Book Reviews, May 1969, May 1969

“Donald Campbell, C.B.E.”, by Arthur Knowles and Dorothy, Lady Campbell. 134 pp. 8¾ in. x 5¾ in. (George Allen & Unwin Ltd., Ruskin House, Museum Street, London, W.C.1. 35s.)

This is a very readable biography of the late Donald Campbell, commencing with his childhood and schooldays and detailing his attacks on the Land Speed Record and the Water Speed Record. Because Donald’s mother has helped with the compilation of this book fresh and fascinating facts emerge about this controversial character. The technical facts about his boats and the Bluebird car repeat those contained in earlier, excellent books, “Into the Water Barrier”, “Bluebird and the Dead Lake” and “With Campbell at Coniston”, but at least the information is now in one volume and presented as a chronological story.

The closing part of this book, dealing as it does with Campbell’s last speed bid, that ended in disaster, recalls for me the journey I made to see one of the disappointing practice runs at Coniston. Of how, spurred on by a news bulletin over the car radio we raced to get there, to find little happening and, on that afternoon, Bluebird’s thunder stolen by a radio-controlled model hydroplane. We could have driven into Campbell’s boatyard, but, somewhat guilty of what I had written about his long-delayed Land Speed Record attempt and not wishing to intrude, we mingled instead with the non-official watchers. So I was never able to wish Campbell luck, which alas deserted him soon afterwards. If envy was felt for the central figure in this drama of mechanical speed, it was tempered with the thought that if the opportunity arose to change places with the pilot on whom all eyes were fixed, one couldn’t and wouldn’t. It was Campbell and no one else who had to bear the brunt of the project and who went down with his racing boat—not the critics, the self-styled experts, the admirers or the hangers-on.

This book puts the anxieties experienced, the occasional good moments enjoyed by Campbell in his dedicated career into perspective. The illustrations are good if mostly previously published, and there is a Foreword by Grace the Duke of Richmond and Gordon and the Address given by Mr. Victor Mishcon, D.L., at the Memorial Service held at St. Martins-in-the-Fields is published in full.—W. B.


“Birds And Fools Fly”, by John Urmston. 169 pp. 8¾ in. x 5¼ in. (Vernon & Yates Ltd., 138, New Bond Street, London, W.1. 30s.)

This is a book which no enthusiast for private flying, for aeroplanes as opposed to aircraft, should miss. It is the story of how a country doctor, in need of a hobby, was taught to fly at Thruxton and how he built at home an aeroplane of his own, a Curry Wot biplane with Walter Micron engine. There have been other books about learning to fly, with all the intimate details, but none which captures the atmosphere better than Dr. Urmston’s. Moreover, he is writing about a fairly recent aeronautical baptism, not of how it was done pre-war.

Apart from the flying, the aeroplanes, and the flying types he describes so delightfully, anyone who has ever made anything, done any welding, in a home workshop should enjoy the account of how the Curry Wot gradually took shape. The first test-flight, undertaken by the builder himself, is an epic.

Here, then, is a book about private flying written with much gusty humour and infectious enthusiasm. Dr. Urmston quite seriously thinks that the World is populated by two classes of people, those who can fly aeroplanes and those who have never tried. I belong to the latter category (apart from about 0.5 of a minute in a Tiger Moth) but I think I can appreciate what he means. For those who read him and get the bug, which even he admits is incurable, he estimates that his single-seater sporting biplane cost him about £600, complete with engine (was it C. G. G. who told me that because I had been born an Englishman I must never call this a motor) and propeller. To this he adds £72 a year for hangarage, £25 for insurance, £5 for maintenance and £50 for petrol. But start with this entertaining book, which costs 30 bob. It is a pity that the only illustrations are confined to a frontis-piece of the builder and his machine and a cut-away drawing of G-ARZW, by the doctor’s “partner in crime” John Isaacs.—W. B.