Saturday, December 29, 2007

Grand Prix Wives, 5

A long time since I added the names of any drivers wives from Motor Racing's dangerous years, so here are a few more. Dorine Dutoya was the wife of Willy Mairesse, and another great Belgian driver Oliver Gendebien was married to Marie-Claire Ango de Flers. Of course Helen McGregor was and still is married to Jackie Stewart, while Loti Lucas, who was married to Chris Irwin, still posts regularly on the TNF forum.

No-one seems very interested in these women other than on the usual babe front. Time moves on and I guess it is unlikely that their story is ever going to be told, a shame really as it would have made a change from the rivet counting that makes up so much of motor racing history. In many ways it was a tragic story with so many of these girls being widowed or divorced in more tranquil times after the stressful years of racing had ended.

Might Have Been Team

Although Alf Francis' book Racing Mechanic 1948-58 is generally considered to be one of the classics of Motor Racing literature, the Polish born spannerman himself is a figure of some controversy. To many he is one of the great characters of post-war racing, an intuitive engineer and someone whose hard work and determination kept the Rob Walker team on the road. For others he was "a mechanic with ambitions above his station" whose lash-ups were responsible for Moss's career ending 1962 crash.

In any case by the mid-60s Alf had removed himself to Modena where he went into partnership with Italian transmission specialist Valerio Colotti. For the 1965 season Ecurie Alf Francis purchased the old BRP transporter and two Cooper T72's with the intention of competing in the recently revived Formula 2 category. With Colotti transmission and an Alfa Romeo engine developed by Giancarlo Rebecchi, it was announced that the cars would be driven by Innes Ireland, Jo Siffert and a young Frenchman, Bernard Plaisance.

Innes and Siffert were listed to compete at the Oulton Park Spring Trophy meeting in early April but the cars failed to appear. This was to be the story for the rest of the year, non-attendance, non-qualification and just a couple of starts for Siffert and Plaisance. A 10th place for Seppi in the Pergusa Grand Prix, a circuit where a week later the Swiss driver would beat Clark in a closely fought Formula One race, was the only finish that Alf's team could manage.

Innes Ireland never got to turn a wheel in anger in the revived Formula 2 races of the mid and late Sixties. Alf Francis had flourished in the buccaneering 1950s but in the more technical atmosphere of the 1960s his time had passed.

Friday, December 28, 2007

"He will let his bleeding heart run away with his bloody head!"

George Lansbury (1859-1940) MP for Bow and Bromley was the leader of the Labour Party between 1932 and 1935 and like Nye Bevan - although see below - his maternal roots are to be found in Radnorshire.

In Lansbury's case his mother Mary Ann Ferries was born and raised in a cottage called Dolly Dingle in the parish of Clyro, the daughter of a Gloucestershire born mole catcher Moses and his locally born wife Catherine Jenkins. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is wrong, by the way, to think that Mary Ann's father was called James. Perhaps the variant spellings of the surname in various records, Ferris and Ferriers as well as Ferries, has confused searchers.

Lansbury was the grandfather of actress Angela Lansbury and also of the animator Oliver Postgate, creator of the Clangers ( see photo)

Footnote I believe it was the Michael Foot biography which claimed that Aneurin Bevan's English speaking mother Phoebe Protheroe came from Radnorshire. In reality she was born in Tredegar. Her blacksmith father did however come from that part of the parish of Glasbury that lay south of the river Wye. Up until 1832 this was indeed part of Radnorshire, although after that date it was transferred to Breconshire. As Phoebe's father was born around 1818, he at least was a Radnorian.

Friday, December 14, 2007

"As black a traitor as if he had been born in Builth"

Let me hasten to explain that it was the Victorian novelist Mrs Gaskell and not myself who slandered the good folk of Builth with the quotation that heads this post.

In any case let us rescue another son of Radnorshire from any association, however unfair, with Bradwyr Buellt. According to wikipedia David Milwyn Duggan (pictured), leader of the Conservative Party of Alberta and mayor of the city of Edmonton was born in Builth in 1879. In actual fact Duggan was born and raised at Hundred House Mill, in the parish of Llansantffraid yn Elfael, Radnorshire.

Caesar Jenkyns

I suppose it's understandable that the little Breconshire town of Builth Wells would want to claim former Wesh soccer International and captain of Woolwich Arsenal Caesar Augustus Llewellyn Jenkyns as one of their own, but is it true?

The census returns tell a different story, as this son of a policeman in the old Radnorshire Constabulary seems actually to have been born in the village of Boughrood, which is, of course, on the correct side of the river Wye.

