Bower Revisited

12/04/2011
FEATURE BY MIKE LAWRENCE

There was a healthy mailbox following my review of Tom Bower's ridiculous book on Bernie. More than one correspondent mentioned Ronnie Mutch's classic, 'Niki Lauda and the Grand Prix Gladiators', with its harrowing chapter of the trials Ronnie endured to obtain a press pass at Watkins Glen. Ronnie Mutch is a bit like the director, Ed Wood, whose masterpiece, Plan Nine From Outer Space, is so bad that it must be seen.

Bowers' book, by contrast, is like the worst big-budget movie you have ever seen, it has no redeeming feature. Imagine 'The Swarm' made as a musical - in 3D.

Normally, I would leave it at that, but Bower has done the unforgivable, he has slagged off another writer's work. Susan Watkins's biography came out a few months ago and Bower is not kind about it. Presumably, he thought he could get away with slagging off a rival's book because he was on a phone link to a radio programme in Australia. Wrong! Pitpass has thousands of readers in Australia so naturally we have the interview in full and very interesting it is. Indeed, I'd say that some comments border on the slanderous. You can judge for yourself via this link.

Poor Bower seems not to understand how the Internet works. He's like those people who post nasty comments about their boss on Facebook and wonder why they are sacked.

Susan Watkins is a respected historical biographer and is the wife of Prof. Sid Watkins who revolutionised medical care at Grands Prix. She has known Bernie for many years.

It is unforgivable that he slags off another author and it is for this reason, plus the fact that he is now promoting himself as an expert on motor racing, that I return to Bower. He needs to be put in his place.

Bower says that when Bernie heard that he was researching a book, Bernie invited him to lunch. Bower never got the fact that Bernie has a brain the size of Kent. As Michael Corleone famously said in The Godfather II, 'Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.' A couple of trips to races in Bernie's private jet and Bower was putty in Bernie's hands.

Take the 1978 Swedish GP when Brabham ran the BT46B 'fan' car. Someone told Bower that Niki Lauda was not told about the secret fan. Bower says that Bernie's strategy for qualifying was to top the tanks so the car ran on maximum weight. Who could have told him this? I bet that Bernie wet himself when Bower fell for it.

Bower says that Niki qualified tenth in Sweden and I do not get why the guy would mention a starting position only to get it so wrong. Niki was third on the grid. Had Bower Googled '1978 Swedish GP', he would not have only got his basic facts right, he would have learned about the politicking in the aftermath when Bernie sacrificed his advantage for stability in the sport.

Someone must have told Bower that the Yardley BRMs were painted pink, you would not make it up yourself. My guess is that Bower was fed a load of crap by motor racing people and one thing that motor racing people like is the wind-up. All Bower had to do was to tap 'Yardley BRM' into Google, but he could not be bothered.

Wind-ups have been going on for years. John Cooper convinced hacks that Cooper used Ribena, a blackcurrant cordial, as an aid to cooling. John also planted an exclusive that he was flying to Russia to negotiate the use of the Moskvich V12 F1 engine. When motor racing people see a self-important, ignorant twat, they take the piss and quite right too.

In his Australian interview Bower speaks of Bernie mingling with crooks, even murderers, in the Warren Street Market. In fact, Bernie was not a Warren Street trader, though Colin Chapman was so, indeed, was Roy Salvadori. Bernie bought cars there, but he had a showroom and his special skill was immaculate presentation.

I have a heap of stories about some of Bernie's deals, but none of them involve dishonesty. He is as hard and sharp as flint, and I would not want to trade with him. He uses language with precision and can quote the small print.

Naturally, Bower misses how Bernie made his big money, which was through dealing in property. I believe that he made a killing when Erith, a run-down district of South London, underwent massive reconstruction in the 1960s. Erith and Bexleyheath, where Bernie had his business, are both in the Borough of Bexley.

I also believe that Bernie bought land in the vicinity of Heathrow Airport when it was going for a song. In the early 1960s, nobody wanted to live under a flightpath, double-glazing was still exotic in Britain. Most people crossed the Atlantic by ocean liner, there was little in the way of air freight and the cheap package holiday to Spain had not arrived. Land near Heathrow was cheap, now there are freight depots, hotels, and valet parking services.

If my information is correct, it shows that Bernie was a visionary who foresaw the expansion of air travel. I am not surprised, because it was he, and he alone, who saw the potential of Formula One as mass entertainment. Initially Bernie negotiated starting money for team. In the late 1970s, television expanded and needed to fill air time.

Not only did Bernie move in on television, he snapped up rights to images. Indianapolis had done this for years, Bernie took it to a new level. I was the historical consultant on BBC-2's 'The Power And The Glory' which contains no F1 images post-1978. Bernie was charging four times the fee that the otherwise most expensive archive was charging. He took the view, 'I got, you want, take it or leave it.'

