PERSONALITIES IN ENGLAND
PERSONALITIES IN ENGLAND
AN ARTICLE WHICH WILL INTEREST OTHER OBSERVERS AND PERHAPS AMUSE THE “VICTIMS”
THE first race which I ever saw was the B.R.D.C. ” 500 ” run at Brooklands in the autumn of 1999. From that time until I became closely associated with the sport, I saw quite a lot of racing., yet I was a distant spectator, and never at any time came into close contact with ziny of the drivers. Hence the great stars of earlier years such as Bulimia°, Birkin, Kidston, Kaye Don, Cobb, or Dunfee, %vent personages seen only in their reiitote glory.
The first time that I really came into (l).it! eontact with a racing motorist was in 1934, when my cousin ” Bira ” and I went over to Belfast to see the Ulster ‘fourist Trophy. We had gone OVer in a new Bentley, t lie 31-litre tyje then recently produced tiv Rolls-Royce. This ” silent sports car ”’ had only made its appearance the previous Oetaber and there were so far few of them oil tlw road. It so happened then that one of them was going to be raced for the first time—in the hands of E. It. Ilan. It eceurred to us that it would be great fun if we could go and see the car at close quarters, so we asked the hotel porter to ring up Mr. Ilall. After giving our names, he was to say that we ourselves had a new Bentley, SO %VC would deeply appreciate the favour ef being allowed to look at Hall’s car in its garage. We were delighted when the hall porter came back with the reply that Mr. Hall would be pleased to receive its at the garage that very afternoon.
When we reaehed the garage, which was S-91he way outside Belfast, and S ere admitted behind its huge doors, we were met by a short and heavily-built man who might have looked older thae his age ewing to his seat ty hair, but for his cheerful and chuhby face. This was Eddie Hall, the only man who had ever raced the new Bentley. NN ho introduced its to his wife, who was also his pit manager. Ilall’s prowess as a driver and his fine record are still well known to all followers of the Sport awl need no repetition. During the time I saw him in Ulster I found him to be a man who, despite being friendly and kind, vet seemed to talk very much in monosyllables. Whet’ ” Bira ” asked him about what lap he had intended to come in to refill, his reply was something like ” Dunne.” When he was asked after the 1934 race why he had gone more slowly towards the end, he said ” Rain.” After he had finished its a close second to Charlie DorlsOn, and was asked to do a complimentary lap, Hall shook his head, saying ” Can’t.” When he was asked why, he pointed to the bonnet and exclaimed, Boiling,” then again ” Bird “—the car had hit a bird, which was stuck to the radiator, causing the engine to heat up abnormally. When racing. Eddie I fall was a svinpheay in beige. Ile wore a beige windcap, golf jacket, plus fours and stockings, all of the sante coheir. as he tore past the pits he would stick out his arm in a way which has since become associated with a somewhat unpopular form of salute. The Bentley which he used on the road had a By H.R.H. Prince Chula of Thailand [Author of “Wheels at Speed,” “Road Racing, 1936,” Road Star Hat Trick,” and “Dick Seaman—Racing Motorist.”I
green open body almost like the racingmachine with, I was told, an alternative Saloon body. Ilan tiseti to nuke a ” K3 “-type M.G. Magnette go round a circuit almost faster than anybody else. NVhen. he retired British motor-racing undoubtedly lost one 01 its most able :oat colcairful personalities.
When ” flint 7′ started to take up racilig in March 1935 on a standard Riley ” Imp,” then graduating t:o nit E. II Via an M.G. Maanette, I also became associated with the sport, as his manager. For the first few months 1,ve raced ivithout gettina to know any of the other drivers, exeept newcomers and ” rabbits ” like °arse! VCS. This ?’as due, I think, to the fact that. we were both rather timid, and our shyness shielded itself behind a wall of reserve. We still looked upon the great ones \ it’) awe mud reverence, and I can well renumber ” Bira ” necreturning to the paWleck at Doninatan, and. being tremendously impressed because his Riley had been overtaken along the straight by Kenneth Evans’s M.G. ” Q “-type, which went by at ” an incredible speed ” ! Oddly enough, one of the brat amongst the great ones whom I got to know was one of the most famous, and one whom I had admired for ao long from afar, namely, Raymond Mays. It was in June 1035 that I had ordered a 11-litre E.R.A., Which ati to ht. my twenty-tirst birthday present to I;ira ” on July 15th. We went up to Mays’s house at Bourne to see the car in the course of construction, its the E.R.A. ” works ” were then in the same grounds. I was to visit that house Malty times later and even to stay there. 1 found it one of the most charming and comfortable of houses, and certainly with the largest and best-etpuipped bathroom I have ever seen. In the days when ” Bira ” had never won a single trophy of any kind, the glass eases which were filled to the brim with clips of all sires and kinds were a re 1 Ve_a.. ti ? . I was, however, surprised to find that it all the cups were for motoring events, for just a few were won in dancing competitions. Ray had a passion for blue. his shirt was almost invariably blue, while his tics were also plain blue, but in different shades. He used to change his shirt several times a day and always looked clean and neat in consequence. Ile puffed almost incessantly at cigarettes and nowadays with the shortage I think of hint with much sympathy in I hat respect. ItiRS coeversation was always gay and sparkling, and would make one attar with laughter even when he was bilking of gloomy di .s;ippointment or desperate anxiety, for somehow his subconscious humour would peep out like a
rainbow through the clouds. I have not seen hint since the war. although he has promised to come and visit me here it tornivall. I think his exhilarating company is one of the things I miss most in my long exile from motor-racing.
