Wednesday 29 August 2012

An Imperial court

Depending on how you look at it, there's an inherent risk/benefit to the likes of me (and you) in having a friend who works in a charity shop.  You visit them at work and end up coming out with armfuls of books, knick-knacks and goodness knows what else, when you just went in to say "hello".  Oh, the temptation!  Invariably they also call you up to say that "something you'll like" has come in.

Something like... this:

I seem to be naturally progressing into an Imperial man.  This is now my second Imperial typewriter along with my 1956 Model 66 and my first portable for many years.  The font may be a bit smaller and a tad more higgedly-piggedly but the family relationship is there to see - at least, I think I can see it.  You may notice that this is actually a Litton Imperial 200.  Litton Industries was an American conglomerate founded in 1953 as an electronics company and by the time it taken over by Northrop Grumman(!) in 2001 it had diversified enormously into - to name but a few - shipyards, office furniture, oilfields and, yes, you've guessed it, typewriters.  In 1964 Litton Industries bought the Royal Typewriter Company in America.  Buoyed by this, two years later in 1966 it bought out British manufacturer Imperial (then three years after that it took over the German firm Adler).  Robert Messenger of the Australian Typewriter Museum explains in great detail the machinations of Litton's Royal-Imperial-Adler '60s takeovers in his blog here.

The upshot of this all is that my Imperial 200 is identical to some Royal and Adler models, was likely made in Japan (where Litton shifted all production) and was probably one of the last typewriters to feature the Imperial name (the company became defunct in 1974).

None of which bothers me at all, really.  While my eyes are still peeled for earlier portables from my era of choice, this little Imperial will do quite nicely for now.  I was bemoaning just the other day my lack of a portable typewriter should a type-in ever appear in the UK (and, by the way, my recent poll about a UK type-in received one vote, but it was a Yes so I look at it as 100% in favour!) and now I've got one!

Monday 27 August 2012

Slipper, (car) boot, hat and kettle - no, it's not Monopoly!

Only about half as big as this today, the Nevendon boot sale
(since when did boot sales have their own website?!)
First of all apologies for a week of radio silence, but some times these dry news spells come along and as much as I would like you to think I was gadding about during my "birthday week" I actually wasn't up to much of interest - I really am rather a boring fellow most of the time!  Although I did go to my first car boot sale for years today, a length of time made all the more shameful by the fact that it takes place just a mile down the road.  Two (or three if there's a bank holiday) times a week.  Today I resolved to check it out though and I must admit I've rediscovered the car boot bug.  I didn't end up buying anything but among the piles of charity shop rejects and dubious electrical appliances there were a few interesting items and I shall certainly be returning there in short order.

However, I did promise to show you my birthday presents when they arrived.  Well... most of them still haven't!  This is what comes of liking things that are not readily available in your high street shops, which these days usually results in money changing hands with the instruction to "buy something you like, you know where to get these things".  Not that I am for one second ungrateful for this, not a bit of it, but it of course adds to the equation time spent ordering gifts and waiting for them to be delivered.  A wait compounded by the presence of a bank holiday in the week following my birthday.  What this means is that of the objects I am about to show you, only one is currently in my possession - the others are still en route.

Churchill Grecian Slipper in brown (also available in black)
£17.50 (from £60) plus £5.75 p+p from Samuel Windsor

The item that has already reached me, that I have on my feet (big clue!) even as I type (not with my feet, you understand) is a new pair of... slippers!  I've never been one for just taking my shoes off indoors so the only gentlemanly answer is a pair of comfortable slippers.  Every other year or so I buy a new pair when the old ones wear out but this year I thought I'd try something a little different.  Whereas since time immemorial I've had standard cloth, rubber-soled jobs from Clarks et al., for some while I'd had my eyes of a pair of allegedly "handmade" full leather slippers from Samuel Windsor.  The splendid-sounding (and -looking) Churchill Grecian Slipper "comes from the Edwardian gentlemen's era" (so that had my attention immediately) and is supposedly handmade from the "finest" leather - upper and sole - and wool (for the lining).  The price - £17.50 (plus £5.75 p+p), still no more than I would have paid for a normal pair, from a RRP of £60 - ensured that my attention did not wander and the promise of "hardwearing properties" sealed the deal.  I've heard mixed reviews of Samuel Windsor and its wares in the past but I honestly can't envisage these being any worse than your bog standard house shoe, so I'm looking forward to these moccasins lasting longer than a couple of years.

