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Down Memory Lane


This is an unashamed trip down memory lane from an English point of view. Starting in 1954, the British Racing and Sports Car Club (BRSCC) held a race meeting on Boxing Day at Brands Hatch. Santa would visit and it could be Santa Stirling, Santa Graham or Santa Jack. In time, it not only became the highlight of many an enthusiast's holiday, it became an important meeting.

Christmas was different then, partly because there was not so much money around. The average wage was twelve pounds a week, before tax and national insurance were deducted. A year's wage would not buy a new Morris Minor.

Rationing, which had been imposed in wartime, finally came to an end in 1954. Even bread had been rationed for a while, which it had not been during the war, we had to do without so Germans could be fed.

My Dad was in the RAF and in 1948 we joined him in Egypt where there was no rationing. We stayed at first in a B&B and for breakfast there were four eggs on a plate, each. My mother could not handle that.

Boxing Day was traditionally a time to visit relatives you had avoided the rest of the year. Shops did not hold sales until January. The only traditional Boxing Day events were fox hunts and people turned out to watch the hunt take off. After years of dodging the Luftwaffe, the fat of a few foxes seemed incidental. Besides, people were so much more deferential. God bless the squire and his relations, and make us know our proper stations.

Television had received a boost because of the Queen's coronation, but there was still only one channel, BBC, and that broadcast only intermittently. That explains why young men turned up at the Lotus works (in a stable) to help in any way, sweep the floor, anything. It was a bit of excitement in a life short on entertainment.

Few today can appreciate how dire was an English Sunday. Church attendance was starting to drop yet we somehow had to pretend that it wasn't. It's the Celtic Fringe, the Welsh, Scotch and Irish who do religion. The first Church of England vicar to be portrayed in fiction was Sir Oliver Martext in Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night', and the bumbling cleric has been a stock character in English comedy ever since.

We used to dream of the Continental Sunday, when those who chose, often the majority of the population, would attend church in the morning and spend the afternoon at a bullfight, football match, or even a motor race held through the streets of a town. We were locked into total boredom.

Let me say that I sang in the local church choir so this is not some secularist rant. English Sundays were bloody awful as visitors from abroad had been noting since the 18th Century and Welsh and Scotch Sundays were even worse.

The first time the British GP was held on a Sunday was 1976, when James Hunt won, and was robbed. It coincided with the staging of other professional sports.

In 1954, change was in the air. Apart from the end of rationing, there was the first glimmering of a teenage culture which would burst forth with 'Rock Around The Clock' in 1956. Meanwhile trad jazz was popular.

Despite shortages and low wages, things were getting better year on year. There was optimism in the air and people even spoke about a New Elizabethan Age. Holding a race meeting on Boxing Day caught the mood of the time. .

Brands Hatch had originally been a loose-surface one-mile oval for cyclists and grass track motorcycles In 1950, it received a metalled surface. The 500cc Formula Three was all the rage and Brands Hatch was licensed to run only 500cc and motorcycle events. The Half-Litre Club would run entire meetings exclusively for 500cc cars. There would be senior and junior categories and races for novices.

Most classes had heats and finals and it was in the heats at Brands Hatch that Bernie scored most of his six wins. They were not the equivalent of a win in Formula Three today.



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1. Posted by Spindoctor, 26/01/2014 10:04

"Another entertaining & informative piece from Dr Lawrence. My own F1 enthusiasm started in the late 1950s and early '60s. By then the sport had become much more professional, but it still exuded the excitement and "rawness" evoked by Mike's article.

Events in the past are often recalled in a roseate glow. In my opinion F1 in this era (which includes the 1950s) uniquely developed both human and technical excellence. The cars and engines evolved at a startling rate, while the drivers' contributions were also paramount. The amateur (derived from "lover") nature of the sport, and the less nit-picking technical regulations ensured that engines frequently blew up and bits fell off cars."

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2. Posted by Silvereagle, 04/01/2014 22:21

"I was at the 1959 Brands Hatch on ice meeting, one of the best meetings I ever attended including the 1952 British GP at Silverstone where the Italians still reined supreme.
I always check your articles first when I bring up Pitpass and I haven't been disappointed yet.
Is there a new book in the pipeline?"

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3. Posted by The Rumble Strip, 01/01/2014 23:04

"F1 2014 is go, go, go.

Ever since the introduction of the F1 World Championship, in 1950, F1 has both entertained and excited fans in equal measure over countless number of years.

Whether or not it is the lure of the sporting duel, the challenge of technical innovation, or indeed some other method that draws people in can of course vary from individual to individual but perhaps the one constant that does keeps people hooked are the memories of glorious battles and heroics of drivers from days gone by, together with the desire to see the current charges attain that same level.

I first started watching F1 in 1986 and my earliest memories of the sport revolve around Nigel Mansell and the ups and downs of his career, great to watch in the car and able to pull off stunning moves that few others could dream of but always mixed with the nagging doubt that things would never fall into place just quite right.

