The Vanishing Interepter

In 1950 the Penya Rhin Gran Premio took place late in the GP season. To report it MOTOR SPORT adopted its fairly normal strategy, which meant flying in a charter aeroplane to Barcelona, watching the race, and being flown back that evening whilst writing the story. From whence I would drive to London, where the linotype operators awaited the precious scribbled copy – I think they took bets on whether we would get back or the plane would crash.

It would be midnight or later when I arrived, and about 2pm before I corrected the pages and drove home to Hampshire. Next day the pictures taken by Michael Tee, a skilled photographer, were processed. As I do not speak Spanish and had to do the report on the flight back, I felt that someone who could interpret the race announcements and press bulletins would be a considerable asset. So I asked Transair, whose Airspeed Oxford we hired for the long haul, if anyone who could help would like a free trip to the race.

At Croydon we were introduced to the pilot, radio operator, and a gentleman in smart overcoat and homburg hat, whose card said he was employed by the Spanish Embassy. Philip Turner, staff writer for The Motor, came along for the ride. From Barcelona Airport, via a sad Plymouth taxi, we went to the Ritz, where the chap from the Embassy asked to be excused, as he had many friends to catch up on. But he was back for breakfast on the Sunday, to see us into a decrepit gas-producer Willys-Overland taxi. He sat with me throughout the race translating the announcements and bulletins as the 4 1/2-litre Ferraris dominated the race; Ascari, Serafini, Taruffi, and the V16 BRMs of Parnell and Walker retired.

On the way out `Mr Embassy’ had surprised me by saying that he sailed from Hayling Island, where we had our caravan for impromptu holidays with the children, and that he owned a vintage Clyno, just as I then did. It did not occur to me that he might have researched my background… After the GP our helper hailed an old Citroen taxi to take us to the airport, but after seeing us in, he told the driver “the aeroport” and vanished into the crowds.

Customs were not at all pleased that six people had flown out and only five were returning. At last we were allowed to depart. I later rang Transair to ask about this mysterious development. “Did he fail to help you, or get drunk?” “No.” “Then what is the problem?” I then rang the Spanish Embassy, asking if Mr — worked there. I was told that no-one of that name did. “But I have his Spanish Embassy card in my hand,” I said. “Not to worry,” was the response, “sometimes people print such cards…” So, the case of the vanishing interpreter, never solved.