When they first arrived they were a little tight despite being the size 10 I usually take, but a helpful note included in the box suggested that if this were the case I should remove the wool-lined innersoles and wear the slippers for about a week to allow them to "give" a little for "a perfect fit".  This was the one surprise for me; being used to a cloth slipper that would give and feel completely comfortable almost instantly these initially felt more like proper shoes, which being all-leather should not have come as a total surprise.  I'm happy to say that they are becoming more comfortable by the day (they arrived on Saturday) and I have high hopes that within a fortnight they should indeed be a perfect fit.

Staying with the sartorial theme my favourite online hatters (who I will continually recommend to anyone who will listen) came up trumps again with a sunhat that I hope will get some use before what passed for summer this year comes to an end.  Some of you may recall the grey fedora I purchased from Village Hats back in '09 (actually just before I started this blog, but I have mentioned it since).  Now along with the still-available (albeit now slightly more expensive) felt version a new straw one seems to have appeared as well!  I'd been after a new Panama-style hat for some time; the one I currently have, a Debenhams purchase from some years ago, while perfectly serviceable always had too high a crown I felt.  Attempting to counteract this by pushing the hat down low would only leave me with a noticeable dent in my hair(!).  This new hat, being a C-crown, shouldn't cause me to suffer from the same problem.  Plus at only £16.96 how could I resist?  (Admittedly this was with a 15% off code and free shipping - but I really do suggest signing up to Village Hats' newsletter which frequently contains such discounts on top of their already quite reasonable prices).

Jaxon Hats Summer C-Crown Fedora in Ivory (also available in Natural)
£19.95 (plus £1.50 p+p) from Village Hats

My final item is a mixture of style and necessity.  I believe it was Jeremy Clarkson who once said that you know you're grown up when you start buying useful things you actually need, but I still see no reason not to inject a bit of vintage charm into the proceedings.

Having gone through three electric kettles in a little over one year I have decided to turn my back on this new-fangled electricity (that's a lie, really, as I'll still be using an electric oven) and invest in a good old-fashioned hob-top whistling kettle.  No more burnt out elements and dangerously leaky spouts - just a plain old kettle with a whistle.  Hardly plain, though; this is what I'm getting:

Kitchen Craft Le'Xpress Coloured Whistling Kettle in Chilli Red
(also available in Midnight Black and Seashell Cream) from Amazon, price varies

Well that's it, that's all for now (although there will undoubtedly be other sundry purchases that I may show later, especially if and when I go back to the car boot sale) and it's enough, I reckon!  Another birth day, week and month is nearly over and done with; soon it will be time to look forward to the big 3-0 next year.  In the meantime I hope to resume normal service very shortly and see what new fun and frolics are occurring in the vintage blogosphere.


Monday 20 August 2012

Man seeks to stage around-the-world airship race

Man seeks to stage around-the-world airship race

I promised you a corker of a story for the next featured article to appear on this blog and I do believe this delivers.  On my birthday (near enough) too; what a bloggy present!  This could easily enter my personal top ten, if not the Stats' most popular.  Why, because it features airships!  A particularly vintage mode of transport that regular readers will know I am quite enthusiastic about and which is long overdue for a resurgence.  If that isn't enough it also marries these fantastic machines to an undertaking of historic and thrilling proportions - an around-the-world race!

I'm struggling to find the words to convey my enthusiasm for this idea - I mean, airships... flying around the world... visiting UNESCO World Heritage sites!  It sounds incredible - a never-before-tried, once-in-a-lifetime event.  Although even I started off thinking the accompanying video was a trifle hyperbolic in its language the more I think about it the more excited I become.  Is it too much to ask, though?  The World Sky Race, as it is known, has already had a long gestation period with launch dates having come and gone.  It would be a monumental task in both monetary and logistical terms and is the brainchild of just one man.  But some big names in aviation seem genuinely interested and more importantly members of UNESCO appear quite sympathetic to the idea, so there may be a good chance for it.  I certainly hope so!

It wouldn't be the first circumnavigation of the globe by a lighter-than-air ship, of course, as the German airship LZ-127 Graf Zeppelin undertook its own around-the-world flight in 1929.  That journey captured the public's imagination and cemented its place in aviation history.  Many dozens of books have been written, articles published and documentaries recorded - including the recent 2009 Dutch drama-documentary Farewell (shown on B.B.C. Four as Around The World By Zeppelin, as you may recall).  Why should it not be the same for the World Sky Race?

