From jockey to racing driver

When I heard that the jockey Richard Dunwoody was to turn to motor racing, which earned him the quip from Julian Wilson, (introducer of the Ascot Week for the BBC, that he would be “running into the straw-bales”) I thought at once of George Duller. The Dullers, husband and wife, were among the most picturesque characters at Brooklands, where George raced cars, at first as a keen amateur, his real profession being that of a jockey.

After successful flat-racing, an accident while boxing a horse incapacitated George for several months, and he had gained so much weight on recovery that he turned to riding under National Hunt Rules. His speciality was hurdle racing, in which he rode with short stirrups. Riding in this unconventional style Duller had an almost unbroken run of successes, being unbeaten when aboard ‘Golly Eyes’. Amongst other memorable rides, Motor Sport once published a picture of him winning at Windsor on ‘Burning Kiss’.

George Duller was interested in cars as well as horses, and had owned many different ones before racing them. While planning a racing-car stable Duller continued to ride over the sticks. Incidentally, he was said to be able to make any horse come to him by his characteristic whistle, whatever the intentions of its riders, an embarrassment to those who hadn’t the control of their mounts they liked to think they had.

Duller began car racing with Capt (later Sir) Noel Macklin’s Silver Hawks, winning a 1921 Light Car Handicap. In 1923 he tried an Ansaldo, and was entered by his attractive and well-dressed wife to drive one of the 1913 six-cylinder 4.5-litre GP Sunbeams, used also on the road I gather; but it made but one minor racing appearance.

The Dullers were friends of Parry Thomas, from whom George acquired one of the two 1.5-litre Marlborough Thomases, which he and their creator drove in the 1923 200-Mile Race without success. Later he won a short handicap with the Thomas he had purchased. Duller then took on the single-seater Indianapolis Bugatti from Count Zborowski, which earned him several handicap places at the Track, and short-distance records in 1924. He also helped Thomas with long-distance record-bids with the Lanchester 40, but was less lucky driving an 8-litre Hispano-Suiza. Mrs Duller (who I believe had a milliners’ shop in Epsom, where they lived) now joined in winning races with an Amilcar — there may be a link here, because Parry Thomas was using one as a road car — and showed herself capable of driving the big Leyland-Thomas for 100 miles at 90.7mph.

During the war years Lt Duller had been a service pilot at Brooklands and Farnborough etc, and his all-round ability was recognised by the famous STD concern. He was offered a drive in one of the ‘Invincible’ 1.5-litre s/c Darracqs and responded well, finishing second behind K Lee Guiness in the 1924 JCC 200-Mile Race, Segrave third, and Duller equalled Segrave’s fastest lap of 106.55mph. He followed this up with third place behind Segrave and Count Conelli in the GP de Provence at Miramas in 1925, and Duller also won for the Talbot-Darracq team a victory at Montlhéry, in that GP de L’Overture, when Conchi finished upside down after hitting the wall, and Major Segrave was third. (The T-Ds were running un-supercharged for this race).

This professional advance was retarded when George’s horse fell at Sandown Park, breaking its back and nearly doing the same for its rider, landing on his head, only partially less severe because Duller was wearing a crash-hat, as all jockeys now do.

However, he recovered in time to partner Segrave, now at the height of his fame, in one of the two 3-litre twin-cam Sunbeams with which Coatalen hoped to teach the Bentleys a lesson at Le Mans, although it was left to S C H Davis and Jean Chassagne to do that, second behind the winning Lorraine. George was also back at Brooldands with the Indy Bugatti, doing well when it did not shed its back tyres. His Track mounts in this period included a GP Bugatti, with which he won a 1926 handicap and came second in the Bugatti Race from scratch, Bamato’s 3-litre Bentley and the original Brooklands Riley 9, with which he took records in 1928.

Duller was also one of the immortal ‘Bentley Boys’, paired with Frank Clement at Le Mans in 1925, when the White House crash terminated things for them, compensated by winning the 24-hour GP de Paris with Clement in 1926, after putting out two fires, the first win for the new 4 1/4-litre. Duller had also assisted on the Bentley 12-hour record bid. He was behind steering wheels far longer than he had ever been holding the reins! W Bentley remembered the little man with the rubbery jockey’s face and lithe body as “having a bright and breezy manner, whose wit and dry humour were a foil to the sardonic temperament of the banker Baron d’Erlanger, when they were paired at Le Mans.” S C H Davis recalled George for the many ingenious jokes he played on other drivers during breaks in practice.

In 1927 the jockey-driver was back with the Sunbeam team, covering greatest distance in the Essex MC’s Six-Hour sports-car race at the Track, with a twin-cam 3-litre, after Segrave had retired. He is remembered for his versatility, having for instance won a 50-mile Brooklands race back in 1925 in Arthur Waite’s works bored-out s/c Austin 7, at a rousing 89.9mph. In later times he experienced the fast ‘Dutch Clog’ A7s, partnered Sir Henry Birkin in the blower 4 1/4-litre single-seater Bentley in the 1930 ‘500’, drove well in the new, and therefore unpredictable, FWD straight-eight Alvis in the 1927 ‘200’, and in 1932 took his BARC 120mph badge with a Bentley. He would still have been in the game in 1935, with Gwenda Stewart, had their FWD Derby-Maserati not broken in practice before that year’s 500 Mile Race. Incidentally, following Parry Thomas’s death it was the Dullers who cared for the Alsatian guard dogs Toga and Bess.

As young people will say these days, if Richard Dunwoody does as well as Duller in the 1990s, it will be really really awesome…