Bower mentions Nicola Foulston who once negotiated to return the British GP to Brands Hatch, a plan which was thwarted by the local authority failing to give the planning permission to upgrade the circuit. Brands Hatch is a great circuit and once alternated with Silverstone to hold the British GP. Nicola inherited Brands Hatch, together with Cadwell Park, Oulton Park and Snetterton after her father, John, was killed while testing an Indycar at Silverstone.

John Foulston was a bumptuous man who made millions by leasing computers to businesses. In 1986, he sold Atlantic Computer Leasing to an investment fund which did not see Microsoft and Apple coming. At the time, it was the largest financial crash on the London stock exchange.

Atlantic Computer Leasing had sponsored Historic racing and John Foulston, though not a natural driver, applied himself and became pretty quick in a Can-Am McLaren M8C. He was a bit full of himself and this was his undoing. When he sold his company, he bought Brands Hatch and so naturally he had to deal with Bernie. Bernie made an offer, Foulston told him to go forth and multiply. Bernie said, 'Those are the two most expensive words you will ever say.' Within days of Foulston buying Brands Hatch, it no longer alternated to hold the British GP.

The RACMSA called a meeting of interested parties and the arguments went back and forth. Eventually the chair turned to Bernie and said the meeting had not heard from him. Bernie said, 'I own the cars, so f*** off.'

I have been sitting on that story for 25 years and thanks to my review of Bower's book, I have had confirmation from someone at the meeting. Unlike Bower, we proper researchers require at least two independent sources.

Among the reviews of Bower's book has been one from Max Mosley in 'The Spectator', a weekly magazine with links to the Conservative Party. Max is remarkably kind given that Bower's account of his publicised S & M session claims that it involved Nazis and concentration camp victims, when it did not. It involved five hookers and commonplace S & M scenarios, the newspaper made sensational claims and Bower merely repeats them.

News International, the owner of The News of the World, has just made a public apology for tapping telephones. It hopes to settle for 20 million pounds, but there is fat chance of it getting off that lightly. I have no idea whether Max's phone was tapped, but those of other sports administrators were and cases have come to court. Damages have been huge.

My guess is that Max used Bower to get at Ron Dennis. Max and Ron have been at loggerheads for years. Max was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and Ron has succeeded on his ability. Max has left behind some very good initiatives, Ron's legacy includes the McLaren F1, the Mercedes McLaren SLR and now the McLaren MP4-12C, the only current supercar I want to own.

In their different ways, I find both men admirable, but they have never got on. My hunch is that Max used Bower to attack Ronzo and Bower was too daft to realise it. Ronzo has won World Championships and caused to be made the greatest road car ever, yet Bower calls him a former grease monkey.

It is noticeable that a disproportionate amount of space is given to Max's embarrassment and the Spygate scandal whereas Bernie, and it is Bernie's biography, was peripheral to both. The FIA kept Max in office and the FIA imposed the fine on McLaren.

Bower gives the stories prominence because they are sensational. It may also be that they are easy to write because so much is on-line.

Bower often appears to have done no research, he did not even create a time-line which is why his book is all over the place. He takes events from 1982 and puts them in 1977. He makes things up and that is unforgivable in someone claiming to be an historian.

He has used Terry Lovell's book as a source and he cannot even copy accurately. Bower gives Bernie's place of birth as Saint Peter, Suffolk, but there is no such place. Many English villages have the name of the local church in its title, but none is named after a saint. To an Englishman, it was so obviously wrong that I checked, as Bower's editor should have done. There was a time when Faber & Faber employed literate people.

Terry Lovell gives Saint Peter South Elham or, possibly, Wisset. Bernie's birth registration gives nearby Wangford. Incidentally, some people have suggested that Bernie may have lost a couple of years, as actresses are wont to do. I can confirm that his date of birth was, indeed, 28th October, 1930.

The original documents are on-line. I checked, but Bower did not. He cannot even copy Terry Lovell's book accurately.

Bower is now presenting himself as an expert on motor racing simply because he has written the worst book ever on the sport.

What is the reason for of my vitriol? I have never met the man or had any dealing with he or his publisher. It is plain wrong that this popinjay can be invited to speak on behalf of our sport.

If you go to YouTube, you will find a prepared interview with the man placed by his publisher. We can all be caught off-guard, but this is a staged PR job. I cannot remember the last time that I so wanted to punch somebody in the face or, at least, give him a Chinese burn. The smug, arrogant, git has that effect on me.

Mike Lawrence
mike.lawrence@pitpass.com

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Published: 12/04/2011
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