BBC 2, in The Last Machine, featuring early cinema films, made the point that then accuracy was not important, but that today it is. A view apparently not shared by BBC 1, judging by its Sir Henry Birkin motor-racing drama for its Heroes and Villains series.
Rowan Atkinson, who is considered funny as “Mr Bean”, just managed not to appear ridiculous as the aristocratic racing baronet, but W Bentley was very badly cast, and the Hon Dorothy Paget had generously been allowed to shed many years. And the cars! The producer thought it acceptable to have Hickling’s big yellow Dodge standing in for the brown-hued DFP with which Birkin began his racing career in 1921, and to let it race against Chris Gordon’s Tamplin, which it never encountered. The possible availability of the genuine single-seater blower-4½ Bentley with which Sir Henry broke the Brooklands lap record was seemingly ignored, but Stanley Mann brought his ex-Birkin 3-litre, and the blower 4½ GY 3904, whose first owner was G R Handley, not Birkin, also figured. In a supposedly six-hour sports car race we saw it overtaken by Majzub’s stripped GP Bugatti! The venues used for filming were a bit of a mish-mash. The Members’ Banking, with not much room to pull up and the pits unrealistically close to the Brooklands Clubhouse, studio palms to represent Tripoli, and a corner with a monument for Le Mans.
Round these, VSCC members diced furiously. The Caracciola Mercedes-Benz was seen to retire at Le Mans in clouds of steam, when in real life, we are told, a flat battery refused to restart the engine — or was this more realistic than Mercedes would have wished?
Some of this drama of Sir Henry’s Bentley career is told by Rowan-Birkin to the ghostwriter of Full Throttle, whose true identity was never revealed by its publishers. W is seen arriving in a chauffeur-drive Bentley to ask Birkin to join him at Rolls-Royce (?), and was Sir H really so rude about him after he had left? At a house party the girls shoot at plates thrown up by the great racing driver, too poor presumably to have proper clay pigeons, and the car he usurps from its owner who is cranking it up, to give a pretty flapper a ride, is surely, not one of his beloved Bentleys, but a 30/98?
A good enough bit of drama for the TV viewing public, but not one of which the BBC need be factually proud. But no doubt great fun for the actors and those who lent their cars. But have standards dropped? The Sir Malcolm Campbell drama shown some years ago was superior, in my opinion.
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