts laid down by B-L, details about the libel case between B-L and Henry Greenly, etc. We should be very grateful to New Cavendish Books and Allen Levy for making it available.

On the model-car side, there are pictures of the vehicle miniatures B-L’s made for the Rootes Group in 1947, Crossley and other military vehicles made for the War Office around that time, a Meccano sports-car as sold by B-L in later days, the sporting Sunbeam tourer, 40 / 50 Rolls-Royce landaulette and Lanchester 40 saloon, all to 1 in to 1 ft made by Twining Models Ltd (a B-L subsidiary) for the Queen’s Dolls’ House, in 1924, and a Leyland 3-ton WD lorry (to 1½ in scale) made for Leyland’s, a Type-B London ‘bus, (⅛ full-size) and a tanker-lorry, probably a Thornycroft (to the 1 in-scale aforesaid) made by B-L for Messrs Shell-Mex. Lord Brabazon of Tara is seen addressing the B-L 50th Anniversary dinner-party and there is a photograph of J. M. Maskelyne, a one-time Editor of a model-railway magazine, as passenger on a very early De Dion Bouton car (Reg No AA 20) owned by Lord Montagu and still in the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu. Among this feast of picture material are many of B-L factory interiors, B-L premises and people, etc, making this a unique record. — W.B.

Another “Action Stations” book, No 8 in the series, covering the military airfields of Greater London, has been issued by PSL of Bar Hill, Cambridge, at £10.95. The author is Bruce Barrymore-Halfpenny and I found much of intense interest in this book about the aerodromes clustered around London. For instance, I had always been puzzled about the one at Acton, near the present-day Renault Centre, and this is explained on the first page of this 248-page (9¼ in x 6⅛ in) book. All those aerodromes that aviation-minded kids like me visited before the war are there — Kenley, Croydon, Hendon, Heston, Heathrow, Hanworth Air Park (where Bertelli made his Aston Martins), Cricklewood and so on, together with some you might not even have known were there, all described from the viewpoints of their history, locations, Squadron usage and present situation, with suitable photographic coverage, totalling 231 pictures and five maps. It is all so fascinating and an idea for motoring expeditions to investigate.

On the subject of Brooklands the author provides a map of its war-time form, during which the sad destruction of the old Motor Course began, but is not quite accurate when he says the latter was opened by S. F. Edge in July 1907, because there was an Official Opening before that, in June, nor do I remember high tension cables on three sides of the aerodrome and two tall chimneys on the east side, unless these were a war-time arrival, since removed? Nor is it correct to say a Royal Flying Club took over Brooklands during the war; what is meant is the RFC. Moreover, it is rather misleading to say “The small town of Byfleet nestled in the south-west corner”, although it is true that the village of West Byfleet flanked the Track. However, much very interesting information about Brooklands is given, as for the 74 other airfields covered, so the book is highly recommended. The opening chapters cover “Airfield Camouflage” and “The Battle-of Britain Story”.

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Haynes Publishing Group do not hang about! Already a further four books in their highly collectable series of “Super Profiles” (shades of the never-to-be-forgotten Batsford Profiles)) have been released. The first of these informative and well-illustrated, uniform-style “Super Profiles” is about the Morris Minor Series MM, that pleasing and still very frequently-encountered small car, by Ray Newell. Next we have coverage of the Jaguar SS90 and SS100 sports-cars, and who better to compile it than Andrew Whyte? The third in this batch is devoted to the Ford Cortina 1600E, the author being the old and staying campaigner Graham Robson, while Chris Harvey has turned his attention to the Rolls-Royce Corniche, and if we have had enough of R-R legends of late, the interest in these superbly-engineered cars never diminishes. Each book sells for £4.95 and while they are not so bulky as, say, the Osprey one-make and one-model books, they do include reproductions of contemporary road-test reports, and owners’ views, etc.

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Haynes have also published Frank M. Mellings’ look at motor cross on motorcycles, in his “The Big Leap”, which is priced at £7.95.

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Anthony Pritchard’s 1967 book “Ford vs Ferrari: the Battle for Le Mans” has been reprinted in extended form, so that it now covers all four of Ford’s successive Le Mans victories ’66 to ’69. With greatly expanded photo coverage, including eight pages of colour, this hardbacked book now extends to 256 pages, and can be obtained direct from the publisher, Wallace A. Wyss, Zuma Marketing, Box 9359, Marina del Rey, California 90295, USA at a price of US$18.95 plus $4 P&P.

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To borrow an age-old Punch idiom, for those who like it, this is what they will like, “it” being two publications from Osprey, “Street Machines — ’49 and on Custom Cars” by Andrew Morland, and “Lead Sleds — Chopped And Low —’35 Thru ’54” by Mike Key, both at £6.95, while Brooklands Books have added to their comprehensive road-test reproduction repertoire with “Road & Track On Ferrari — 1950-1968″. Finally, for this month, Kimberley’s, of 19, Heath View, London, NZ 0QD, have added “Toleman” and “Arrows” to their studies of today’s F1 teams, at £2.50 each, postage 25p extra. — W.B.