Those involved in the enterprise speak of its potential attraction to the public of today and I for one agree with them.  I'd even accept the airships having to be plastered in advertising if that's what it takes to realise this idea.  In this age of the Internet and instant communication, where distances are forgotten and travel is sanitised, a global airship race could serve as a reminder of the thrill and excitement of travel, the great expanses that make up our planet and the human endeavour it can still take to cross them.

Such was the kind of reaction to the famous long-distance aeroplane races of the 1930s, when friendly competition and national pride combined with cutting-edge technology to create spectacles that enthralled thousands - if not millions - of people as they followed these pioneering aviators as they raced across land and ocean in their attempts to be the fastest.  Like the 1929 Graf Zeppelin circumnavigation these journeys were the great adventures of their day.  As the human race becomes ever more sedentary with its computers and automated machines, events like the World Sky Race take on an even greater rôle - a challenge that requires strength, endurance and skill; proof that long-distance, circumnavigational racing by air still has its place in the 21st century.

Eleven years ago the 2001 London-Sydney Air Race gave me some idea of what it must have been like to follow the pilots of the 1930s in their similar England-Australia flights and proves that there is still an appetite for this kind of event.  Indeed record-breaking and endurance flights are still happening on a regular basis, but the suggestion of using airships is a novel yet worthwhile variation.  Worthwhile thanks in no small part to the involvement of UNESCO and the desire of the man behind the World Sky Race for these majestic "sky ships" to visit heritage sites throughout the world on their journey inspiring children everywhere to discover more about these important locations in a fun new way and showing these remarkable natural and man-made landmarks in a new and stimulating way to people all over the world.  For this noble reason alone the World Sky Race deserves to succeed.

The United States Army are known to be testing a new airship design and while the military aspect may not sit well with the peaceful, educational nature of the World Sky Race both it and the worldwide race would do wonders for the public perception of airships and go a long way to ushering in a new age of lighter-than-air travel.  If the World Sky Race stays on course then come 2014 I shall definitely be at Greenwich to cheer the participants on as they start their momentous journey and perhaps begin the renaissance of the airship.

Sunday 19 August 2012

Cards and a "Crash" of a birthday

Today was my 29th birthday, which means that my "roaring twenties" are drawing to a close (and, incidentally, that has already given me the idea for next year's theme when I plan to do a "Twenties to Thirties" party and so celebrate my two favourite decades of the 20th century too).

I'd love to be able to show you some presents but the truth is being that it fell on a Sunday this year my 29th was marked very quietly (I'd also been to a friend's wedding the day before, so the whole weekend has been a kind of double celebration) and as such I, um... haven't got anything yet(!).  Keep watching this space and some birthday gifts might start appearing later in the week.

A good sport!

In the meantime I can show you some cards from this (and past) birthday(s) that are notable for celebrating and encouraging not only birthdays but also individualism and gentlemanly qualities - something I seem to have noticed appearing on cards recently.  The wider availability of cards with such sentiments can only be a good thing, and I welcome them.

It's nice to know that in these times of e-cards and online stationers the traditional birthday card is still alive and well, with many a beautiful design and kind word to be found.  Even the younger (read: modern) members of the family know me well, with a classic car and old English pub on a sunny day just another example of a delightful, apposite subject matter - this one from my teenage niece. 

And for funny uncles everywhere, know that the tradition of being the "silly Uncle ..." is still upheld and that no matter how little the nieces or nephews may be they've got you just as well pegged as the rest of the family has, as this card from my other nieces goes to prove(!).  It's actually a few years old now but I still smile at it (and I know the sentiment still holds true, and after all I haven't changed!) and put it up every year.

In what may turn out to be more of a "birthday week" for me I hope to be back with some presents (and more cards) from more family meetings and outings, as well as the usual mix of vintage-inspired stories from around the world.  Speaking of "around the world" the next one's an absolutely top-hole item, which I hope to bring to you in the next couple of days.

Friday 17 August 2012

Cumbrian volunteers revamp historic 1930s carriage

Cumbrian volunteers revamp historic 1930s carriage

The heritage railways of the Kirkby Stephen Stainmore Railway Company and the Kent & East Sussex Railway form the backdrop for these two news items relating to the recent restoration of vintage rolling stock.

