AIthough not exactly unexpected, because he had been away from the office for some time due to illness, the death on August 1 of Mr W J Tee, proprietor of MOTOR SPORT since 1936 and of Motoring News since 1957, came as a shock. With his passing a publishing era has sadly ended. I had known and worked for him for something like 60 years or more, and had come to realise what the Teesdale publishing business meant to him. It is unusual for a family business to publish leading magazines for so long and so successfully, in the face of opposition from the multi-nationals.
But that is what Mr Tee did, although he came into possession of MOTOR SPORT in rather unusual circumstances, as a printer rather than a publisher. He needed an editor, and as a young motoring enthusiast who had worked unpaid for three years at Brooklands Track on the car-side of Brooklands Track & Air, and for a short period on the MG-orientated Sports Car, I was the person he appointed, at first as a contributor, then during the war as Acting Editor, then from 1945 as the magazine’s full-time editor until Simon Arron took over in August 1991.
It says much for Mr Tee’s dedication that we kept the paper running without a break during those war years when I was away on Air Ministry work, so that all proof-reading, make-up and captioning were done in the City offices, interrupted by close-landing bombs, V1s, V2s and all the rest of it. Dedicated indeed; because the magazine could not have been much of a financial asset then. Come peace, and we worked its circulation up to an ABC-figure of 140,000 a month, about double that of the two leading weekly motor-journals. It was great fun but hard grind. But the incentive was there, Mr Tee in control, while giving me and “Jenks” and others a pretty free hand, I recall regular office meetings at which, if he sometimes appeared to be asleep, he always woke to make a vital decision or discuss any changes we were suggesting. I once said I thought I had the better of the deal, as I was so often away from the MOTOR SPORT offices. “Don’t let that worry you,” I was told, “I am as happy to be here as you are to be out testing cars”. (Even when he was on holiday we would be told to stand-by around 11am when the daily phone-call from Mr Tee would be made, from the beach as likely as not, and we might be needed.) Not that the Guv’nor wasn’t himself a very keen, very fast driver, owning amongst others Austin, DKW, Bristol, Daimler, Alfa Romeo and Mercedes-Benz cars, in the last of which he achieved a phenomenal mileage.
In the beginning especially, if working for MOTOR SPORT was like working for a daily paper, the dead-lines late, nothing decided until the very last moment, it was a great success, becoming a sort of institution among the motor sporting fraternity. I had brought DSJ into the fold, and with Moss we had that great Mille Miglia Mercedes victory. We ran a petition, led by Graham Hill, against the 70mph speed-limit; we published outspoken editorials. There were one or two libel actions.
I had supportive assistant editors and office staff, and our camera-chaps were skillful and brave. I did foreign assignments with Mr Tee’s eldest son Michael, involving fast drivers and adventurous charter flights to far places. Over it all Mr Tee was the thoughtful controlling influence. Occasionally he would write a wonderfully pithy comment or two, and I recall his sense of humour, as when we had offended a brake-lining maker, whose rep had called to castigate us. After a suitable interval he was ushered in. “Ah. I forget quite what this is about,” Mr Tee said. “Let me see, you are from Mintex, the peppermint people, aren’t you?” Which toned things down very nicely. . . Difficult he could be; but Mr Tee always stood by me in times of trouble.
With MOTOR SPORT joined by the weekly newspaper-format Motoring News, the Standard House organisation went from strength to strength. Now the Captain of this unique publishing empire, the discerning businessman at the tiller, is no longer there to steer it. To his sons, coupled with my heartfelt sympathy, go my best wishes for the future. BiII Boddy
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