good it would be to hear hint say ” fantastic,” which to Ray everything secuised to have been. How good it will be when we can see him in an E.R.A. again, sit ting bolt upright with his shiny blue helmet gleaming in the stun. No one ever looked so ” right ” in an E.R.A. as Ray did. Mother great driver whom I get to know about the same Witt!, alas, I can never meet again. We lased during that first year to have Our car prepared at Alessrs. Thomsen Taylor’s at Brooklands. It. WaS iii tht.h* Workshop that We cro introduced to him as he stood beside his NN,Iiite E.R.A. It was his magnificent win in the last nautili Heg which inspired Us tO atilt! ire and it was at his suggestion that we went to Dieppe with our own lalt.A. fly now most of you probatay know that I am speaking of the late Pat Fairfield. Despite the fact that he had Many successes as ail independent, Pat was a born “works” driver, and also had many successes in the official E.R.A. -team. Ile was a most loyal member of a team and was willing to accept :led carry out teantordets iVithoutarguittent or envy. I do Ha krr”w whether’ arlY arraiugentents were iliade bet 1,ecii !lint and Raymond Mays, but 1 definitely remember Pat telling nie at Albi in 1036, when the firm considered that it would be more popular, as the race was in France, if the French number of their team, Marcel Lehoux, should win, that lie was Phi not to challenge. The order was aeeepted without a murnoir, altholeali tip till then Pat. had not wee a single race that seasom and it was July al eady. Patwits genuinely fend of ” Mot, ” and in the he Alai’s race of 1937 where he so tragically lost his life he had hoped to race with ” Bira ” as his partner, and was eveil prepared to get a I/el:stelae for it. ” Hint,” however, was engaged on a I?ig programme of 1,500 c.c. racing and the rave at Milan clashed in dates with Le Mans. I still have a letter. fru+in Pat in which he said he would rather (id ve with ” Hint ” than anyone else. Ile and Bira had quite it few racing s(aaps in their career, the most utentorable perhaps being in the Grand Prix de Picardie in 1936, and they would talk of it afterwards, discussing almost every lap and corner. I well remember after that race telling Pat that ” Bira ” was going to drive an Austin in the following Nuffield Trophy and Pat expressing meek relief. I pointed out that. there were other E.R.A.s when Pat in his qiiiet voice said, a This is the only one Prit ii trait of.” One of the most. prized trophies in our collection is a little silver
!wiled with the inscription, To Him from Pat, Monaco 1936 ” his charming way of einnMeinoral ilig “1-lira’,” first win. Of the other F.11.A. of 1935, the late Dick Sezintan, I find it. difficult at present
to give a brief sketch, after recently publishing his full-length biography. have, incidentally, got into some hot water over this, as some wanted more of motor-racing, while others would like to have had more of his private life—then others again did not like the picture I painted of him. My aim was to give a portrait of bOth driver and man, a man of flesh and blood and not a bronze statue, yet all this within my limited canvas, namely a book with a limited number of pages. Like all portraitists, no matter in what medium, I was prepared in advance for censure from those who knew him, for each, naturally, in his own mind’s eye, had a far better picture of Dick than I could -ever hope to equal. To ” Bira ” and myself Dick Seaman was always charming,
kind, and friendly, with his pleasant slow way of speaking. I would never under any circumstances say that Dick was conceited, yet he was nevertheless one of those rare and refreshing beings who seemed to have known his own value correctly. He would never waste time with unnecessary modest apologies, yet he would recognise and proclaim his own inferiority or deficiency with merciless accuracy. His determination was phenomenal, and once he had set his mind on an object nothing would ever deter him from following his set course. It was this wonderful determination, as much or more than his tremendous skill in driving and his gift of seeing to the least details, which was responsible for the attainment of his great ambition, namely to be a member of the best Grand Prix team of the time. It was also at Dieppe in 1935 that I met the President of the 11.1t.D.C. In those days Earl Howe was still running the Delage, which was destined to pass gloriously through Seaman’s hands, but . disastrously through mine. He was standing in the garage, looking at our new blue E.R.A., when Raymond Mays introduced us. How could a race meeting be complete without his fine figure in a dark blue suit with white stripes, a red carnation in his buttonhole, and a cap worn at a rakish angle ? It was Earl Howe who introduced the enormous golf umbrella painted in his own racing colours, which many of us were to copy. Many men have been fond of certain favourite makes of car, but Earl Howe’s love of Bugattis surpassed anything I have ever seen in that line. When he spoke of a Bugatti, it was with an enraptured voice. He was so kind and accessible to the youngest and least important amongst us. No one would ever go to him for advice without receiving his best considered reply. His rich store of racing reminiscences was a source of delight, especially on those many evenings spent in some
rather quiet towns On the Continent, where the only attraction was the racing on the coming Sunday.