The first article is the standard story of a worn out railway carriage being returned to its original 1930s glory by a group of dedicated volunteers, but no less worthy for that.  The coach in this particular case is not quite finished - more funds are needed apparently - but I have little doubt that it soon will be and that it will be a welcome addition to the Stainmore Railway Company's stock.  The group should also be commended for its attempts to restore and reopen the Kirkby Stephen East railway station and so become part of the larger neighbouring Eden Valley Railway, itself aiming to become one of the country's newest heritage lines - I wish them both success.

I came across this second item quite by accident but it more than deserves its inclusion here, dealing as it does with a vintage vehicle reworked for modern - and noble - use.

Disabled access has long been something of a problem for older transportation systems, which in some cases have not and cannot be updated (witness the withdrawal of the tradition London Routemaster bus, due in part to its inability to meet the Disability Discrimination Act).  While it is only right and proper that less able-bodied people should be able to fully enjoy museum exhibits, heritage railways and the like the difficulty of providing full accessibility often still remains simply by dint of the historic construction of buildings and/or machinery (and in some cases, the impossibility of successfully converting them).

This is not the case on the Kent & East Sussex Railway though, I'm pleased to see.  9254 Petros was the first railway carriage to be fully converted for disabled use, following its decommissioning from mainline service in 1981 after twenty-five years of use.  A year later it was updated and delivered to the KESR and two years ago it began undergoing a complete refurbishment, the results of which you can see in the above news report that I stumbled across.

Now Petros is back in service on the Kent & East Sussex line, offering remarkably simple but effective access (and with it, greater enjoyment) for disabled passengers.  Approbation is in order for the railway, for having such a splendid carriage as part of their stock and for providing a valuable and much-appreciated service.  A service that should be the envy of many a heritage - and indeed many a modern - railway and another sterling example of traditional transport updated for the 21st century. 

Tuesday 14 August 2012

Plenty of books but not much service

Barely one month since my visit to the optician for a new pair of specs (actually the same pair of specs, just different lenses) I was back in town for my biannual dental check-up.  I can hear many of you shuddering at the thought of the dentist but personally I have always been very lucky (touch wood) when it comes to the old gnashers (apart from my teenage years when I had half-a-dozen removed and a brace fitted - but didn't everyone?).  A quick polish and a scrub up and everything was tip-top for another 6 months, although the suggestion for minimising the need for such polishing - drink less tea - wasn't met with great enthusiasm I can tell you.  If the cost is just a twice-yearly polish and buff-up then I'll keep having my cuppa, thank you very much.

Nice noir-ish cover art too!
Then it was off to trawl the charity shops, which sadly this time did not yield as many goodies as before.  I did manage to pick up a brand new - and I mean brand new, as in only published 5 months ago - copy of an Erle Stanley Gardner Perry Mason mystery: The Case of the Crooked Candle.  I'm a big fan of the Perry Mason stories, as you probably know, not to mention the TV series starring the late Raymond Burr.  The few books I have are of varying ages; most are the early 2000s House of Stratus reprints (funnily enough all sourced from library sales) although I do have one 1942 fourth edition of The Case of the Shoplifter's Shoe.  This latest title isn't, sadly, part of a new reprint of all of Gardner's work but rather one of a selection of "once famous but now neglected talents" of crime fiction including Margery Allingham, Francis Durbridge and D. M. Devine from publishers Arcturus.  Still, this was a title I hadn't got in my collection and at £1 for a book in the same condition as one that would retail for £6.99 I snapped it up.

It was at the library that I really hit the jackpot, however.  But before that... I'd gone in to return some books and pick up a reserved copy of R. J. Mitchell: Schooldays to Spitfire, a biography of the great aircraft designer written by his son Gordon Mitchell.  (After yet another viewing of The First of the Few starring Leslie Howard I felt moved to read more about the man, and at a cursory glance I can tell I shan't be disappointed with this book!).  It was at this point however that I encountered what I consider to be one of the banes of modern living.  The automated service.

