Book Reviews, September 1991, September 1991

In Full Flight by Tony Spooner, DSO, DFC. 267 pp. 8-1/2 x 6in. Wingham Press, Seymour Place, 28 High Street, Wingham, Kent, CT3 1AB. £15.00)

This is a revised edition of a book which was published in 1965 by Macdonald. If you enjoyed Hurricane Combat (available from the Motor Sport offices) you should obtain this one. It covers a large spectrum of flying, from training days at Brooklands in Tiger Moths indeed, there is a chapter about the pre-war carefree days at Brooklands which all who like this unique place will wish to read, and more about it in other chapters, including a hair-raising account of how the author was sent inadvertently into bad weather on a training flight after only 1-1/2 hours solo and got lost in cloud — truly frightening. There is much about private flying before the war a winter trip in a hired Puss Moth to Nice from Brooklands, with more alarming adventures, a forced landing on a golf course in a Fair Oaks’ Tiger Moth, going to the 1939 Hungarian Pilots’ Picnic in a very old Gypsy Moth, and learning to become a professional pilot, which led the author to instructing at Speke, which had a link with the sad Thetis submarine disaster.

Then the book plunges into Spooner’s war-flying, hunting U-boats in the Atlantic, and Malta operations flying Wellingtons, which won Spooner a DFC. Finally his post-war commercial flying as captain of BOAC Boeing 707s, etc. It is a long story, lightly told, easy to read. I enjoyed the Brooklands memories, with descriptions and snapshots of many of the characters who ran this famous “Rolls-Royce of Flying Schools”, the wild parties, the antics with Club aeroplanes, and the rest of it. It brings back memories of when I was a humble inmate of one of the sheds on the Byfleet side of the Track and used to meet a student who was studying at the College of Aeronautical Engineering and travel with him to London on the train from West Weybridge, his flying helmet hung nonchalantly from the rack in the carriage to impress any girls who might get in at Woking! And how he told me he was borrowing his father’s Citroën and bringing his girlfriend down from Herts to Brooklands, one Saturday to give her a flight, as he had his A-licence. I enquired on the Monday how it had gone, to learn that his Instructor had decided to play safe and take the girl up himself — typical of the hopes and disappointments of Brooklands, that Spooner knew so well. And who, I wonder, was another young Brooklands pilot who was not so lucky and who crashed the Moth he was flying, with a girl passenger, just off Oyster Lane, in about 1934? The fun and occasional tragedy that were Brooklands!

It was reading this excellent book which started me off thus. It will do much the same, I am sure, for all those aviation enthusiasts who should be reading it. The foreword is by equally enthusiastic Air Chief Marshall Sir Hugh Pughe-Lloyd. — WB


The two latest titles in the Brooklands Books series of reproduced one-make Press road tests and other articles are High Performance Escorts 1980-1985 and High Performance Escorts 1985-1990. A catalogue featuring all the books published in the Brooklands series by Brooklands Books of Holmerise, Seven Hills Road, Cobham, Surrey, KT11 1ES, (of which Motor Sport has reviewed all those received) which is claimed to be the world’s largest motoring reference library, with over 700 titles, mostly one-make reprints from motoring journals along the years, but including also more than 300 technical books, is available from the publishers, c/o PO Box 146, Cobham, Surrey, free of charge. — WB


Rupert Prior, who edits the Brooklands Society Gazette, has done a pictorial anthology of Motoring The Golden Years for HC Blossom Ltd, 6/7 Warren Mews, London, W1P 5DJ (price £14.95) consisting of reprints of interesting articles and items from the past, covering motoring racing from the earliest times, racing drivers, unusual aspects of racing, etc, with a Foreword by his business partner and friend Cyril Posthumus, the entire book in large 12 x 9in format, copiously illustrated with colour illustrations supplied by the Khachadourian Gallery, of the artwork they supply. Some of the pictures are out of sinc with the text but otherwise this is a fine collation of cartoons and artistic motoring pictures, of great variety. — WB


Mon Ami Mate by Chris Nixon. 377pp. 11-1/4 x 8-1/2 in. Transport Bookman Publications, South Street, Isleworth, Middlesex TW7 7BG. £55.00

It has been quite a strange phenomenon really, but while there has been an increasing interest in cars of the Fifties over the last dozen years, from the so-called “classic” saloons to the truly great sports racing cars and single-seaters of that decade, the personalities who populated that era have on the whole remained dim and distant figures, with the sole exceptions of Moss and Fangio. There have been the occasional biographies of other drivers, or the re-publication of books on people of that time, but they have been notably few.

