Category Archives: Vehicles

The Barnato Bentley

Barnarto Bentley 3litre PE3200- Kodak 3My gesticulating here was probably to assert myself on matters of extreme importance. After all, I was the key man of the occasion and I was jolly well going to make the most of it. Art Directors have trouble in becoming famous. Nobody knows what they do. Nobody cares. But now, here on the premises of Kodak Limited (my employer) where the company’s advertising and promotional work was done, I had absolute responsibility for the safety and reputation of nothing less than the world-famous Barnato Bentley.

I knew nothing about racing and very little about cars. I knew how to blow up the tyres on my Morris 8 but that was about all. I simply understood that millions round the world found racing cars fascinating and practically adored the Barnato Bentley. So it was ideal choice as the eye-catcher for whatever ‘Kodak’ product, or perhaps service, was being advertised. I have a feeling a new ‘Kodak’ medical X-Ray film came into it somewhere.

And I knew the man who owned the Barnato Bentley. I got on the phone and asked him if we could hire it for one day. Bless the man, he agreed. I’d had a word with the company Maintenance Manager and told him I wanted to turn the employees’ cycle sheds into a part of a racing circuit’s pits. He stroked his chin, and said OK. I think he had an idea I was going mad. We hired the necessary props, the car was delivered, the picture was shot and the ad appeared in the appropriate magazines.

But I became no better-known, received no prizes and settled for being grateful to have the job of art-directing. The photographer was a speedway fanatic and was enormously grateful for the chance to sit in the actual vehicle. I need hardly add that this grabshot of him at the wheel made during the job by his assistant bears no relation to the finished 1970s ad.




On holiday once, having done a bit of shopping I signalled the approaching bus. As the door opened an enormous burst of noise hit me. It was practically full of under-twenties, all of them shouting at each other. Do you find that adolescent male and females shout? Even when they’re sitting side by side? Perhaps it has something to do with the headphones.

Is the human voice undergoing a change? Boys seem to have developed an indecipherable guttural, glottal-stopped, gabbling bark with hardly any d or t sounds and girls speak with clenched jaws and their tongue clamped to the roof of their mouth so that it’s impossible for them to give vowels their full, rounded shape. Their only usable vowel is ‘eeee’. And, their jaw and their tongue being the way they are, the only way out for sound is the nose. One comical result is that they are unable to pronounce the ‘oo’ sound, so that when they come to sing ‘Happy birthday!’ it has to end with ‘tee yee’.

We were a few hundred yards from my stop, and I pressed the stop button. Whether or not the height of the volume inside the bus had drowned out the sound of the bell I shall never know, but we did not slow down. I rang the bell again but to no avail. With a hundred yards to go I leaned into the driver’s compartment.

‘Stop, please,’ I said. It was a bad mistake.

I have never seen anyone jump so high. He stood on the brakes, I shot forward on to the windscreen. We stopped, I apologised to all, and got out. With the bus disappearing round the bend it was very quiet.

The Driverless Car

Lovely! Imagine it, lounging back in your front seat reading the morning paper and letting the car take you there. Giving a little wave as a ting! from the dashboard tells you your car has recognised an oncoming car with a friend at the wheel. Purring down a country lane, needing to pee and and pressing the ‘P’ button. Gliding into the next perfect bit of shrubbery. But all the designers’ claims for the driverless car, all the demos, leave me pondering. And it’s not the car I’m worried about.

Except where its morals are concerned.

I know what the driverless car would do for me. As soon as it saw me coming it would spit on its contrarotating-motivational sensors and, without moving its lips, mutter, ‘Right, guys, watch this.’ It turns in at the office happily enough then, gurgling with suppressed glee, plants itself in the Chairman’s parking space.

But enough of fantasy. And enough of the car. Think of yourself.

You. Getting into this driverless car. Switching on, settling back. You are moving out of the garage, turning onto the road, approaching the main road. By force of habit you look left, right and left again. Coming from the right is a car. You would have waited. But your car knows best and moves out. You’re safe, but for the next few minutes you feel your heart thudding.

If your imagination isn’t quite up to that, try remembering that time when, for the first time, your teenage son/daughter took you as passenger out onto the public highway. Ahead was a particularly wobbly cyclist. Sharp intake of breath? All muscles tensed?

Surely, no normal driver would be able to stand the strain. Consider again. You are sitting, powerless, as your car speeds towards a mother and child, the mother chatting with a friend, the child deciding to step into the road a few yards ahead of you. Or seeing a heavy truck emerging from a hidden side turning, your hands shooting out to grip the dashboard, your right foot punching a hole in the floor. You’d be in special care in a fortnight.

Driverless car, OK. But only fresh-faced16-year-olds need apply.

The MG Magnette ZB

WHAT a car! It sat on the drive outside my study window like a wellbred sheepdog, crouching, poised, waiting for its master’s call to action. She was the 1956 64hp Magnette ZB. Inside you found comfortable leather seating, superb steering, cornering like a dog after the rabbit. She would do 80mph with power to spare. Not that I can remember travelling at 80, but that’s what the experts tell me.

Many felt that she had broken tradition, losing the familiar sporty look, low-slung and roofless with headlights squatting on mudguards. Yet in the parking lot by the track she still fitted calmly into the sporty scene. She carried five of us round the country on many summer holidays, roof rack and boot loaded to bursting point with luggage and all the must-have paraphernalia of childhood.

