Cars in books

FROM "Gilbert Harding" by Wallace Reyburn (Angus & Robertson, 1978) one learns that the famous broadcaster and TV personality, who wielded so much power and viewer-esteem in his time, was no motorist. In the days of his alcoholic fame Harding had a chauffeur-driven car, although he preferred the term "driver", finding "chauffeur" too pretentious. The only car he ever owned, apparently, was an ancient Jowett bought for £15 when he was a schoolmaster in Arundel. That was in 1931, so this used Jowett must have been a vintage two-cylinder model. Harding had several incidents in it, decided he was unsuited to driving, and disposed of it. He never drove again. In later times he had a Ford Zephyr, with driver, whom he liked to urge to drive "faster, faster" on occasions. He was also fond of hiring a London taxi, of the kind in which the hood over the rear compartment could be folded down another pleasant aspect of the London scene that has gone forever, alas - and drove his mother to Regent's Park in one. He actually told the driver to take them to the Regent's Park, a throwback to the days of the Prince Regent.

The book also tells of two stories Gilbert Harding liked to tell against the band-leader, Jack Hylton. He would have it that Hylton was such a snob he wouldn't ride in the same car as his chauffeur and that when they stopped the Rolls-Royce to consume some fish-and-chips the man had bought for them, the running-boards of the old car were used as a seat, which all vintage-car owners know to be one of the advantages of owning a proper motor car. On such occasions, said Gilbert Harding, Hylton would make his chauffeur sit on the running-board on the opposite side of the Rolls.

That I have referred more than once to Bill Gunston's "By Jupiter!", the life of Sir Roy Fedden, available from the Royal Aeronautical Society for a fiver, and do so again here, shows how much "meat it contains". It is just that, having said that Fedden had a Bugatti and later a Bentley S2 I omitted to mention that Gunston refers to a "grey 2-litre Talbot" that Fedden used when he was with the Ministry of Aircraft Production in 1952, driving this from his flat opposite Harrod's to Berkeley Square. When he was working on his British people's car concept he imported a rear-engined Tatra and found its swing-axle back-end just as lethal as that on his own rear-engined job. Incidentally, it was the automatic transmission, or torque-converter, that used to blow up so dramatically, not the sleeve-valve three-cylinder radial engine, when the power pack was on test in the Black & White Motorways' garage at Cheltenham.