I have news for your correspondent Mr. Jack Marshall. The only “magic device” fitted to that Stage Austin 7 was the great George Clarke himself. His son, Jack, was once a business partner of mine. A knowledgeable enthusiast, he drove my cars in several races and sprints.
George himself first appeared at the Old Albert Music Hall in 1894, at the age of 8! Later he became the original “dude” comedian, and in the Twenties introduced his sketch “The New Car” with which he toured the principal variety theatres in England and New York. He appeared with it at the London Palladium Royal Command performance in 1930, ’32 and ’34.
The car was the open “Chummy,” and quite standard except for a very high coachwork finish, in yellow and blue. He would drive the car straight at the footlights, with the audience, especially in the front rows, in a state of panic-stricken terror. From first gear he would whip it straight into reverse, the back would leap up in characteristic fashion, then the scrabbling rear wheels would grip the boards and the car shot backwards, to the vast relief of musicians and audience. Later he used a car with the 4-speed box, still absolutely standard and unmodified. This was, of course, a much more difficult change, but he told me that he had never missed it although always expecting to. Now and again he would overdo it, and shoot over the edge, when the gentlemen of the orchestra managed to achieve the most remarkable sideways long-jumps from a sitting position, which alone were well worth the price of admission. Very occasionally he would break a half-shaft, but had no other trouble.
The scene was the back garden of a suburban villa, and he concluded the act by driving right through a “brick” wall, which brought the house down on both sides of the footlights.
George made several films in the Thirties: “His First Car,” “Here’s George,” etc. Maybe when they get a bit less recent we shall see them on TV. He still took the act out “on the road” in between musical comedies up until the early years of World War II. He died in 1946. In common with many others I shall always treasure the memory of that gleaming little car, charging furiously across the stage, apparently completely out of control. Straight at the audience; some petrified with terror, others starting for the exits. Then at the very last moment that incredible leap into the air and the hurtling backwards, whilst the dapper George was the only relaxed person in the house.