Our two boys, whilst not exactly falling over themselves to do so, liked washing her. In the shot above they are assisted by our older son’s friend from across the road. Our daughter was otherwise engaged upon, I feel sure, some household duty. A dutiful lot, our three.

I don’t remember breakdowns happening; the only incident I remember causing the furrowed brow was when I had visited my very elderly parents and taken them out for a spin. We stopped as near as possible to a coastal beauty spot, parking hard up against an ancient stone wall. I got out via the front passenger door, helped the parents get out and went with them for a gentle stroll down the hill to the beach area and had a lovely hour or two. We returned to the car, I flourishing my keys and preparing to help my parents get back in. But I came to an abrupt halt at the front passenger door by which I had exited and carefully set so that it locked when closed. It was, very naturally, as I had left it – locked from the inside.

I had never registered that the ZB passenger door handle is not blessed with a keyhole.

And, do you know, I cannot remember how we eventually got in.

Dead Man’s Handle

W ell after midnight and under a starry sky one night in 1935 I was sitting on the rear carrier of Dad’s bicycle with my arms around his waist and we bumped over the undulations at the edges of Stanmore golf course. We were on the way home after an adventure.

I had just driven a London Underground train.

He had decided that this was the only possible way to satisfy my constant questions about what he actually did when he went to work. He was a Driver on the London Underground railway, the Northern Line, running from Edgware in Middlesex southwards to Morden in Surrey. A date was arranged. My mother and I were to wait until a couple of hours before the end of night duty and then get a bus to Edgware and then a Northern Line underground train. We were to get out again when we reached a station – which one, I’ve forgotten but it was just a little further along the line. We were to get out and cross to the Northbound platform and watch for the train he was driving come  out of the tunnel to the platform. As he slowed to a stop he would wave to us through his front widow.

We then had to get into the the leading carriage, sit down and wait until he opened his cab door to take me inside. As for my mother, she was to get out at Edgware, take the next bus home, go to bed and forget all about us.

So, Dad and me, alone, on an adventure.

His train came roaring out of the tunnel mouth and there he was, waving. With the other waiting passengers, we got in. The cab door opened and I leaped to my feet and joined him. He shut the door and sat me on his knee.

I heard all the carriage doors rolling shut.

‘Right’, he said, conspiratorially, showing me the two really important controls. ‘This one’s the brake and what we do is this,’ and he placed my right hand on a small brass horizontal lever. The he took my left hand and placed it on a much bigger one on the left. It had a palm-sized black mushroom-shaped button at the top. ‘And this one’s the throttle – it train faster or slower and we call it the Dead Man’s Handle. When we hold it down, it makes contact with the power. If we let go, it springs up and loses contact. I asked him why it was called by that funny name. ‘Well, just suppose I fainted while we were going along,’ he said. He closed my left hand on it, pressed the button down and clamped his strong hand over my own. ‘I’d fall over, wouldn’t I? And this black black button would spring up, all the power would be shut off and the brakes would come on automatically. The train would be safe and gradually draw to a stop -‘

A loud bell clanged from somewhere over my head.

‘Right! First, we take the brakes off.’ He made my right hand turn the lever round to its fullest extent. The brakes were off and we were free to move.

‘And now we apply the throttle.’ My left hand and his made the Dead Man’s Handle move round until there was one click. We began to roll from the electric light of the underground platform into the tunnel. My hand was moved round to the next click, and the next, and the next, until the throttle was fully open. Eventually we were at full speed, something like 40 miles an hour. Ahead, the blackness was broken only by regularly-spaced lights in the tunnel roof, their reflection glinting along the rails that vanished into the distance.

Under my father’s hands, my own held on tightly. I wasn’t going to mess things up for him; I was going to drive his train as well as I jolly well could. No messing.

Ahead, a very bright, yellowish hole appeared in the blackness and was slowly getting bigger. It was the next station.

He and I moved the Dead Man’s Handle back to where it had started from, and I felt the train losing speed.

‘Now, we apply the brake very gently, a little bit at a time.’ Our right hands moved the brass lever forwards, then back again, just giving the brakes a gentle touch and releasing them. Then we moved it a little further forwards, and back again. This went on until the lever had travelled to its limit and, in the bright light of the station, we rolled along at walking pace.

Just a moment before the train stopped he said ‘Now back again,’ This took the brakes right off so that the train was left to roll the final inch or two to a natural stop, so that there was no sudden jerk to make standing people stagger. Then we put the brakes fully on. The train was securely held still. (Years later as I learned to drive a car I adopted the same sequence and achieved the same kind of comfortable non-jolting stops. I’ve done it ever since.

Six or more stations followed and, finally, we rolled to a stop at Edgware. It was after midnight.

‘Come on up to the Mess-room!’ We galloped up a flight of iron steps into a quietly noisy smoke-filled room where half a dozen or so men relaxed between trips. Amongst friendly joking about the new driver I was introduced. They chatted with me as my father collected his coat and bicycle clips.

Then, on the road, we were swerving on to his short cut journey across the edge of the dark golf course, turning off into Kenton Lane, squeaking to a halt under the crab-apple tree by the front gate of our little terraced house. His keys rattled, the front door opened and we were indoors. The house was eerily silent and we whispered so as not to wake my mother. There was some larking about as he looked for the milk jug in the larder and poured two cupsful into a saucepan, lit the gas burner and make us both a hot cocoa before bed.

A ‘goodnight’ hug, and the adventure was over.

Thanks, Dad.