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Seaman by Nixon: the war of the Roses?


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#1 Felix Muelas

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Posted 13 June 2000 - 08:37

Of course I do not intent to review a book that has been with me for just 24 hours now. That will come later. Maybe. Or maybe not.
I am not a reviewer, just a reader, but I think “Shooting Star – The life of Richard Seaman”, by Chris Nixon, -published last week with the same format that was used for both his Auto Union album and the Mercedes W196 vs. Lancia D50 “Rivals”- deserves a comment immediately, if only because, today being a 13th, there is a sense in the air that it might be the right time to do it.

The introduction to the book is quite irritating, to say the least. It might be the case that some of you will be tempted to use the universal stupid sentence for this: “I told you so”. Or it might be that I have been quite relaxed about some of the previous symptoms that Chris Nixon has presented over the last couple of years. And yes, even back in 1986, it was possible to get the picture from the “Silver Arrows” attitude. But I was younger then…

I still do not understand the reason –other than commercial- behind the publication of this book. I’ll quote Nixon, on the very first paragraph of the book: “Seaman had neither Rosemeyer’s charisma nor his genius (who had?)”. Nice start for a biography, thank you very much.

After that, Nixon explains how, back in 1980, and whilst preparing his Aston Martin book, George Monkhouse prompted him into writing a biography of Seaman “as he had not been too impressed with Prince Chula’s effort, back in 1941” If we are to believe Nixon’s words, what is perfectly possible for this reader now dealing also with Umberto Eco’s “Faith in Fakes”, Monkhouse had changed his mind between 1941 –when he wrote the postscript for Chula’s book, and was less than “unimpressed”- and 1980, when he had this conversation with Chris Nixon. Fair enough. Although one may come to the suspicion that this is a further episode of the “Only Englishmen can write about Englishmen, because nobody else will do it better” syndrome.

Then goes Mr Nixon and, after doing some homework (you can all bet that the homework consisted in reading Prince Chula’s book on Seaman) writes a “film script” about the love affair between the British driver and the German girl!!! Surely that had all the elements to become a classic! (Excuse me, but this discovery somehow made me violently sick). Fortunately, 20 years have elapsed since then, and no movie has been produced. But a book instead…

I quote Nixon again: “In those days, biographies were rather genteel…and he (Prince Chula) doubtless thought that the family troubles were best skipped over lightly, rather than explained in detail”. Sensu contrario, one can imagine what will one find in the pages to come…

One final sentence I cannot avoid quoting, because it speaks for itself: “Naturally, I have made use of Chula’s book on occasion, but my own research is much broader than his”. As we say in my country : Ole!

Excuse my scepticism, Mr Nixon, but I have the sensation that you do not intend to deal with Richard Seaman’s racing activities much deeper than Prince Chula did, but just to use him to give readers a fashionable account of the, otherwise extremely uninteresting, relations between a British mother-in-law and a German wife on the context of a British husband driving for a German squad, on the months previous to the outcome of the II World War.

Surely fascinating, but not exactly what I was looking for. I’ll stick, for the moment, to the original one. It is an old book and surprise surprise, it smells better too.

Felix Muelas


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#2 green-blood

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Posted 13 June 2000 - 09:43

I have a prized copy of Chulas work at home, 1946 edition and printed on Ration paper!!! I am way way too young to have experiencd any of that period myself and being Irish my family was graciously unscared by those terrible war years, so this book helps me to keep perspective. I fear Mr Nixon despite enjoying his other works cannot improve on the original. I do not see how Seaman's private family life can embellish the story of his racing achievements which is what we are all here to talk about.

Seaman, great driver, fascinating story, did it need retelling - no.

#3 Don Capps

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Posted 22 June 2000 - 16:15

A biography of Dick Seaman is perhaps nice, but probably best handled within the context of the times. While it was nice that George Eaton wrote an autobiography of his racing experiences, it would have been better if someone had included him among those covered in a book discussing those Canadian drivers who reached either GP or other forms of International racing...

