Having enjoyed “Motor Tramp” by John Heygate (see this column last December), I set about reading his earlier book “Talking Picture” (Cape, 1934), which the local library eventually, after a bit of a tussle, obtained from the National Central Library, who appear to have got their copy from the British Board of Film Censors!
This is a delightful book, which is concerned with the lighter side of film-making in Germany immediately before Hitler rose to power, the author, now Sir John Heygate, Bt., being adviser on the English version of a tri-lingual film. Cars do not figure in it very much, except that it is clear that Mercedes was the universal make favoured by film executives its those days, from open torpedo-shaped cars to coupes with electric foot-warmers. Everyone seems to have used them, except Baron Schneider, film director at the ATAG studios at Spandorf, fifteen miles out of Berlin, along part of the Avus race track, who had “a vast and aged” chauffeur-driven landaulette “which trembled and bounded over the cobbles, scattering the electricians gossiping at the gates.” Could it, perhaps. have been a Benz ? (The studio Mercedes, “with their vast and democratic recesses,” were limited to 60 k.p.h. for insurance reasons.)
There is reference to Heygate having his own car brought out to him and of how it was involved in an accident—the make is not quoted but it was obviously one of the M.G.s mentioned in “Motor Tramp.” The awkward consequences of having on accident in Nazi Germany are interesting, as is the manner in which the English driver was acquitted by the Kriminalpoliziechief in exchange for some free cinema tickets, after a conversation centring round Sir Malcolm Campbell’s “Bluebird,” Daytona, Avus and the GP. Mercedes-Benz!
The book concludes with the author being interrogated by two brown-uniformed Nazi storm-troopers about his M.G., on the day Hitler came to power, as Heygate prepares to take the road home to England. “How many Pferd? ” “Twelve h.p, and two Vergaser.” ” Ninety-five . . . one hundred kilometres? ” “One hundred and thirty kilometres an hour!” (They believed him.) “English car ?” “English!” “England—what thinks England of us ?” Heygate replies, non-committally. “And three Gange ?” “Four gears, and reverse!” Oh, and one wonders what became of the German garageman “who offered me a considerable reduction if I would secure him an English A.A. badge which he needed for his collection” ?
Coming to the present, it is not surprising to find that Dr. Love’s supercharged Cord figures again in James Leasor’s second fiction spy-thriller, “Passport to Peril” (Heinemann, 1966), because the author has just such a Type 812 Cord roadster and, indeed, drove it down to Bristol recently to take part in some publicity capers laid on by Pan Books. In “Passport to Peril” the car is destroyed by a bomb but another identical model is discovered by Dr. Love in immaculate condition in a Nawab’s palace in Gilgit. Leasor tells me that this episode in his book is based on fact, because in 1953 he was in the Kashmir, where in a room at the back of an hotel he was shown an open 1937 black and yellow Bentley in as-new condition, magnificently maintained. Apparently it had been shipped from England, put on a train from Bombay to the end of the railhead in the Himalayas, then been dismantled and carried in pieces on the heads of coolies up to its final resting place, where it was re-assembled. Deciding it was too good a car to use for local running about, its owner had preserved it as a monument to the most expensive purchase of his life!—and here is something B.D.C. to follow up!—W.B.