Cyril Paul was one of the more ” veteran ” drivers whom I knew well. This was largely through the fact that he was a business associate of Pat Fairfield. Paul, I always thought, was an excep tionally fine driver with immense experi ence, yet he was so modest and retiring about the whole thing. Motor-racing to
him was a business and he took it most seriously, yet it did not seem to prevent him from enjoying it to the full. Nothing ever seemed to ruffle Paul, and win or lose, he was equally imperturbable. Through Fairfield and Paul we got to know Arthur Dobson, tor he too was
associated with them for a while. It was at Limerick, in August 1936, that I had the opportunity to get to know him well. I realised then how different Arthur was from many other drivers. Naturally, like Most people, Arthur wanted to do well and to win if possible. Where he was so different was that he would not enjoy the race at all unless there was strong opposition, whereas many other people would sometimes be definitely relieved. I have seen Arthur quite crestfallen and complaining about a race being dull because his strongest opponent had crashed or “blown up.” This was quite genuine and not a bit ” put on.” The reason was that Arthur loved the actual scrap first, and was interested in results as a secondary consideration.
H. G. Dobbs we met at Donington in the days when he was its most luminous star with his white, off-set Riley, before there were too many E.R.A.s for him. Dobbs was a perfect person to have in a team, for he was calm and collected even in moments of severe crisis. I remember with great pleasure the time when he drove my Delahaye in turn with ” Bira ” in the Twelve Hour Sports Car Race at Donington in 1937. Dr. J. D. Benjafield I knew through ” Bira ” who got to know him well after they Wad accidentally met and travelled together to Paris in the “Golden Arrow” express. In those years ” Bira ” and I used to organise, on Sunday evenings, miniature Grand Prix races along the corridors of our flat. The cars used were without clockwork and had to be pushed for long distances, which I maintain was more skilful than just racing clockwork models along a straight. Dr. Benjafield used to come and race with us Sunday after Sunday, and took it all as seriously as a real race. His great triumph was when his ” Mercedes-Benz ” won our “Grand Prix de Monaco,” for which Bira had
devised a circuit very much like the real one, complete with a tunnel and the hill towards the ” casino.”
Fane was at school with me, but owing to his being a few years younger I did not know him then. I only got to know him well when ” Bira ” was driving in the B.M.W. team in 1937, and we all stayed together in a farmhouse outside Belfast. Fane was by far the gayest of the party. His fondness for different kinds of headgear is well known and he used to gratify his taste by wearing a woollen tea.-cosy on his head as he wandered round the house in a dressing-gown early in the morning.
Charlie Martin was the reverse of Fame for ” Bira,” because although they were at school together, Martin was older and they never came into contact there. Had he not kept on for so long driving a big car, which was out-handicapped iii England and outpaced on -the Continent, . Charlie, who is one of the best drivers, would have added many more victories to his list. Like Arthur Dobson, Charlie seemed quite undisturbed by the position he secured in a race so long as*he had had a good drive. He and Dobson, amongst the more famous, seemed to me to lx more indifferent to results than the others, for racing to them was just a sport and they were true amateurs. Dick Seaman, Raymond Mays, Pat Fairfield, or ” Bira,” on the other band, seemed to look upon motor racing more as a career, and although they naturally accepted defeat philosophically as sportsmen, a first place was nevertheless of extreme importance to them.
Kenneth Evans was another whom I remember for his charming personality and his readiness to help if one was in any difficulty. Johnny Wakefield, who joined the fray a year or two later than us, was always full of fun, and a gay companion at continental races. One year, at Perotme in France, mosquitoes were particularly virulent in the bedrooms. Johnny was a gorgeous sight as he dashed about from room to room with an enormous spray, covering everything with “flit.” One had only to see his enormous grin to forget one’s troubles, even when in the depth of gloom. Reggie Tongue, more serious perhaps, was to be noted for his perfect manners, and he could cope with a long run of bad luck almost better than anybody.
Those were happy years, 1935 to 1939, and I remember them with the deepest gratitude, for they accepted us both as being of themselves, and come what may, their glorious memories will remain with me always.