Fortunately for us we have historian Chris Nixon to rectify the situation. Nixon has penned many notable books including Racing the Silver Arrows, Racing with the David Brown Aston Martins and Rosemeyer!, all of which are definite “musts” for any serious historian and book collector. Now we have a book that threatens to put even these mighty works into the shade.

Mon Ami Mate is a book about two dashing English heroes who had they been born a decade earlier would have been the archetypal fighter pilots in the Battle of Britain. Fortunately for all motor racing enthusiasts these two heroes, Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins, were born too late and found that motor racing was an outlet for their natural talent. Sadly, though, both were to die before the Fifties had ended, one in a racing car, the other in a road car. It was a sad and bitter loss.

Fears that the book could be a straightforward, and therefore dull, recantation of races they participated in was reckoning without the authorship of Nixon. His depth of research is painstaking, his ability to enter the minds of men, even from the distance of 30 years, is remarkable. One felt that if ever Denis Jenkinson could ever be persuaded to put pen to paper and recount the fund of stories about people he has known and encountered throughout his career, he would not be able to do a better job. Both racing drivers had an immense amount of charm, and it is their warmth of personality which comes bursting through the pages of the book.

But the book is no whitewash job. If Peter Collins comes out of the book better than Mike Hawthorn, then it was because he was a nicer person, less selfish and less egotistical, than his mate. But if Hawthorn does not come out as well as some people would hope or like, I regret to say that Motor Sport comes out if anything rather worse.

In a chapter dealing with the media coverage at the time, Motor Sport features as being inward looking, churlish, snobbish, stuffy, short-sighted and wilful. The magazine is accused of turning a blind eye to the major racing issues of the day. In the intervening 35 years, however, it must be said that standards have changed on how to report such things, even if some of the old school are perhaps reluctant to accept it.

There can be no doubt that this book will sell quickly, and it deserves to. Nevertheless both Nixon and Transport Bookman have entered relatively unchartered waters with such a grand book, so we can only wish them enormous success to encourage them to do more along the same lines. — WPK


Henri Mignet and his Flying Fleas by Ken Ellis & Geoff Jones. 224pp. 11 x 8in. Haynes Publishing Group, Sparldord, Yeovil, Somerset, BA22 711 £24.95.

Although Motor Sport no longer has an Air section we know that many of our readers are interested in light aeroplanes and private flying. Before the war what seemed a highly promising way of getting into the air extremely cheaply was to build a “Flying Flea”, to the designs of the Frenchman, Henri Mignet. Masses of them were constructed by enthusiastic amateurs, and a smaller number by quite professional undertakings. Some were quite impressive and successful; most were a failure. I recall watching a very capable pilot, proficient with many types of light aeroplane, trying to test one at Heston. He buzzed about without ever getting off the ground, the upper wing of the little machine just visible at times in the long grass at the edges of the aerodrome. When he came in, the plugs were removed from the inverted Scott two-stroke engine with which this particular Flea was fitted, and oil ran up his arms. Then came the ban, too many people having been killed flying the things, due I believe to a wrongly diagnosed cause, not the result of aerodynamic shortcomings.

All this is splendidly recalled in this book about Mignet’s simple aeroplane, by two qualified authors, Ken Ellis, now editor of Flypast, and aviation writer and enthusiast Geoff Jones, who does the sporting aviation section of the renowned Jane’s All The World’s Aircraft. Between them they have captured the nostalgia, if DSJ will allow me the word, of those pre-war days, when the Flying Flea had burst so astonishingly on a willing band of would-be aviators. The authors use evocative pictures and drawings of every conceivable version of these Fleas, even to a large collection of colour plates, and they have extracted a Foreword from Mignet’s son, cover the other aeroplanes designed by the modest Frenchman in 60 years of endeavour, and list pioneer constructors of his HM14 Pou du Ciel, all the British-registered ones with owners, engines and dates, the 76 Fleas given permission-to-fly in the UK, and a fascinating diary of the Solihull-built G-AEBT from 1935 to 1946 when it was sold.

