Louis Stanley: Another Fine Mess?

A compelling new book by Louis Stanley's stepdaughter unveils hitherto secret evidence of the BRM man's origins... and makes other, damning accusations

I must be honest. I used to detest Louis Stanley, husband of Jean Stanley who was the sister of Sir Alfred Owen, the owner of the BRM racing team. Big, blazered and blimpish, pompous to a fault, seemingly possessed of a king-sized superiority complex, publicly dismissive of those he plainly regarded as 'common workers', he seemed from a distant viewpoint like a definitive cartoon villain... not least for signing himself and his wife into the Watkins Glen Motor Lodge for the US GP as 'Lord Stanley'.

The Stanleys' habit of swanning into race paddocks in a chauffeur-driven Grösser Mercedes 600 didn't help settle one's class warrior tendency, and then when the Owen Organisation withdrew its backing from the team at the end of 1974, 'Big Lou' — as Dan Gurney had nicknamed him in 1960 — founded `Stanley-BRM' to continue racing.

The result, predictably, was abject failure, but with continuing financial support from his plainly loving but dominated heiress wife, Stanley went on to attract backing from Rotary Watches for a 1977 Formula 1 programme. If I didn't rate the man before his Rotary-BRM team launch, any doubts I had were dispelled by his typically whispered, lisping speech there. "Bee-aah-Wem", he declared "has won every World Championship Gwand Pwee at least once..." A number of us in the audience, I suspect, thought "Hang on a minute, is that quite right?", but we either couldn't think quickly enough to challenge his claim, or perhaps those more polite than I just sat on their hands and kept schtum.

While the Dreyfuss family members who ran Rotary Watches looked on admiringly, evidently impressed, 'Big Lou' went on to extol the virtues of what the team would achieve that season with their new BRM P207 V12-engined car. But this was all baseless flannel, and in fact the programme collapsed almost as abruptly as it had begun. And for me the really frustrating bit was that it wasn't until I was in the car on my way home that evening that the switch finally clicked in my brain, and I bawled aloud "British Grand Prix!" — and then "French Grand Prix!" BRM had never won the most obvious prize they could ever have aspired to. But I'd missed the moment. And I've regretted it ever since. I would love to have challenged him publicly.

In later life, 'Big Lou' — I am told — mellowed somewhat. Certainly several of his old staff at Stanley-BRM recall him quite kindly. His work for motor racing safety does him credit, and he and Jean were always there when it came to providing top-level medical care for any employee or dependent of one who required it. But I am also assured that such considerate behaviour would have been second-nature to Jean, not to him.

Bobbie Neate is one of Jean Stanley's four children from her first marriage to a Reverend Leslie Civil Baber. When Jean and Leslie Baber were divorced, and she then married 'Big Lou', who had himself been previously married to another heiress, Stanley became stepfather to Bobbie and her siblings. The childrens' relationship with `Poppy', as Jean required him to be known, seems to have been always tense, and according to Bobbie even abusive, in the unforgivable modern sense...

But the children, just like those of us in the motor racing world, were always mystified about just who this man really was, and where he had come from.

Bobbie determined to discover her stepfather's roots, and in Conspiracy of Secrets — her quite remarkable book just published by John Blake — she draws back the curtain on that man's lifetime of amazing deception. It's not comfortable reading, and it is sometimes confusing, but her remarkable detective work is simply riveting.

'Big Lou' had lied about who he really was, and had been assisted in doing so by the political establishment from whom he had sprung — and whose airs and graces, privilege and influence he so evidently craved. Bobbie presents compelling evidence that 'Big Lou' Stanley was in fact the illegitimate son of no less than the Liberal Party's last Prime Minister, H H Asquith, and the dazzling young mistress with whom he was utterly besotted, Venetia Stanley.

She was the youngest daughter of Edward Stanley, 4th Baron Sheffield and Stanley of Alderley. Asquith began writing to her in 1910, since she was a friend of his daughter Violet. If Bobbie Neate is right, Venetia gave birth to their illegitimate son late in 1911 or early in 1912. She cites copious evidence that the boy was raised by a foster mother funded by joint Asquith/Stanley family patronage. Asquith's increasingly obsessive correspondence with Venetia continued until 1915, pausing when she married Edwin Montagu MP. She proved unrelentingly promiscuous, later lovers including Lord Beaverbrook, and after Montagu's early death she renewed correspondence with the fading Asquith.

'Big Lou' Stanley grew to lead an often bullying life of deception, fraud, bombast and poison. To him, during my extensive BRM researches over many years, I became "the odious Mr Nye", something of which I am quite proud, though to be truthful I might have accepted 'odorous' more readily than 'odious'. But now thanks to his stepdaughter's extraordinary, driven, and undeniably vengeful book we know more about the man who at one stage seemed poised to become a pre-Ecclestone Formula 1 supremo. For those who fancy a fiendishly tortuous — and, if proven, shatteringly significant — detective story with both a political and a motor racing twist, Conspiracy of Secrets is not always an easy read, but it is a truly compelling one...