By the way if you think Caesar Augustus was an unusual name, his younger, Cwmteuddwr born brother, was called Plato.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Sin and Other Matters

The Rhayader boy who supposedly disappeared into thin air is a reminder of an Australian version of the tale which was the inspiration for Picnic at Hanging Rock. The film, of course, starred Llanelli Baptist minister's daughter Rachel Roberts. There's a recent post about Rachel on that interesting Cardiff blog Babylon Wales, read it here.

Anyway here's the local connection: back in the late 1940s, while she was attending Aberystwyth University, Rachel shared a house in Borth with, amongst others, a fellow student, Llanafan born poet, T Harri Jones. Someone really should make a film about that seaside house. Rachel's sexual and chemical excesses were such that the Swinging Sixties really took off in Borth in the 1940's.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Strange Case of Oliver Thomas

I remember reading about this in some pot-boiler back in the 60s and it's interesting to see that it's still being pedalled around the internet. Briefly the story goes as follows:

On Christmas Eve, 1909, an 11-year-old lad called Oliver Thomas of Rhayader went outside to fetch water from the well. His family heard him screaming for help but when they went to look for him he could not be found, although his footprints in the snow could be seen ending halfway to the well. In a nice twist the boy continued to be heard sobbing for a number of days, although he had disappeared, without trace, into thin air.

It seems that this story is a version of another tall tale, the disappearance of Oliver Larch. I guess if you are going to concoct a story of the supernatural it's best to set it somewhere slightly weird and out of the way, no doubt Rhayader fitted the bill admirably.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Sir Chicken

Innes Ireland gets a mention in today's Sunday Times interview with Jackie Stewart:

"The attitude of some drivers was even more curious. Innes Ireland, the first Scot to win an F1 grand prix, regarded Stewart as a “chicken”. The Belgian driver Jacky Ickx was another opposed to change. “Innes was a real brave guy,” Stewart recalls. “He’d had some terrible accidents and survived, but I think he regarded it as part of the culture. Jacky didn’t much like the ideal either . . . he wanted to uphold the purity of it."

As it happens Innes had a very high opinion of Stewart's ability as a racing driver, better than Clark and the nearest thing to Moss amongst all those that he had raced against. Jackie, of course, epitomised the new businesslike attitude to motor sport which Innes detested; Ireland tells the tale of a young compatriot, new to Formula One, who invites him out to dinner in order to ask his advice. Innes is flattered, only to find that the advice sought is not about racing but about contracts, sponsorship and the like.

Ireland's views on safety were pretty antediluvian, even for the 1960s, for example he described safety belts as hysterical and mocked the fact that Jackie had his blood-group stiched into his underpants. About one thing Innes was surely correct and that was the fact that so much of the culture, the mystique of Grand Prix racing was based on danger and death. Even in 2007 it is this romanticising of death which permeates the interview with Stewart.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Frank O'Boyle

Back in the late 1930s Frank O’Boyle must have been the leading racing driver in the Irish Free State, his Alta Voiturette competing against the likes of Bira, Mays, de Graffenreid and Villoresi. O’Boyle’s car was maintained by the Evans family’s Bellevue Garage in London but Frank never once accompanied the machine when it was sent to and fro across the Irish sea; that task usually falling to Bellevue’s chief mechanic, the legendary Wilkie Wilkinson. The reasons for O’Boyle’s reluctance to leave Ireland have been hinted at, some trouble with the English authorities that may have occasioned a spell in jail. Here‘s some more detail.

O’Boyle was born around the end of the 1890s but by the summer of 1920, it seems, he was already the owner of a garage in County Tyrone. In September of that year he took part in a payroll ambush in which a driver, William McDowell was shot dead. The raiders getting away with the not inconsiderable sum of £1300. O’Boyle and two companions were soon arrested and after a jury trial failed to reach a verdict they were sentenced to life imprisonment by a military court martial.

One night in May 1927 O’Boyle, together with his companions from the payroll robbery, overpowered two prison guards at Belfast’s Crumlin Road jail, making their escape in a waiting motor car which was driven at great speed through the early morning Belfast streets. By 1929 Frank O’Boyle had been re-arrested by the authorities in the Free State for extradition back to the North. Dublin’s High Court disagreed and decided that it was unconstitutional to return a man who had been sentenced by a military tribunal, O’Boyle was free as long, of course, as he did not set foot on British soil.

What became of O’Boyle I don't know, he must have been well respected by the Irish motor racing crowd, a Frank O’Boyle Trophy race was held at the Curragh after the war, Stirling Moss even won it in 1951. The Alta was at the Bellevue Garage when war was declared in 1939 and could not be returned to Ireland, it was eventually sold back to the company for £250. Was O’Boyle a member of the IRA? He certainly claimed he was a political prisoner, although the British courts insisted he was a common criminal.