Now, I know the thing exists because I walked past it on my way to the counter but - call me a Luddite - I hate automated system whatsits.  I use cash machines, but that's as far as I go (and if that makes me a hypocrite, so be it).  I don't know whether it's an extension of my - for want of a better word - old-fashionedness but I prefer to be served by a human being rather than a machine.  Don't even get me started on self-service tills!  The ones with two members of staff hovering nearby poised to offer assistance whenever the inevitable happens ("unexpected item in bagging area!") when they could be put to much better - and more efficient - use by, oh I don't know, sitting at a till scanning products through for the customer.  It's the same with this automated library system.  I remember when it was first introduced the mixture of pity and amusement I felt watching person after person struggling to work the touchscreen and the scanner, placing their books in front of this faceless box of bolts like worshippers offering up gifts to a mechanical god, before finally waiting for the librarian to come over and complete the process for them.  Upon which the machine spits out a receipt (which you have to keep with the book because it has the return date on it - apparently this is somehow better than a librarian with an ink date stamp) printed on paper the quality of which I'd be embarrassed to have in my bathroom.

Is this too much to ask?
So I ignore this waste of space and always head up to the counter (or a manned till, if I'm in a supermarket).  I hadn't been steered back to the self-checkout area for some time so when this happened:

Librarian:  "Can I show you how to use our automated check-in system?"

I remembered my previous responses to this question, drew myself up and said as politely but as firmly as possible:

Me: "I'd really rather you didn't, if it's all the same to you."

I have to admit that after that the atmosphere dropped by several degrees but really! what is it with this blasted self-service culture?  What annoys me even more is the fast-increasing view that by having these machines installed the library/supermarket/hospital is somehow doing us all a favour and that we should all be queueing up in excitement and appreciation, eager to use them and wondering how we ever got by just talking to another person.  Well they aren't and I'm not.  Honestly, they'll be expecting us to stack the shelves next.  Machines were envisioned to help (and maybe even replace) us in unpleasant and difficult tasks but instead they have been hijacked by penny-pinching corporations and used in unnecessary situations, forcing people into using them and putting customer relations (not to mention jobs) in jeopardy.  How soon before there is a whole generation who will never have experienced person-to-person interactions outside of their own home?

Anyway, rant over (and apologies, but this is something I feel very strongly about - I know that my readership includes one or two librarians so perhaps we shall also hear a contrasting view); let me show you all the books I got!  The same two tables and one shelf unit from my previous visit were still there but they had been replenished and joined by two boxes full of some really quite good (and in good condition) titles.  I ended up with an armful of five books.  Five!  For £2.20!  None older than ten years (and some again hardly withdrawn).  They are: Mr Bojangles: The Biography of Bill Robinson, A Land Girl's War by Joan Snelling (I must admit in my head I had Charly 'LandGirl's' voice - not that I've ever even heard it! - shouting "buy that!"), Elizabeth The Queen Mother by Hugo Vickers, Empire of Sand (a fictional story but using the character of T. E. Lawrence ["of Arabia"] and set in the Middle Eastern theatre of the First World War) and the biographical Joan Crawford: Not the Girl Next Door.

I'm really going to have to limit my book intake for the next few months now, I think.  Certainly I've got enough to keep me busy for a long time.  At the rate things are going my local library will soon be out of books and I'll have to open up my own library.  And I can assure you there wouldn't be a self-service machine in sight. 

Saturday 11 August 2012

It's not cricket, it's Captain Hastings!

It's been a while since anyone's done a post on Poirot's Miss Lemon and subsequently a while since I've done a Captain Hastings riposte.  I needn't have worried though; just when I was beginning to think that the infamous red-and-white bow cardigan had run its course, up it pops over on Porcelina's blog (along with some more loveliness from the early episode The Dream).  What more incentive does a chap need? {rubs hands gleefully}

I could have used The Dream in my own post but I had decided from the outset to go through the series on a chronological basis, which means the next episode to get the Eclectic Ephemera treatment is Four and Twenty Blackbirds.  I'm afraid you'll have to wait a little longer (4 episodes, to be exact) for The Dream!

In Four and Twenty Blackbirds Poirot and Hastings (plus Japp) investigate the deaths of two estranged artist brothers.  I hadn't seen this episode for a while and my recollection of it was of another one-outfit show for the good Captain, namely a traditional - and hardly worth commenting on - funeral dress (there being two deaths in this mystery).  How wrong I was, and what a pleasant rediscovery it was viewing this episode!

Everything we've come to expect - pin-striped shirt, brown slacks and cable knit
pullover.  Yes please with knobs on to it all!  (Note the cufflinks too - very proper!).

Like a true Englishman, Hastings is obsessed with the cricket - in this case probably the 1934 Ashes Test between England and Australia.  England aren't faring too well (in reality Australia would win the '34 Ashes 2-1), much to Hastings' consternation and Poirot's apparently bewildered indifference.

