Cars in Books, October 1982
Cars in Books
JOHN MORTIMER, creator of the “Rumpole of the Bailey” plays and books, who adapted “Brideshcad Revisited” for Television, gives practically nothing to this column in his autobiography “Clinging to the Wreckage” (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1982) except that his mother used to drive the large, hearse-like family Morris-Oxford before the war, the car in which his father, a barrister like himself, used to be driven by his clerk to the Law Courts when they were living in London, and in which Mortimer later in his turn drove his father. Othenvise, apart from passing references to Rolls-Royce and Jaguar, cars are conspicuous by their absence, in a book which is interesting without being enthralling, if one steers round the, surprisingly for one so eminent, numerous lavatory jokes, some quite obscene. Returning to fiction, Robin Newman (who did the first “End-to-End” run in a 1928 Austin 7, which he and two of lUs children still use, and indeed, in which heard his elder son drove from Monmouth to Vienna and back in 1979, a 3,000 mile journey which was done in five days for the 1,100 outward haul and which included crossing the Stelvio Pass) has kindly sent the following extract from “Allen the Irish Shore” by E. Somerville and Martin Ross (Trauschitz edition, 1903), which is of interest for the inclusion of a motor car at this early date — the Bollee was perhaps one of the three-wheelers fanUliar to Brighton Run followers?:
“The afternoon was very cold, a fact thoroughly realised by Mrs. Alexander, on the front seat of Sir George’s motor car, in spite of enveloping furs, and of Bismarck, curled like a fried whiting, in her lap. The grey road rushed smoothly backwards under the broad tyres; golden and green plover whistled in the quiet fields, starlings and huge mined thrushes burst from the wayside trees as the ‘Bollee’, uttering that hungry whine that indicates the desire of such creatures to devour space, tore past. Mrs. Alexander wondered if birds’ beaks felt as cold as her nose after they had been cleaving the air for an afternoon; at all events, she reflected, they had not the consolation of tea to look forward to. Barnet was sure to have some of her best hot cakes ready for Freddy when became home from hunting. Mrs. Alexander and Sir George had been scouring the roads since a very early lunch in search of the hounds, and her mind reposed on the thought of the hot cakes.
“The front lodge gates stood wide open, the motor car curved its flight and skimmed through. . . .
“The ‘Bollee’ was at the hall door in another minute, and the mistress of the house pulled the bell with numbed fingers. There was no response. . . .
” ‘They’re hunting down by the back avenue! come on, Janet!’
“The motor car took to flight again; it sped, soft-footed, through the twilight gloom of the back avenue, while a disjointed, travelling clamour of hounds came nearer and nearer through the woods. The motor car was within a hundred yards of the back lodge, when out of the rhododendron-bush burst a spectral black-and-white dog, with floating fringes of ragged wool and hideous bald patches on its back.
” `Fennessy’s dog’, ejaculated Mrs. Alexander, falling back in her seat.
“Probably Bismarck never enjoyed anything in his life as much as the all too brief moment in which, leaning from his mistress’s lap in the prow of the flying ‘Bollee, he barked hysterically in the wake of the piebald dog, who in all its dolorous career had never before had the awful experience of being chased by a motor car. It darted in at the open door of the lodge; the pursuers pulled up outside.”
Although it does not name cars by make, “Tinker’s Mufti” by Basil Peacock (Seeley Service, 1974) gives a very reasonable account not only of serving in the two World Wars, but also of the excitement of driving about with a searchlight battery during the period of the Phoney War in 1939/40, much as Lt. Col. A. Rawlinson’s book, which was featured hi this column many years ago (The Defence of London, 1915-1918, Melrose, 1923), dealt with the defence of London by mobile anti-aircraft batteries (quoting makes of vehicles in this case) from 1915 to 1918. This is an extract from the autobiography of George Mikes — “How to be Seventy” (Andre Deutsch, 1982): “The present Duke of Bedford in conversation with George Mikes spoke of his grandfather, the eleventh Duke: ‘When Herbrand, the eleventh Duke, came up to London he travelled in a horse-drawn coach. In Hendon he always changed coaches. When he was persuaded to give up horses and buy motor cars, he bought two Rolls-Royces and changed Rollses at Hendon. It took some time to convince him that one Rolls was up to the whole journey.’ “
Finally, for this month, the reader who is attending to the neglected Zborowski family grave in Burton Lazars Churchyard tells me that in Will Hay’s biography, “Good Morning, Boys” by R. Seaton (1979) there is reference to the famous comedian being a been pilot until his friend Capt. Sparks, ex-RFC, was killed in Canada when the wings of the DH Tiger Moth he was flying folded back, having presumably been incorrectly locked. He then became enthusiastic over his Delage car, said to have been ordered by a member of the Royal Family but not taken up. Hay acquired it but after a man had run from in front of a tram in Streatham and been killed by it, Hay was so upset, although a verdict of “accidental death” had been recorded, that he appointed a chauffeur. Feeling that there was a jinx on the car, he sold it, and the family who bought it was involved in a fatal accident while on holiday in Scotland with it. After he was forced into retirement by a stroke, Hay was driven about in a converted Rolls-Royce by Tom Elder-Hearn, said to have been a pioneer aviator before he became a juggler, who apparently flew a Bleriot to his professional engagements. Has had met him, it is said, at the London Aero Club at Stag Lane, in the days when Amy Johnson had worked on their aeroplanes. Elder-Hearn is remembered for selling C5 notes on London Bridge for a penny each, saying that the resultant publicity was worth at least £10,000. The Rolls-Royce was sold for a good price after Will Hay died, in 1949. — W.B.