Big things in Littlehampton

by Rob Widdows on 13th February 2008

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I went to Littlehampton this week, a little town by the sea that has many good memories for me.

At the beginning of my journalistic career I spent three years as a reporter on the Littlehampton Gazette, now called the Arun Gazette, presumably in deference to the River Arun which flows through the town and out into the sea. Or it may be that Littlehampton is governed by Arun District Council whose ugly modern headquarters is in the town itself. It’s a funny place, run down like so many of our seaside towns, and yet it aspires to something more sophisticated. The Body Shop is here, its not-so-ugly headquarters employing a great many local people. Anita Roddick was a Littlehampton woman and borrowed the money to start her business from the man who ran Rowe’s garage on the edge of town. And there is a wacky new café down by the beach, lots of expensive new houses along the east bank of the river and then there’s Littlehampton Welding, a company with an international reputation for its ability to make and assemble huge steel structures. They are largely responsible, among many other projects, for the Gerry Judah-designed central displays at the nearby Goodwood Festival of Speed.

I went to Littlehampton to see Mike Earle, a man who’s forgotten more about motor racing than most of us have ever known. We’ve been friends since 1977, when Mike was running David Purley’s LEC Grand Prix team out of a shed by the railway line next to the Purley family’s refrigeration company just up the road in Bognor Regis. Before that, he looked after Derek Bell, and after that he took his Onyx Formula 3000 team into Grand Prix racing with backing from Moneytron. There’s not much he hasn’t done. These days Mike is closely involved with Zytek, his Arena International Motorsport team running a car at Le Mans each summer, and he’s been guiding the career of young Max Chilton in Formula Three.

This little enclave on the Sussex coast was once the hunting ground of no less than three motor racing heroes – David Purley, of course, Derek Bell and John Watson, both of whom lived in nearby Pagham. While Derek has moved to Florida and John has moved to Oxford, Mike has stayed in Littlehampton where he continues to run his immaculate racing team, the workshops and the trucks sparkling in the February sunshine.

I had a letter recently from a reader who wanted more stories about David Purley in the magazine. I will speak to the Editor. Meanwhile Mike Earle should be writing his autobiography. Maybe I’ll lend him my spare tape recorder.

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