I haven't made any plans to purchase the book. I still haven't purchased "The Rivals" or the one on the Auto Unions Nixon that put together. Thought about it, but....

Perhaps, rather than Seaman, a good bio on Louis Chiron or Luigi Fagioli would be more useful, if you will, for those interested in this period.

Ugly thing to say -- but I will say it aloud, is that far too much of racing history has been influenced by those English-speaking writers who produced books along the lines of progaganda pieces extolling the dogged struggle of the Brits to take over international -- read "European" or "Continental" -- racing. It is a true pity that so little from the Italian or French or German side is available in anything other than a set of books aimed at the yuppy crowd and costing hundreds and hundreds of US dollars even if available. As good as Seaman may have been, he was not a Caracciola or a Varzi or a Lang or a Chiron by a long shot. Indeed, the Anglo-American Whitney Straight's retirement may have been a good thing for Seaman since he left him as the top dog in the UK.

However, having said all this, that this book on Seaman has even written is a minor miracle intself since until recently not much interest even existed concerning this period of racing. The site that Leif runs and the continued success of books on the racing of the 30's is encouraging, even if some of it (the Hilton book on Donington, not to mention names...) is a bit off base.

Anyhow, just my contrarian remarks for the record.

#4 Dennis David

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Posted 23 June 2000 - 00:43

I can’t help but add my two cents since this is an area dear to my heart. I too have the Chula book and can easily recommend it. I haven’t seen the Nixon book yet but it is my impression that it is similar to the Auto Union Album and contains mostly photographs. I do know that Chris Nixon had recently obtained a cache of photographs from the estate of Robert Fellows who was a friend of Dick Seaman and a great photographer by the way who was killed in WWII. This is probably the reason for the book as much as anything else. I personally wonder how much Chris Nixon was actually involved in the project. If you look at the books that he has written you will see a distinct drop in scholarship. With the amount of books being churned out I wonder if commercial pressure is the culprit here.

This being said although Straight is a fascinating character and would have made a more interesting book, covering not just his racing activities but also his war exploits I feel that Seaman had more potential in the long run. Both he and Lang suffered shortened careers, Lang because of the war. Remember Seaman was, I think 26 when he died and had made a great enough of impact on Neubauer for him to join the Mercedes team. From what I understand the British press at the time concentrated on racing in the UK and most people had not even heard of Seaman until he was killed.


#5 green-blood

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Posted 26 June 2000 - 13:32

I'd gladly pay for a quality work on the life of Chiron, now theres a guy who continues to be underestimated.

#6 Racer.Demon

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Posted 27 June 2000 - 14:48

I spotted a prized first edition of the Chula book at the Festival of Speed, and the asking prize was 45 pounds. Still, I wasn't allowed to take it out of its protective cover until after buying it, so I thought I'd leave that pleasure to someone else.

OTOH, the 45 quid was nothing compared to the 350 pounds someone dared to ask for an 80s book on the Audi Quattro. Shameless! ;-)

Cheers,
Mattijs


#7 Racer.Demon

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Posted 27 June 2000 - 14:53

And oh, Felix, the Seaman book by Nixon was selling like mad. They had stacks of them. Eric will have spotted it while chatting away with karlcars...


#8 C F Eick

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Posted 27 June 2000 - 16:26

I'm a 26 year-old poor Swedish student who would love to buy motor books all day long, but my financial situation doesn't allow it.

However, I've been planning to buy the "Rivals" book by Nixon for some time now, but when I found this site and started reading the posts it seems that Nixon isn't exactly a favorite around here. I thought he was a respected writer and somewhat of an authority on the subject. Could someone please explain to me why Nixon's books aren't good?