In fact, it is all there, documents, cartoons, extracts from Mignet’s own test-flight diary, and all those 283 wonderful pictures. The 15 chapters cover the very early days of the idea, the anatomy of the Flea, how the insects invaded Britain, how the craze took hold, with that Ramsgate rally and race, etc, (how CGG of The Aeroplane hated them, as I well remember), the engines used, the American Fleas, even the Flea in war and so on, with plans from which these odd but loveable attempts to popularise “Austin 7” aviation were constructed. A Mignet family tree, details of some of the pre-Flea ultra-lights, poems to the POU, how to get on the Flea bandwagon today. . . . what a fine record all this is of intriguing period in the story of small flying machines! Every Flying Club should have this book, which will I am sure be read by all those keen on simple aeroplanes. — WB


Four Wheels on my Basket by Charles Meisl 131 pp. 9-1/4 x 6-1/4 in. Bookmarque Publishing, Minster Lovell, Oxon, 0X8 5SX £14.95

Those in the motoring world who know Charles Meisl, and there are many, will welcome his frank autobiography, sub-titled The Czech who brought Porsche to Britain, and as well-known for his build up here of Cibie and other international companies. It is frank, very frank, in places about associates of Meisl’s, covers Charles’ cars (he lists 44 personal ones since 1945), and the book lists his translations, of which three reviews are reproduced, mine for Motor Sport transposed with that in The Autocar.

A recent earlier book has told us of Charles Mortimer’s life in dealing and motor and motor-cycle racing and now we have the life of the other Charles, in the world of business, sporting and road driving and — ballooning, for Meisl co-founded the British Balloon & Airship Club and became President of the International Balloon Committee. Both books radiate happy, full lives, and as the author’s ballooning friend Anthony Smith says in his Foreword, this is a book “. . . . as Meislian as can be.” Which for those who knew Charles in the Army, in the RAF, when acquiring good lamps (perhaps for their rally cars) or in the baskets of balloons innumerable, says it all. . . . Meisl has lived life as it comes, divorces, business setbacks, accidents, whatever, and clearly thoroughly enjoys it, as does the other Charles (maybe if I had used “Charles” instead of “William” it would have worked as well for me). It is a brief, sometimes irritating but un-put-downable book, coinciding with the 40th anniversary of Porsche Cars in Britain, with its account of how Meisl brought the first car of this make to Earls Court in 1951. The author remembers a great many personalities (but it was Leslie not Ken, Ballamy who was the split-axle suspension inventor, etc) and is quite outspoken about those he did like, adding mustard to his memories. — WB


Off-Road Bike Racing & Preparation by Neil Bruce is a fine pictorial guide to taking part in this sport, which Osprey Publishing offer at £6.95, and those who wish to delve into the inside story of modern sports business financing and how sponsorship has developed, and works, will find the answers in Sportsbiz by Stephen Aris (Hutchinson, £16.95). There is a chapter devoted to this greed aspect of motor racing, titled The Most Dangerous Game. Those who enjoy their amateur motoring sport may take a passing pause to assimilate the annual earnings which the author ascribes to the top stars — golfer Arnold Palmer, 9 million dollars; golfer Greg Norman, 8 million dollars; tennis player Boris Becker, 7.5 million dollars; golfer Jack Nicklaus, 7 million dollars; Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and Nelson Piquet, 6 million dollars each; Nigel Mansell, 5.5 million dollars, down to tennis player Martina Navratilova at 2.46 million dollars — but note that of these 1989 estimates, Aris says that the earnings of top racing drivers are understated, because they also earn extra money from private deals with individual sponsors. Written in readable documentary style, this book gives a good insight into how Bernie Ecclestone got into motor racing and how he now controls it, of the mystery man himself, and how sponsorship developed and now governs F1 racing, in a 16 page chapter.– WB


That very useful volume The Car Bodywork Repair Manual has come out in a fully revised new edition from Haynes of Yeovil priced at £12.99. It covers body maintenance from painting and spraying to water-proofing and rust prevention, by Lindsay Porter. — WB