A closer look at the pullover and its smashing detailing around the neck and arms.
Topped off with a splendid matching tie.  I love that radio too!

Poor Hastings is very upset that his beloved England have already lost the first Test but Poirot doesn't care - he's off to lunch with his dentist.  Miss Lemon's not bothered either - and just so you can never say I don't give you anything, ladies, here she is:

I never see you mention this lovely outfit.  Why not, hmmm? ;-P

Soon enough, though, there are more important things to worry about than the cricket.  A man is found dead at the foot of his stairs.  Poirot and Hastings swing into action!

A double-breasted black blazer with (regimental?) crest, striped cravat (again
regimental colours perhaps?) topped and tailed with grey trilby and trousers form
quite a relaxed look for our favourite Captain.

Off the two of them go, interviewing neighbours, housekeepers and models along the way.

A closer look at the blazer/cravat combo, as our man interviews the deceased
artist's model
Another close-up.

If it is a regimental crest and cravat that Hastings wears, that is of course his prerogative having served in the trenches during the First World War.  I'm sure it's possible to get a cravat in the same or similar colours (personally I get mine from Tom Sawyer Waistcoats, where there are some very nice patterns - some not dissimilar to Hastings') but I'm not sure about crested blazers myself.  All right if you were a member of a regiment, club, university or something, I suppose but always a bit too "specific" for me.  Nothing wrong with a plain blazer and a cravat, though!

"Tastes more um, well, er... more rabbity than any rabbit I've ever tasted!"
Never mind the rabbit, check out the cardigan - and matching tie again.
What a co-ordinated chap Captain Hastings is!

Later that evening, Poirot serves Hastings dinner - rabbit in the style of Liège (yum!) - and then proceeds to watch him eat it, citing a painful tooth as the reason he's not having any.  Personally I'd be a little worried about Poirot's motives! 

A Hastings stable - light grey/brown jacket, suitable tie and a brown trilby.

The next day and Poirot is still caught up in the idea of a possible murder.  Hastings is still caught up in the cricket.

A better view - note the trousers in a slightly different shade of brown, a
clever touch that works really well.

The model, Dulcy Lane, is a bit stand-offish and it doesn't help Hastings' gentlemanly nature to know that she also poses nude(!).

Two Miss Lemon outfits in one post!  Spoiling you rotten, aren't I?

Back at the office and Miss Lemon is listening to the wireless while doing some filing.  Surely she hasn't taken to the cricket?  No, it's Raffles!

I couldn't resist this shot!

Then it's off to the coast for the funeral and to question more people connected to the brothers.  Does that stop Hastings reading the cricket news?  Of course not!

Traditional black funeral wear, which actually only features in one scene.
Hastings adds what little bit of style he can by going double-breasted, and the Homburg
is another welcome (and again, traditional) addition.

Poirot takes Hastings away before he can bore the mourners with his cricket talk and having got as much information as they can they head back to London.

Another wonderfully mixed-up outfit - grey trousers, a dark brown jacket and...
is that a Fair Isle pullover I spy under there?

Hastings makes a bee-line for the radio, while Poirot examines some evidence.

It is!  What a corker!  A splendidly puffed-out tie under that collar too!

England still aren't doing well so, although hopeful of a recovery, Hastings continues to devote his time to helping Poirot solve the case.  Which of course he does.

Another classic Hastings expression - and a quite striking tie.

Following the unmasking of the murderer, Hastings joins Poroit and his dentist at the same café that precipitated the whole mystery.  There Hastings is amazed and delighted to read of an England counter-attack and astounded by Poirot's response, which is surely one of the greatest moments in the entire series.

The next episode - The Third Floor Flat - is also a belter of an early Poirot, so watch out for it!  In the meantime, we once again take our leave of Captain Hastings (and the cricket!).

Thursday 9 August 2012

Jean Bugatti's final car completed 73 years after his death


Jean Bugatti's final car completed 73 years after his death

Bugattis seem to feature rather a lot on this blog (as well they should, being amongst the finest of classic - and modern - motor cars as well of one of my favourite marques) usually, it has to be said, in various states of disrepair.  The one in this story is no different, in fact it never even made it to completion - until now.

Jean Bugatti with his own personal 1932 Type 41 Royale

The design was the brainchild of Jean Bugatti, eldest son of company founder Ettore Bugatti and with whom he worked as de facto designer throughout the 1930s.  One of the company's most famous models, the gargantuan 1932 Type 41 Royale, was largely the work of young 23-year old Jean.