Don Capps: I agree with you that more continental Europeans should write books instead of just Brits. It's always entertaining to get another perspective on things. I accidentally found a German book called "die Silberpfeile" by a guy named Halwart Schrader during a visit to Germany a couple of years ago and found it really good. (BTW, it was on sale for 20 DM!!!) :) :) :)

/C F Eick


#9 Dennis David

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Posted 27 June 2000 - 16:36

Actually the fact that his early books were so wonderful makes his later books pale in comparison. The amount of research has slipped and they have become more or less photo albums. That being said don't buy them until you have had a look and judge for yourself. BTW I still purchase his books for the photography as he now has in his possesion the works of many great photographers.



#10 C F Eick

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Posted 27 June 2000 - 16:58

Thanks DD for your comment. The problem is just that in Sweden there are no decent book stores. Hence, I must take risks and buy books from the UK before I've seen them... I took the risk with "Into the red" and besides the great CD, I wasn't too impressed.

I agree fully with the point made on another thread: A forum for book and video reviews would be great! However, until there is a new forum for reviews, can't we just start a new topic???

Further subjects I would like to read more about:
Varzi
Chiron
Lang
Taruffi
Castellotti
Targa Florio
Porsche 917
CanAm cars

Can anyone recommend good existing books on the above mentioned subjects?

/C F Eick


#11 Felix Muelas

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Posted 27 June 2000 - 21:06

Racer,

a) You should have bought Chula's book for that price. I am ashamed to have to confess I paid well in excess of that for a first edition...
b) Having seen the Nixon book, can you imagine what is like reading it? Very unsociable, by the way, as the book, once opened, tend to use the majority of any given table or bed!

Finally, whilst I am making the promised exercise of trying to compare both biographies, I have to admit that I am becoming less and less interested about Seaman. Not one of the "grey" areas -you know- are covered, and I have a lot of material "shouting" to me from the shelves "read me, read me!".

CF,
Dennis is, as usual, correct. The main problem regarding Nixon now is related to his, let's say, well earned, fame. And he is also right about the value of the photographic material that he manages to put in the books. The majority of the times.
But, without wanting to influence you and your profit and loss account, follow Dennis advice and inspect the book before buying it. I am aware of the difficulties your geographical situation might give you, but you can always rely on the criteria of some of the guys in this forum. There are MANY books that you can buy without previous inspection...:-)
But if you want my advice, if I found the Seaman book irritating "Rivals" was a joke. Our contribution to Mr Nixon's new house, I guess. And his worst book to that date, without a doubt. But you can always do worse...
:-)

Felix Muelas


#12 Dennis David

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Posted 27 June 2000 - 21:41

There are books that you can buy sight unseen like Mon Ami Mate from our very own Chris "Show me the money" Nixon. A great book. But every author has a clunker now and then even our own Karlcars. (Don't tell him I said that) Of the biographies from that period I most enjoyed Caracciola's and Neubauer's (So what if half of it was fiction!) and Caracciola's is cheaper and easier to get a hold of than Chula's book.

#13 Ray Bell

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Posted 27 June 2000 - 23:15

The Caracciola book was probably the first book I ever read on Euro racing. Mike Kable loaned it to me so many years ago that old Rudi's body was still warm. I've virtually forgotten it now. The Neubauer book I have almost used as a bible on those times since buying it in the sixties, so imagine my disgust at learning the truth about Tripoli!
Without any budget to buy these things, I can only hope I stumble across them in second hand shops or at a Bookfest, and I do get some stuff that way.
Kind of distresses me a bit.. especially after seeing the tip of Barry's iceberg...

#14 green-blood

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Posted 28 June 2000 - 08:03

I'm going to make you all sick, I bought my copy of Chulas work at the Irish Motor Transport Museum in Kilarney (beautiful town, nice compact museum, worth a look for all you retirees on holiday!!) anyhow as I said its not 1st edition but is perfect and IR£15, not bad value.

I dont dislike Mr Nixon, I have just finished reading an original edition of his Rosemeyer translation, not all his work obviously but an excellent piece of scholarship. The point was his popularity has grown from writting excellant works about subjects we are all interested in but of which there was little literature, Collins and Hawthorn are not the most "Biographied" drivers, but there didnt seem to be much point redoing Seamen when there was already an excellant piece out there. Especially as all the "new" info appears to be of the bedroom variety - not really what I want to spend cash on, thats Ms Collins' area.

