A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Hooptedoodle #114 - The End of Another Year - Tony Brooks

Well, you may find this hard to believe, but it seems that yet again I have failed to make the New Year honours list. I had sort of hoped that maybe the letter on the official headed notepaper had just been delayed in the Christmas mail, but the lists are out and – I just have to accept it – I’m not mentioned.

You’d have thought just a measly CBE or something wouldn’t have been too much trouble or expense – they don’t have to go daft – I am humble enough to accept crumbs from the royal table with good grace. In case you are wondering just why I might merit some kind of recognition from a grateful nation, I wish you wouldn’t keep bringing that up – I can only respond that I seem to be at least as deserving as many who are on the list. Not that I spent much time reading it, you understand.

There’s a lady who has been a very famous actress for a great many years – you know the one – she was in that TV series we all used to watch years ago – what was it called, again? – that other fellow that died recently was in it, too – what was his name? And then she was in lots of other things – she was always on TV, in our living rooms – she was like one of our family, and we all loved her. Anyway, they’ve made her a Grand Dame, or a Wicked Stepmother or something. So now, in addition to being wealthy and famous she is elevated to the peerage.

I think that’s wonderful. There’s also some chap that has been a big wig in the finance industry for a long time who is now Sir Big Wig – he looks like another deserving case – a knighthood is probably one of the very few things he couldn’t afford to buy. Well – now I come to think of it, perhaps he could. Maybe that’s where I’m going wrong.

I did spend enough time with the list to note that there are also a few people on there who have been rewarded for their work for charity, or their contribution to scientific advance and stuff like that, but I wasn’t very interested in them – I’d never heard of them – no-one ever mentions them at the hairdresser’s – and I rather regard them as faceless do-gooders. The papers don’t bother much with them either, which just goes to prove something or other. It would be churlish to begrudge them even their lower-profile honours – I mean, good for them – but it does add weight to my argument that there seem to be enough places available (I’m sure that’s not the right word) for them to have squeezed me in.

Not to worry. Rise above it. I shall enjoy my continuing anonymity, and the distinction of being one of the last people in the UK who are not famous.

Moving on, I have to observe that this is a strange time of year – we appear to be obsessed with looking back over the year and producing lists of things. TV is stuffed with this – The Top 50 Most Pointless List Shows of 2013, and similar. I guess we must like this kind of thing, though it has been suggested that it is just a very cheap way of re-running old clips into a botched-up show and giving Harry Hill or Jimmy Carr something to do. Switching on the TV last night, the Contesse and I were shocked to see a news announcement of the death of Mel Smith, the comedian and writer (I’m not sure if he was an MBE or anything) – our shock being heightened by the fact that he also died during the Summer, so it was yet another re-run. That’s one problem with re-runs – if you don’t watch them from the start, and don’t pay attention, it can become very confusing – you can get hold of the wrong end of all sorts of sticks, and this is a very easy time of year to get confused.

Given that every meaningless statistic in the world is now at copywriters’ fingertips, and everything that was ever filmed (including out-takes) is stored away somewhere, it must be possible to create a TV show of some sort at hardly any cost at all. A major contribution to helping with the Economic Depression, or depression of any sort – at peak viewing hours, the whole family can sit on the sofa, break out the catering sized bags of Doritos and watch yet another show which cost hardly anything to produce. Ideal – we will also get to sit through the advertising breaks (mostly ads for low-quality sofas and for Doritos, in fact, just as a lifestyle check), and if the story line or the information content is not demanding that’s OK; it matters less if Maureen misses most of it, checking her texts, or if we get distracted by a parallel discussion of some other show that we failed to understand previously – you know, the one with that bloke in – what’s his name?

On this general theme of recorded statistics and old pictures, one of my Christmas presents was a book called Poetry in Motion, the autobiography of one Charles Antony Standish Brooks, better known as Tony, who was a great hero of mine when I was a small boy. He was, of course, a remarkably successful racing driver back in the bad old days when motor racing was mostly a ghastly pastime for young men who found the end of WW2 had made things too boring. I loved the sport, even if it was too frequently a public cremation ritual, and still have a great interest in the earlier years of Formula One – I have a hefty collection of books and old films.

