Cars in Books, March 1982

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Not so much cars in books this time, as some reflections about cars in the fine TV production of Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited — The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder”, based on the book of that title published by Chapman & Hall in 1945. So many vintage and later motor-vehicles now feature in TV plays and documentaries, to the financial and some consider prestige benefit of their owners, that separate coverage would be permissible if one were intending to look at the phenomenon in detail. Here I am just musing over how the Producer of “Brideshead” coped.

In the book, which is clearly largely autobiographical, Waugh quotes the car which Lord Sebastian Flyte borrowed, to drive with his friend Charles Ryder from Oxford to his family’s country seat, Brideshead (patently in Wiltshire or Somerset, not Yorkshire) in 1923 as an open, two-seater Morris-Cowley. It seems the natural choice for an undergraduate perhaps buying his first car, against all Proctorial edicts, in Oxford, as it was made close by, in Cowley. In the film the car depicted was a pre-war sleeve-valve Mors tourer, the car once owned, unless I am mistaken, by that great enthusiast Leslie Seyd, who lost touch with it when he was abroad during the war, and which long afterwards turned up in the hands of Dudley Gahagan. Later in the book, when Sebastian and his friends, including Charles Ryder, are bored with a party in London and decide to go on to ”Ma Mayfield’s” night club (Kate Merrick’s, no doubt), they again borrow the luckless Hardcastle’s car and as there is no mention of any change, it was presumably still the Morris-Cowley. I know that when Sebastian. Charles and Mukasier leave the club for the home of one of the prostitutes they have picked up, two of the men and one girl ride in the back, which would mean rather a crush in the dickey-seat; but in such merry mood (if one can apply that to Sebastian!), this would be quite in keeping, Lord Sebastian is apprehended in Shaftesbury Avenue for driving while drunk and duly appears in Court (but with the affair suitably played down) and Hardcastle as a result loses the use of his car, which as an undergraduate he is not supposed to have, and has to be taken out to several dinners by way of appeasement…

It seems a pity that the Producer could not have found a circa-1923 Morris-Cowley for those parts, which should surely not have been too difficult. Instead of which, the Mors appeared again. Then, earlier to the film, when Julia, then the most dazzling debutante that London season, drives Sebastian from the local station (“Melstead Carbury”) to Brideshead, they are seen in a very fine and sporting six-cylinder open Delage, well known in VSCC circles. But, remembering that this was supposed to have taken place in the high summer of 1923, wouldn’t a 14/40 Delage have been more appropriate, perhaps sine of the boat-tailed sports models? One of which also have easily been found.

In the scenes where the Brideshead family’s chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royces are involved, the TV film seems to have got it right, and for good measure one may mention that, in the book. Evelyn Waugh makes the caddish Rex Mottram, who marries Lady Julia under a considerable cloud, run an Hispano. It is also amusing, but not surprising considering that the story is set in the 1920s, that in it one comes upon places like Gunter’s in Berkeley Square, the Cafe Royal, the Ritz Grill, Trumpet’s the hairdressers, and so on, which appeared, in real life, in the “Diaries of an RFC Officer”, which we serialised in Motor Sport some time ago. – W.B.