When I am a little richer I'll purchase Mon Ami but till then I'll live off of your tails.

#15 Hans Etzrodt

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Posted 17 October 2000 - 10:10

Originally posted by Felix Muelas
Of course I do not intent to review a book that has been with me for just 24 hours now....
...“Shooting Star – The life of Richard Seaman”, by Chris Nixon...


Felix,
Can you please give your comments about the pictures? Is the book more of a picture book comparable to the Auto Union Album? And does it include photos from Robert Fellowes' collection? He took some beautiful photographs.




#16 alessandro silva

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Posted 17 October 2000 - 12:35

CF Eick

Taruffi wrote a nice and in character meticolous autobiography "Bandiera a scacchi" (it means chequered flag) around 1960. It has been translated into English as "Works Driver" Temple Press books London 1964, I think. If you need precise bibliographical details about the original Italian edition let me know.
There is a recent(1999) biography of Varzi, in Italian, by Cesare de Agostini. I have seen it at a newsstand at the Milano airport last February. At the moment I did not buy it and when later I looked for it, it was as if I had an allucination. Nobody knew anything about.

#17 Barry Lake

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Posted 17 October 2000 - 14:31

Alessandro

There is a Varzi book at Giorgio Nada's web site:

http://www.giorgionadaeditore.it/

Una curva cieca - Vita di Achille Varzi
Giorgio Terruzzi
Pubblicato nel : 1991
Prezzo: L.29,000

It is a small, soft cover book. I can not read Italian, so I can not tell you how good it is. As far as I know, it is the only book devoted solely to Varzi.

I think he should be near the top of Karl's short list of drivers to be covered (along with Luigi Fagioli) in future books.

#18 Felix Muelas

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Posted 17 October 2000 - 22:14

Originally posted by Hans Etzrodt
Felix,
Can you please give your comments about the pictures? Is the book more of a picture book comparable to the Auto Union Album? And does it include photos from Robert Fellowes' collection?


Hans

The book has 200 pages of the same format as the Auto Union Album (in size, I mean)

In page 200 he acknowledges the "Photo Credits" (although each picture published is NOT given its credit, so one has to guess. Credits are ackowledged to:
Adriano Cimarosti, LAT, Quadrant Picture Library, National Motor Musueum, the Neil Corner / Robert Fellowes Collection, Archivio Corrado Millanta, the Wilkins FAmily Archive, the Bugatti Trust, Günther Molter, DaimlerChrysler, Jürgen Ponisch, Archiv Barth / Völker, the Essers Collection, Motor Racing Tardition, the Frazer Nash Archive, Picture Post AND the Chris Nixon Collection :rolleyes:

Now onto the raw figures : of the 200 pages, 46 contain just text, 127 text and pictures, and 27 are devoted to pictures, mainly one per page.

On the pictures, I have classified them in four main classes (my choice) those being :
-People. Those show faces and / or bodies of persons, from Seaman himself to Monkhouse, Erika etc.
-Cars. I include here standstill shots of cars, normally without driver (or driver standing close). Cars in pits being worked on by mechanics are included here (but if burning, are excluded :p
-Drawings. Easy to define.
-Racing. Shots with one or more cars actually racing. This one is obvious too.

The distribution is as follows (data for pre-Merc era, Merc and total)

People : 18 + 58 (76)
Cars : 8 + 27 (35)
Drawings : 3 + 2 (5)
Racing : 22 + 53 (75)

So that makes a grand total of 191 pictures, of which 31 are to be found in the 27 pages that only have images. So the rest of 160 pictures are found on the 127 pages that contain text and pictures.

I hope these figures tell you something on the "distribution" of the book, and the subjects covered. As it turns out, I see that there are more pictures of persons than of cars racing what, in my humble opinion, does nothing but confirm my initial reaction.

