I was talking the other evening with a fellow racing enthusiast when the subject of old motor racing programmes came up. Our Goodwood events since the first Revival Meeting of 1998, and some of the Festivals of Speed beforehand, have tried to ring some changes in the format and content that our programmes have embodied.
AUG 16th 2017
Doug Nye: What makes a period race programme?
But back in period the real driver behind race programme concept and design was pretty much to save every possible expense, as well as to inform the race-goer of the runners and riders, scheduled timings, special attractions and maybe personality and/or car profiles – and that was just about “it”.
Now I apologise for banging on about the Phil Hill books that we have just published – see philhillbook.com – but one feature of the concept and design there has been to feature as many as we can of the contemporary programme covers, posters and other memorabilia from Phil’s enormous collection. These appear as small decorative motif items in the page margins and the book designer describes them as ‘marginalia’ – which my publishing friend Paul Vestey insists upon entirely mispronouncing… just for fun.
Some of the cover artwork in those old race programmes is just lovely – especially the Art Deco style illustrations used by so many of the French organisers through the 1950s into the 1960s. The Le Mans race programmes are a case in point, while some of the French GP publications for the Reims-Gueux circuit were lovely too.
Somewhere there is cope for a wonderful art book presenting all this tremendously evocative body of work. Some of the German race programmes used to reflect that nation’s life and times, especially, of course, the swastika-enhanced period of the 1930s.
In general, the British Automobile Racing Club’s race programmes for Goodwood were quite modest publications, compact and pocket-sized – matching the standard British pocket in a navy blue, black or brown raincoat – but they ran for the Easter Monday Meeting to a good 48 pages. I have one to hand here for the 1961 Easter Monday Meeting, precisely that size – with advertisements helping defray the cost from ‘The Autocar’, Avon Tyres, Rootes Motors (for the Sunbeam Rapier), The Owen Organisation (owners of the BRM team and major suppliers to the British motor industry, Gilby Engineering (Sid Greene and his young son Keith, entrant and aspiring racing driver), Ferodo, Molyslip, Ford, Esso, Lucas – yes, the Prince of Darkness himself – and many more familiar trade names.
Names of race officials were extensively provided and credited, the current Lord March’s grandfather ‘His Grace the Duke of Richmond and Gordon (resident of the British Automobile Racing Club’ being most prominently presented. Chief Steward of the Meeting representing the RAC was none other than the Right-Honourable Earl Howe PC, CBE, VRD backed up amongst others by F.H. Bale OBE MIMechE and E.C. Gordon England FRAeS. Now all of those names would have been familiar in Brooklands days, back in the 1920s and 1930s – which were then of course only as far past as the 1980s and 1990s today (now isn’t that a sobering thought?).
The Brooklands race programmes of the pre-war period are highly sought after collectors’ items still. They came to have a common artwork front cover for most regular meetings- rather in the style of contemporary touring posters on the railways – that kind of figure painting. Each front cover announced itself as ‘Brooklands Weybridge – Official Race Card’ and the common price for each one in the mid-1930s was one shilling. This compares to the 1961 Goodwood race programme, which would have rushed you a whole two shillings…
Amongst the Brooklands race programmes, there would be stand-out meetings – such as the British Empire Trophy Race – or the International Trophy. Those programmes had artwork covers entirely of their own – as did the great British Racing Drivers’ Club’s 500 Miles Race.
Today – like all those exotic race programmes in the Phil Hill Collection – these are highly collectible pieces, and they provide a lovely window into the bygone time when H.M Bntley & Partners of Hanover Court, London W1 would be advertising a new 3 1/2-litre Bentley Park Ward saloon for £1,475 or Alvis would be extolling the virtues of ‘No-Draught Ventilation’ on their Firebird, Silver Eagle 16 and Speed 20 Saloons. Either should I overlook “The New Smith Jackall Built-In Jacking System” – now standard equipment on every Morris (except 8hp) Austin 16, 18 & 20hp – You must investigate its merits”… Aaah yes, advertising copy writing was, well, different then…
And it is also thought-provoking to study the prize details divulged, not least in the Goodwood programmes – as for Easter Monday 1953. The Richmond Trophy Formula Libre race for the Glover Challenge Trophy would pay the winner 75 guineas – 35 guineas for second – 10 guineas for third and 10 guineas for fourth. All other events offered “Cash prizes and replicas kindly donated by the manufacturers of Carburol as follows: First 20 guineas – Second 10 guineas – Third 7 guineas – Fourth 5 guineas”.
Yes, that’s right – £5.25 for fourth place at Goodwood. Now you know that made sense. And it leaves me, at least, with a proper sense of proportion. You can read all about it in the old race programmes…
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