Pure Luck- The Authorized Biography of Sir Thomas Sopwith, 1888-1989

by Alan Bramson. 288pp. 9 3/4″ x 6″ PSL/Thorsons Group, Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, NN8 2RQ. £15.99.

For many years the great Sir Thomas Sopwith resisted the desire of authors to tell his remarkable lifestory. But as last, just before his 101st birthday, he relented. So here it is, by that well-known aviation author, Alan Bramson. Tommy Sopwith had wide-ranging interests and accomplished many great achievements. Thus this is a book not solely about his pioneer flying and his long line of great aeroplanes, but of sailing folklore, his two attempts to win for Britain the America’s Cup, of his impressive industrial successes, from the days of his Sopwith aeroplanes to the establishment and development of the Hawker-Siddeley enterprise, etc. Sopwith was also a sportsman, and is said to have done some motor racing. We learn of his narrow escape at Brooklands when the cylinders came adrift on a racing Mercedes and sent the bonnet onto a front wheel, which is new to me. He also raced motorcycles. I do not have a note of any Brooklands successes in car or motorcycle races, but he rode a Peugeot motorcycle in the 1906 TT.

Bramson explains why the Sopwith Aeroplane Co became HG Hawker Engineering Ltd, while Sopwith was still in control. He describes the Victorian/ Edwardian Sopwith family, their houses, their triumphs and tragedies, the building of the racing yachts Endeavour and Endeavour II etc. It is a complete biography, with tabulated results of Sir Thomas’ ballooning Log, his many sailing and other yachts, the various aeroplanes produced by his companies, from the 1912 Sopwith Hybrid to 1983 DH 146, a total of 75,456 aeroplanes in all, and other reproduced letters and documents. (I note that the author prefers the popular concept of Harry Hawker’s death in the racing Nieuport Goshawk at Hendon in 1921, instead of that based on the official AM report which I summarised in Aeroplane Monthly some years ago.) There is even a History of Brooklands in one of the Appendices.

Anyone interested in the life of this remarkable gentleman should enjoy Pure Luck. The Foreword is by HRH The Prince of Wales.