Those formative years were dominated by the Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna duel and perhaps more so than any others, these two were able to provide many moments that one can relive years later. Indeed, it’s been great to see the Senna documentary, in much the same way that the official yearly reviews and Rush have also done, give us a fantastic opportunity to remember both these happy and sad times.

Although the likes of Michael Schumacher and latterly Sebastian Vettel may have been perceived to have dominated the sport in subsequent years and thus robbed it of a great deal of its appeal, perhaps it would be more appropriate to not only applaud their achievements but also at the same time remember and rejoice in the close battles and wheel to wheel racing that they and their rivals are able to produce.

Of course, it’s not just all about the drivers as their teams have played just as an important, if not even more so, role in helping make the sport what it is, providing many moments of joy down the years. There’s the history of Ferrari, the perfection of McLaren, the racers of Williams and nowadays, the precision of Red Bull.

Whilst there have been many times over the years where drivers and or teams have not been portrayed in the best light, perhaps if one was to look behind the headlines then it would become abundantly clear that misdemeanours are not necessarily always a bad thing, rather an inner built desire to succeed and be the best, a true mark of not just a champion but indeed any driver on the grid.

It is a great regret that it took me until 2004 before I saw my first race live and doubtless, it wasn’t just the thrill of the racing but rather the whole atmosphere of being in and around the track that offered such great enjoyment.

In essence, it would be virtually impossible to recall and therefore list the countless number of memories and times that F1 has both entertained and excited this fan over the years, not that it has diminished the joy provided in any way.

Approaching thirty years from first watching the sport, I’m now left at a stage in wondering how to take this interest onto the next level but nothing will stop me from being a fan, rejoicing in the past and revelling in the future.

For those that say F1 was better in my day then for sure, there’s an element of truth in that because that is how one remembers it but rest assured, there’s not a lot wrong with the current version.

Here’s hoping for a great season of F1, both on and off the track, in 2014.

Happy New Year to the world of Pitpass.

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4. Posted by Chris Balfe (editor), 28/12/2013 22:58

"Dr Mike Lawrence, who is not registered, sent the following:

The insistence of the Scotch that the word can be used only as an adjective as in Scotch egg or Scotch smoked salmon, is a postwar affectation. RL Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott, James Boswell and Robert Burns all referred to the Scotch as a people. George MacDonald Fraser also does, both in his 'Flashman' novels and his memoirs of wartime service in a Highland regiment.

As an Englishman, writing in English, I am not constrained by other usage. An American would not suggest that I use sidewalk instead of pavement. Scots, Scotch and Scottish are perfect synonyms and I choose 'Scotch' knowing that it will rile those who know no better and yet who are keen to advertise the fact.

Samuel Johnson, compiler of the first major English dictionary generously conceded that 'much may be made of a Scotchman, if he be caught young.'"

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5. Posted by Skidmarks, 28/12/2013 14:33

"To quote Robert Burns "The appellation of a Scotch Bard, is by far my highest pride; to continue to deserve it is my most exalted ambition."
If it is good enough for him................."

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6. Posted by GoodPublicity, 28/12/2013 11:48

"Chris, "Scots" or "Scottish" unambiguously qualify England's northern neighbour, whereas "Scotch" is commonly used as the generic description of whisky.

As a former student at Melbourne's Scotch College (not to be confused with Sydney's more accurately named Scots College), I know what I'm talking about!"

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7. Posted by jfagan, 27/12/2013 14:38

"Nice to remember Webby. He was very kind to all of us youngsters trying to get established in racing - for me in the 70s & 80s. The after-race parties in the Octogan are legendary and John and his family were at the heart of everything. A lot of people in motor-racing organisation in those days seemed determined to make actually getting onto the grid as difficult as possible. With John everything seemed ok. Arrived without your licence? No problem we know you but don't do it again! Boxing Day Brands was indeed a wonderful event can't imagine why it stopped - but as you say they were very different times - no Strictly Come Dancing, No X-Factor; how on earth did we manage? Oh yes, and the breathalyser hadn't been invented......"

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8. Posted by Chris Balfe (editor), 27/12/2013 11:06

"The use of the word "Scotch" is totally correct, as Dr Lawrence, and his 'hero' Dr Samuel Johnson, will happily tell you."

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9. Posted by GoodPublicity, 27/12/2013 10:50

"Lovely reminiscences, Mike, even if your misuse of 'Scotch' would make ventures north of The Wall inadvisable!"

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10. Posted by petergb, 26/12/2013 22:16

"It's no good Mike the youngsters will never believe you. I have spent 20 years trying to convince my son that one of the most popular radio shows in the 50s was a ventriloquist and that we could buy records featuring tap dancing! Regards, Peter"

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11. Posted by Paul C, 26/12/2013 19:08

"Great article Mike. Thanks for your memories."

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12. Posted by ratchet69, 26/12/2013 11:52

"Awsome article. Thank you."

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