1936 Bugatti Type 57S Atalante

By 1939 Jean was completely established in the design department and had produced what are arguably still some of Bugatti's best - and the world's most beautiful - cars, including the 1936 Type 57S Atalante (one of which was found in original condition, unseen for 50 years, in a garage in Newcastle back in 2008).

1936 Type 57G 'Tank'

Again in 1936 Bugatti produced the remarkable Type 57G 'Tank' racer, which went on to have great success in various Grands Prix (including winning that year's French GP at Montlhéry) and later at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which it comprehensively won in 1937.  Come 1939 and Jean Bugatti had started on a redesign of the 57G for the Le Mans race of that year, dubbed the Type 57C 'Tank'.  It once again came first in what was the final Le Mans before the Second World War and Bugatti were riding high and looking to the future with the Type 64 Coupé prototype and some more advanced drawings by Jean Bugatti based on that design.

Jean Bugatti 1909-1939
Sadly Jean Bugatti would never see these new designs realised.  On the 11th of August 1939 he took the Type 57C 'Tank' on a post-race test (following its Le Mans win) on the supposedly closed factory test route that ran close to the French village of Duppigheim.  Unfortunately a drunk cyclist had managed to find his way through a gap in some fencing and so on to the road.  In his effort to avoid hitting the man Jean Bugatti's car left the road and struck a tree, killing him instantly.  He was 30 years old.

Following this tragedy and with war only weeks away, what was left of Bugatti's design department closed down and attention was directed elsewhere.  Now, 73 years later, the Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard, California has used the last design drawings left by Jean Bugatti shortly before he died to create a one-off, brand-new bodyshell.  Made using the same techniques Bugatti would have used to hand-build bodywork in the Thirties, this evolution of the Type 64 is on the verge of becoming a unique vehicle - a "new", never-before-seen 1939 Bugatti.

One of only two 1939 Bugatti Type 64 chassis, of a total of 3 produced

The Mullin Museum have been able to use one of only three original Type 64 chassis on which to mount the new bodyshell and the "virtually complete" car will be shown at a local event on the 17th August.  As a truly one-of-a-kind car it is, as its creators have said, a perfectly fitting tribute to Jean Bugatti and a valuable addition to the historic Bugatti catalogue.  It is an incredible and totally laudable undertaking and I for one can't wait to see the pictures of it on the 17th - I'm sure it will be worth the 73-year wait.

The single example of a bodied 1939 Type 64 Coupé

Tuesday 7 August 2012

Norwich girls bring the history of style to life

source (sauce?)
Norwich girls bring the history of style to life

Here's some vintage news featuring... can it be... isn't that...?  Yes, it's an article all about everyone's favourite vintage bloggers Retrochick, Missy Vintage and the Glamourologist - who together make up The Historical Sauces

Providing vintage hints and tips to the people of Norwich to help them look as good as they do, The Historical Sauces have made it to the attention of the Norwich Evening News.  Well done, girls!  Surely national newspaper coverage is but a step away(!).

I'm so glad to see the Sauces having such great success in Norwich, an area which is fast becoming a vintage hotspot.  (I wish I could say I've noticed this during my trips to Norwich to visit my dad's family but I seem to have missed it up 'til now - perhaps the result of remaining on the "hippy" outskirts!).  It is such an excellent endeavour - one that deserves to do well, as indeed it is.  They've had a nicely executed write-up in their local paper where they come over very well, which can only help their cause.  Congratulations all!

Sunday 5 August 2012

Vintage London buses in timetabled Harlow service

Vintage London buses in timetabled Harlow service

Hooray, hurrah; finally some proper vintage news!  Just when I was beginning to worry for this poor little blog too.  Everything seems to be about the Olympics at the moment (which is no bad thing and only right).  But what a splendid news story to kickstart an otherwise quiet summer.

You may remember a couple of months ago an article about the reopening of the Epping-Ongar heritage railway following several years of restoration.  As well as using diesel and electric locomotives - and more recently steam engines too - the Epping-Ongar Railway also runs vintage shuttle buses between the current westernmost terminus of Coopersale and the original terminus of Epping, at least until new track can be laid to allow trains to continue all the way.

