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Tom Bower - Rewriting History?

FEATURE BY MIKE LAWRENCE
15/03/2011

When writing about Tom Bower's 'No Angel - The Secret Life of Bernie Ecclestone' a reviewer's hardest task is to convey how slipshod and incompetent it is. I have never before read a book on a mainstream topic which is so riddled with errors of fact and has so much invention. Errors of fact I can forgive, to a certain point, this book passed that point after 30 pages, but inventing history is not on.

A main player in F1 until his recent retirement was Paddy McNally. If you had never heard of Paddy, you should be able to guess his nationality. You may not know that Paddy hails from County Monaghan, Ulster, but you will have guessed that someone called Paddy might be Irish and the name will indicate the side of the religious divide he is from. Does he drink Jamesons or Bushmills? Fearlessly, Bower calls Paddy an Englishman. You would think that there has never been any problem between the English and the Irish, a mere 700 years of strife.

The most junior cub reporter on a local paper might have queried someone called 'Paddy' being English. Bower does not do even basic checking, yet he is described by his publisher as having a distinguished reputation as an investigative historian. I am the Emperor of China, I have said so.

Some reviewers have tried to be kind and have made excuses for the depth and breadth of Bower's sheer ignorance of motor racing. As an historian myself, I reckon that some basic knowledge is essential and, if you are in any doubt, you employ a researcher, you do not make things up.

Bower had a potentially easy ride, a lot of groundbreaking research having already been done by Terry Lovell in 'Bernie's Game' (and the revised version, 'Bernie Ecclestone, King of Sport') and Timothy Collings in 'The Piranha Club'. Bower gets Collings name wrong, but chin up, Tim, you are not alone.

There is also 'Bernie - The Biography of Bernie Ecclestone' by Susan Watkins, wife of the former FIA Medical Delegate Sid Watkins - an important part of the sport's history, yet who doesn't rate a single mention in Bower's tome - but I haven't read that yet. (Hint, hint).

Of the few books on the sport that Bower acknowledges as having used, he gets the name of one of the authors wrong. Almost everything else comes from newspapers and it is noticeable that his narrative becomes stronger as papers went on-line. It used to be scissors and paste, now it's Google. You really cannot mess up Stepneygate or Max and the hookers, it has been written for you.

I believe that I know who set Max up and it is not one of the usual suspects. Bower does not have a clue. If I said who it was, I would betray my source and I do not do that.

Bower has the reputation of dishing the dirt on several well-known figures so Bernie defused him by inviting him to lunch. Bower claims to have had 'unprecedented access to friends and to Bernie himself' and all I can say is that he blew it. The number of direct quotations is small, we proper historians notice details like that.

I am angry with Bower for screwing an opportunity and I am angry with Faber (and Faber) for not employing a competent editor. Faber used to be a guarantee of quality, TS Eliot was a director. There is a difference between an airport and an airfield, as Biggin Hill is. You cannot write 'a Battle of Britain airport', there is no such thing.

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