Back in 1996 when our friend Denis Jenkinson died, another motor racing mate, photographer Geoff Goddard, and I were left with the job of organising his funeral. Geoff was a most extraordinary man. His nickname amongst the magazine editorial staffs he had supplied with magnificent racing photography over so many years had become ‘Irascible of Camberley’. He was a walking, talking, unpredictable hand grenade of a man. He might be what he really was beneath the spring-loaded surface – widely knowledgeable, humorous, immensely generous… Or he might be explosively rude and dismissive. It depended, in effect, whether ‘the pin’ was in or out.
JUL 13th 2016
Doug Nye – Remembering Jenks and Jazz
One of his lifelong joys and interests was good music. As a wartime child he had a particular grasp of jazz, swing and classical music. And as a working contemporary of ‘Jenks’ these were musical tastes they certainly shared. Jenks’s enjoyment of jazz in particular extended to occasional attempts to play the clarinet. I never heard him do so, in all the long years I knew him, but it was certainly there, lying around in his remote little lodge house out in the woods near Crondall in Hampshire.
Anyway, the upshot of all this is that Geoff agonised over what music should be played at Jenks’s funeral, in Aldershot. What he came up with, I have always thought, was a choice of genius. Jenks was a big man in a small man’s body. He had been a very accomplished gymnast and long-distance cyclist in his pre-motoring youth – with the competitive nature perhaps associated with being, as he would say, 5ft 3 1/2ins tall. When the advent of the Boeing 747 persuaded him that he could bear trans-Continental flight and so could report on ‘fly-away’ Grands Prix in the USA and South Africa, he noticed that the fastidious Bernie Ecclestone on those long flights would change his clothes halfway. Meeting Bernie in the aisle he would say “You know Bernie, I’ve always liked talking with you because you’re the one man in Formula 1 I can always look straight in the eye”. He would then, I was reliably informed, ask if Bernie would let him have his old clothes because they’d fit perfectly and had plainly been hardly worn. Mr E – who had been around racing for fewer years than had Jenks, apparently took this kind of ribbing in good part. He just told the bearded wonder, mildly, “Jenks - do f— off” - and they and other F1 people adjacent would all laugh and the prospects for another Grand Prix race would fill their focused minds. It was good big-boy stuff. Grown-ups with a sense of fun… buried in there somewhere… and in some people, more deeply than in others.
The music choice that Geoff came up with for Jenks’s funeral included two jazz numbers. The second of them, to be played during departure after the service, was the Chris Barber Band’s ‘South Rampart Street Parade’ – we didn’t want anyone to leave unhappy… And before that Jenks’s coffin was to be borne into the chapel – sorry, this isn’t meant to be at all morbid, the couple of hundred attendees were there to celebrate his life – to the notes of ‘Petite Fleur’, the Chris Barber Band’s million-selling 1959 hit with its signature clarinet solo played by the great Monty Sunshine.
If interested you can find the track here and note the pause around 54-55 seconds – Geoff’s mischievous practical-joke thinking that it would catch out the pall bearers, trying to keep step with Monty’s playing, and how much Jenks would have enjoyed that. So it was ‘Petite Fleur’ for our friend, and mentor – little bloke, little flower, clarinet, and of course those jazzmen, most notably Chris Barber himself, but also Monty Sunshine, and their friendly rival Acker Bilk too, were all fellow motor car and motor racing fans…
In fact Chris Barber proved himself a very capable racing driver in his own right, a familiar sight around British race circuits with his singer wife Ottilie Patterson and their Lotus cars – most notably his lime-green Lotus Elite. In particular ‘the Chris Barber Elite’ became a very prominent contender when entered by its owner for fast-developing young driver John Whitmore. Most notably, John had co-driven the Border Reivers team-entered Lotus Elite at Le Mans in 1959 when they did exceptionally well, bringing the plastic fantastic home 10th overall. He then shone just as brightly in the Chris Barber-entered Elite in the RAC Tourist Trophy races run at Goodwood in 1961-62. He won the 1600cc GT class in the Sussex Trophy race at Easter Goodwood in both ’62 and ’63 when, for the TT, he moved on to the special-bodied Lotus Elan entered by SMART – the new Stirling Moss Automobile Racing Team. A hub failed and the car, pale green again, subsided in a three-wheeled heap at trackside. While that Coupe-roofed SMART Elan was certainly a very striking looking little car, it never approached the brilliantly-proportioned grace and intrinsic beauty of the Elite which preceded it – surely (thanks to part-time stylist Peter Kirwan-Taylor’s transcendent aesthetic taste) the most gorgeous small Grand Touring car ever created…
Of course Sir John – as he had become – absolutely excelled as a saloon car driver, his exuberant style suiting the Mini-Cooper perfectly as he became a great early-’60s crowd pleaser, before joining his great friend Jimmy Clark in Lotus-Cortinas, and then leading Alan Mann’s team into the FIA’s new European Touring Car Championship and winning the Division 2 title for Ford in 1965. By that time, he was also playing a prominent role in Ford GT development and competition, and became one of the Shelby American Cobra stalwarts as Alan Mann ran the European operation. But it was driving a Cobra roadster with a broken exhaust in the RAC TT at Oulton Park which left him in a terrible state, his hearing badly affected by disabling tinnitus and his mind – as he once told me - “…utterly jangled…” by the din, the vibrating and the thought-bending pressure waves. He retired soon after from full-time race driving… which was really the sport’s loss.
Meantime – in the tradition of so many great jazzmen who were also motor racing fans and aficionados – the great Chris Barber and his eventual ‘Big Band’ have played on. But for some of us ‘Petite Fleur’ – and Monty Sunshine’s clarinet artistry in that track - have special significance. And not least since it would surely have been played over the PA during some of the longeurs at the 1959 Goodwood TT meeting…when it was – as ‘Irascible of Camberley’ might have put it “…all the rage…”.
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