Brooks was a bit different. He was exceptionally gifted, but even back in the 1950s it was obvious that he was not one of the usual hellraisers and wild men of the sport. He was noted as quiet, a bit studious and retiring, and, as far as I know, does not appear in any photos drinking beer with Mike Hawthorn. He was a qualified dentist, a devout Catholic (I now learn), and avoided the wilder excesses. When he got married he retired at once from all forms of motor racing, opened a motor dealership which became very successful and raised a large family. Now 81, he is still going strong.

To put some dimensions on his career, he raced at the top level for only a few years – he was in F1 from 1955 until his retiral at the end of 1961, and he won Grands Prix for Vanwall and Ferrari. If he had had a slightly more pushy personality, and been prepared to take some extra risks, he would certainly have been a deserving World Champion for Ferrari in 1959. But he didn’t. That is why he is ultimately less famous than Sir Stirling Moss (that knighthood thing again), for example, though of course Moss never won a Championship either.

So - always a rather shadowy figure, and one who disappeared without trace after retiral, though I have met him a couple of times at Aintree and Goodwood in recent years. That is “have met” in the sense of “got him to sign my copy of some book or other” – he was always in notably better shape at these events than his contemporaries, Moss and Salvadori – remarkably sprightly, almost boyish for a man in his 70s.

Proper racing car - Brooks in a Ferrari, winning the 1959 French GP
Before I got the new book I was surprised by a couple of the customer reviews – there were complaints that it appeared to be mostly a collection of detailed accounts of very similar races – many of them minor club events – which quickly became boring. I dismissed these with a shake of the head – this is a racing driver’s autobiography, which kind of sets the context, you would think, and the man is from a different age – there are no tales of wild parties – this is not Eddie Irvine.

Well, I’ve been reading it. You know what? It is rather boring. The book is written, without any ghostwriters, by an 81 year old man, of deeply honest and slightly curmudgeonly nature, a man who apologises for including contemporary press quotes which show him in a favourable light. It is constructed mostly from his own very detailed records of his racing career, so the reader is going to get more detail on weather conditions, lap times and mechanical problems during testing than they may be comfortable with.

Me, I love it, but I can see how some chapters might be seen by the less nerdy as a collation of The 12 Most Boring Sports Car Races of 1953. Super photos throughout, and I can satisfy the Inner Nerd by identifying as many other cars and drivers of the day as possible. Pass the Doritos, Maureen, I’m going to be busy for a while.

I wish you all - whoever and wherever you are - a very happy and peaceful New Year.


  1. Wouldn't worry about not making the list - she missed me too. Didn't even get an invite to Sandringham over the holidays either, and we live just up the road.

    1. Never mind - we few remaining commoners will have to stick together.

  2. And... Happy New Year. Which I forgot to put.

    1. Thank you, Rob - all the best to you.

  3. "I loved the sport, even if it was too frequently a public cremation ritual" - a classic line, sir. That made me laugh and spray coffee.
    Thank you for your deeply honest and slightly curmudgeonly blog. It always interested me in 2013, even if I didn't read it as much s I should have. Wishing you and yours all the best in the new year,
    Michael (also almost boyish and slightly curmudgeonly)

    1. Very best wishes to you, Michael - thanks for reading the blog, as much as you did.

  4. Well that was a post worth reading. It's bucked me up no end and I now feel sufficiently fortified to do the ironing.

    I heard whisper that I was in the running for a knighthood, so I dropped a quick MRU ('much regret unable') note to HRH and declined on the grounds that cretins like Brute Foreskin had devalued them. That should save her some embarrassment. Of course, I could have imagined the rumour . . . .

    So, have a jolly good New Year and let's hope we all have a twelve months of what we want rather than what we probably deserve.

    1. I admire your good taste - a pre-emptive refusal is classy. I had considered returning my Cycling Proficiency badge in protest at what I see as a trend to trivialise the Order of Bath, but thought I might hold off on that until next year.

      Nice to see Brucey honoured, though [all together, now…] - to see him honoured, NICE.

      All the best, Gary - look after yourself.

  5. Perhaps next year they will come to their senses. If not I wish you an excellent year anyway.


    1. Thank you, Ross - good New Year to you - I've greatly enjoyed your blog this year, as ever.

      I hope i get the call for next year's list - I've been practising my curtsey and everything.

  6. Happy New Year Tony - I'm only catching up with blogs now.

    Regarding the Honours List. I would seriously consider anything less than a Peerage to be a slight and I would urge you not to allow yourself to be fobbed off with a mere medal.