Now, however, as well as providing this existing service the AEC Regent R/T's used by the EOR have also started running on an exciting new route for both local residents and visitors alike.  Service 396 (the original R/T service in Harlow up until the 1960s) will run thrice-weekly between Harlow bus station and North Weald.  Not just another shuttle bus, this route is supported by Harlow District Council which means it is a bona fide service - anyone can buy a standard ticket and travel on a vintage London Transport bus!  Even better, a special all-in-one ticket is also available allowing unlimited travel on the 396 (and 339 shuttle) plus the EOR's trains (which also stop at North Weald)!  A truly integrated vintage transport system if ever there was one!

St Andrew's Church, North Weald Bassett

North Weald itself is a lovely spot, the location of North Weald Airfield (made famous during the Second World War) & Museum amongst other things where there is a huge market and car boot fair held every Saturday as well as frequent air shows and classic car & bus rallies.  I haven't been for a while but with this latest development at the EOR I may just have to see about getting over there again.  Harlow can be quite pleasant too, I'm told, although I've never been there and being a New Town it has little history to it.


Only just this weekend I was thinking how it would be a wizard wheeze to run a vintage bus route to subsidise local services and blow me down if somebody hasn't come along and done it!  Currently the 396 Harlow-North Weald is only planned to run for one month, 'til the 1st September, on a trial basis.  Let us hope it proves such a success that Harlow Council and the EOR make a regular service out of it.  In the meantime I'm off to look at decommissioned AECs again - anyone fancy chipping in?

Saturday 4 August 2012

Basil Rathbone, Style Icon

While I wait for vintage news to pick up, and plan one or two other posts for the meantime, now seems ideal for another of my Style Icons from the Golden Era of Hollywood.


For many, myself included, Basil Rathbone was the best actor to play the great detective Sherlock Holmes (on the big screen at least) and it is that role for which he remains most known.  Prior to the Holmes series, however, he had already appeared in dozens of silents and talkies and was frequently the go-to actor for villainous parts (most memorably Sir Guy of Gisborne to Errol Flynn's Robin Hood and Captain Esteban Pasquale to Tyrone Power's Zorro).  As he tended to appear in period films he is often pictured in costume but this post will of course feature him in contemporary clothes (helped in no small part by twelve of the fourteen Sherlock Holmes films being set in the then-present 1940s).

That's not to say a deerstalker and an Inverness cape is
something to be sniffed at!
Although he carries off the heavy overcoat and trilby well too!

Along with his friends and later colleagues, including Claude Rains and Ronald Colman, Basil Rathbone served first as a private in the British Army during the First World War (where his theatrical training - he had first been on stage as early as 1911 - shone through not least when he successfully camouflaged himself and scouted enemy positions in broad daylight) before rising through the ranks to Captain.  At war's end he returned the the theatre (his first love) and continued to perform on stage into the '30s and beyond in tandem with his film work.


Off stage (and screen) Basil Rathbone was no doubt a typical British gentleman actor of his time and if you watch interviews with him just as himself he comes across as a delightfully affable and good-humoured chap.  His on-screen personas, even the aloof Sherlock Holmes and the evil characters, are imbued with a certain charm - and that voice!  I could happily listen to Basil Rathbone reading the telephone directory.


Like most men of his generation Basil Rathbone of course dressed in the way that we like-minded chaps would wish to emulate, with well-cut suits and proper accessories very much in evidence.  He was after all one of Hollywood British!


In private life an inveterate party-thrower (allegedly at the request of his second wife Ouida Bergère) Basil Rathbone was also very forward-thinking in many respects.  As early as 1926 he was involved in a censorship debate about the play The Captive.  Rathbone and every other member of the cast were arrested (but later released without charge) because the production dealt with homosexuality - the wife of Rathbone's character leaves him for another woman.  Rathbone was convinced that the subject should be discussed more openly and was incensed by the whole thing.

"Now where's Errol Flynn?!"
Ed: I want that pullover.

Whether you want to channel a bit of the sharp mind Sherlock Holmes, the sharp wit of Basil Rathbone (or even the sharp blade of Captain Esteban!) you'll get no argument from me about your choice.  Basil Rathbone, like so many of my Icons, embodies the traditional British characteristics of intelligence, charm and gentlemanliness while looking damned stylish as well.  The traditional suits, slacks, pullovers and hats are all there to be emulated, a fairly elementary (ha! d'you see what I did there?) look to achieve but the man, Basil Rathbone, will always stand alone.

The Basil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce films are easily found on Youtube (as well as being readily available on DVD) and the radio series, which ran concurrently, is also available to listen to here.



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