From the back seat – part 18


My dad’s Technical Editor on the mag was John Vernon Bolster, known as JVB,  who was a true eccentric and the perfect foil to my dad, always sporting an enormous bushy moustache, tweeds and a deerstalker. They were great mates and worked their way around the circuits and motoring social scene with a blend of journalistic professionalism and fun. In spite of his appearance of being outspoken, I learned later that Bolster was painfully shy. Hard to believe at the time, as he was always at the centre of things, reciting very rude ditties and talking filth to young waitresses. My dad, on the other hand, was certainly not retiring, and could be found at the centre of the same things with Bolster, usually accompanying him on the ivories, with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth and a glass of beer teetering on the top of the piano. In a way, they were like a couple of naughty schoolboys, getting into scrapes, leading each other on, drinking way too much and just mucking about.

JVB was a great Francophile, so any excuse to go to a race at Rouen, Montlhéry, Reims, Le Mans, Clermont-Ferrand or Monte Carlo, or to test a French car, or to go to the Paris Salon, and he was over the Channel like a flying ferret, racing down to Ferryfield, later Lydd airport, to load his baby Renault or hire car or test car onto a Silver City Bristol Freighter bound for Le Touquet. Then he was off, scurrying into Paris, to meet up with Jabby Crombac, the legendary Autosport Foreign Correspondent, who would take him to various dives and night clubs in Rue Pigalle. Even when his ‘harsh’ editor, as he called him, made him go to Germany, which he, along with George Phillips, the Chief Photographer, loathed, he always managed to return via Paris, to ‘restore my sense of humour’. For Phil, who served in the RAF, ten years was not enough clear water to separate him from the Germans and the war. Whenever he had to go, he was a bit of a liability, with a great deal of posturing and downright rudeness, so it was more pragmatic to send someone else. Bolster didn’t care for the Germans, either, but this was probably more to do with their cuisine than their inappropriate conduct in Europe.

JVB was a good writer, but detested the idea of anyone altering his copy. He rarely went to the Praed Street offices of Autosport in Paddington and did most of his writing at home down on his farm in Sussex, and sent his copy up by post, written on lined air-mail paper in biro. Woe betide anyone who altered one word of his piece. Poor Simon Taylor, at the time, the office junior, was always the first in on a Friday morning, the day the magazine came out, and at 9 o’clock precisely the phone rang and Bolster’s high-pitched, plummy voice, without even a “good morning” or a “hello”, launched straight into, “Some c***’s altered my copy!” He did have a somewhat florid style, and so different from today’s writers as to sound positively quaint. However, it is the perfect antidote to that big-headed – both metaphoric and hydrocephalic – boor, Jeremy Clarkson, who has dragged writing about cars to new depths of laddish brutalism, with his flip, extended metaphors and sloppy jingoism. If ever there was a middle-aged lad who should not try to squeeze into a pair of jeans several sizes too small, Jeremy’s your man.


J VB once track-tested a Ferrari Testa Rossa around Goodwood and described its handling in a rather flamboyant way:”‘I really had to work to keep this projectile on the circuit at racing speeds, for it is one of those cars that understeers strongly at the lower velocities while the rear end breaks away spectacularly on really fast bends. Yet, curiously enough, this exciting machine is very controllable in a rather “hairy” way, and I found that I could really slide it without entering the décor”. Mr Clarkson would probably have prefaced his road test with “If this car was a woman . . .”‘

Having been reading Autosport since he was a lad of seven, Simon Taylor was thrilled to meet dad at a demonstration of Cibié quartz-iodine lights at Hendon aerodrome (exciting times, those), after he had come down from Oxford with a degree in English. He promptly offered his services as Somerset correspondent for Autosport, and for no pay. Dad said that they didn’t really have a requirement for such a parochial post, but would happily pay him to become a editorial assistant. He joined the magazine in 1966, under the associate editor Patrick McNally. Paddy was not the archetypal racing journalist. For a start he was rich; he drove his own Ferrari and was a legendary cocksmith. He also appeared to be a bit of a toff, and he drove, with moderate success, in a number of club races around the country and abroad, in big American cars, like Ford Fairlanes, Galaxies, Mustangs, Shelby Cobras and a GT40, as well as a Lotus Elite, a Morgan, and an E-type. There was still a coterie of well-groomed and polished gentlemen drivers, the likes of Jack Sears, Tommy Sopwith, Roy Salvadori, Sir John Whitmore, Mike Parkes and Sir Gawaine Baillie, who were a throwback from the pre-war Brooklands era, of rich, and sometimes titled, amateurs, racing purely for pleasure.These boys, though, were very good drivers, and there was always a healthy competitiveness between them. I don’t know how they perceived this man McNally, but it seems he was able to infiltrate this exclusive clique, and also a younger version, which comprised Charlie Crichton-Stuart, Charles Lucas, known as Luke, who used to throw his 250F Maserati around with abandon, Piers Courage, who became a successful BRM F1 driver, Chris Irwin,  Alain de Cadenet, who always looked as though he had been to handsome classes and Robs Lamplough, aviator and racer.

    I was suspicious of the number of notches he claimed to have etched on his bed-post, partly because of his appalling breath, which would have stopped a charging rhino in its tracks at a hundred metres, but also because of the light dusting of snow on the shoulders of his blazer, no matter what the season. He went on to make a stupendous amount of money out of marketing GP racing with Bernie Ecclestone, and moved to Switzerland, so obviously those perceived twin handicaps of halitosis and dandruff never hampered him. His chalet in Verbier, where he used to entertain Sarah Ferguson prior to her marriage to Prince Andrew, was known as Castle Coke, which one can only presume alluded to the amount of Coca-Cola they consumed. Maybe that light dusting wasn’t scurf after all? When Simon Taylor first met McNally, he was greeted with the words ‘Tricky Dickie’s bought it!’ It was only later he deciphered it to mean that a popular and successful E-type Jaguar driver, Richard Protheroe, had died in a motor racing accident while practicing in a Ferrari at Oulton Park.

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