Extremelly interesting shots of Erika and Dick after lunch in a restaurant, both smoking, or both "about to go skiing" in another, not to mention the unmissable "Erika shows off her engagement ring which she wears, Continental-style, on her right hand" (sic) on page 150 to be seen in conjunction with "A radiant vision of loveliness - Erika, aged 18, just before she met Dick" on page 135 (that I will avoid describing because my English is not caustic enough) makes the browsing an unforgettable experience.

What the hell! I am going to post the radiant vision of loveliness! You all deserve to see this! :rolleyes:
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#19 Ray Bell

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Posted 17 October 2000 - 23:29

At least you couldn't say Dick didn't go out in style... leading a race in the rain, mastering the masters of those cars, on the fastest circuit, and with her waiting in the pits...

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#20 Hans Etzrodt

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Posted 18 October 2000 - 00:47

Felix,
Thank you very much. If I get one issue, maybe next year, it will be only for the pictures.

#21 Barry Lake

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Posted 18 October 2000 - 09:41

Does the book mention anything about the Dick Seaman memorial stone?
I searched for this once, in the 1980s, couldn't find it. I asked the head of the club based at Spa-Francorchamps. He said he had never heard of it.
I described to him where I had read it was located and he came back there with me. They had just finished building the new pit entry road for the then-new F1 pits (before La Source - they used to be after the corner).
It appeared the road was built right over the spot where it had been. I asked did anyone rescue it before the road was made. He said "We didn't know it was there."
Some months later I was talking to Denis Jenkinson and Nigel Roebuck at the Belgian GP. I asked did they know where it was. They said yes and described its location.
I said that spot was now under the new road.
They said they would look into it.
I have never heard anything about it since.

I had a similar experience recently with a historic marker stone related to Australian exploration near Nowendoc in New South Wales, Australia. They were widening the main road, so I went and asked what had been done to protect the marker. They said "What marker?"

I searched for it, couldn't find it. Then I asked the workmen and bulldozer drivers. They said no-one had said anything, no-one had come to look for anything, and they had seen nothing.
The site was by then buried under hundreds of tonnes of earth.

No one seems to care.

#22 Ray Bell

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Posted 18 October 2000 - 11:00

Sorry to be so slack with my history, Barry, but what was the marker at Nowendoc about?
Nice road through there now, I've got to say.... and that sign!

#23 Barry Lake

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Posted 19 October 2000 - 02:26

Nice road?!!!

They took out all the good corners! It used to be a gravel road rally stage in the 1970s and one of the best, steep climb, slow and fast corners. Now it's a road for Wallies and truckies (you know it's now the shortest route between Sydney and Brisbane - there goes the neighbourhood).

I asked the people in Nowendoc what the good road meant to them. They said it had raised the value of their properties but, since they weren't planning to sell, that didn't mean much to them.

One said, "I have left my electric welder out in sight of the road for 20 years and no one ever touched it. They put the new road in, now the welder's gone. I suppose that's progress.

An old fellow on Kangaroo Island told me the same story recently. "Now I lock the doors of my car when I go to town; that's progress."

Are there no safe havens left in the world.

As for the explorer, I can't remember. I will have to find my book on the history of Nowendoc (written by a woman, I discovered recently, who went to school with a girl from Wingham, who I knew in 1972 - had her photo in Racing Car News once).

I seem to remember it was one of the most well-known explorers but on one of his early, lesser-known explorations. My head keeps telling me to say "Leichhardt" but I am not prepared to until I check the book.

#24 Ray Bell

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Posted 19 October 2000 - 05:38

Sounds more like Cunningham to me...
Yes, I took that road in April and established it's the shortest and quickest way from Bris to Syd... as Hal Mahoney had told me.
I know you miss all the gravel and bends, and so do I, but there are other roads, other places.
At least this is a long road you can get stuck into it on without much fear of finding a speed camera...