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Robin Hanson - who was he?


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#1 Adam F

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Posted 28 November 2004 - 13:25

Robin Hanson drove a 6CM Maserati and then an ERA in Voiturette races from 1937 to 1939.
All his cars were owned/entered by Mrs. Hall-Smith.
Hanson seems to have retired from racing after the race at Reims in mid 1939 and he went on to win a D.F.C. in the war.

I have struggled to find out anything about him and/or Mrs Hall-Smith - can anyone help?

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#2 ensign14

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Posted 27 April 2005 - 09:04

Bumping this up as Hanson came to mind on another thread. Anyone any ideas?

#3 Vitesse2

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Posted 27 April 2005 - 12:30

I'm pretty sure there's a comment about Hanson buried somewhere in Venables' Racing 1500s (why was that book published without an index??) to the effect that Mrs Hall-Smith was his aunt and that he lived with her. The implication might have been that the relationship was something more than aunt and nephew .... :eek:

Can't find it immediately though.

#4 KJJ

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Posted 27 April 2005 - 12:32

Her initials were certainly M. E. so quite possibly Marjorie Emma Hall-Smith (nee Wrigley). If so her husband Philip was killed in an RAF flying accident in 1919. A merry widow perhaps? She died in Cumberland 12th January 1950.

Robin Hanson? Was he the eventual RAF Wing Commander Robin Hanson?

#5 Adam F

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Posted 27 April 2005 - 15:37

Richard,

Thanks.......I'll look through Venable's book again.
Haven't found any family connection between Hanson and Mrs. Hall-Smith so far...........

Ken,

Yes, I too found details of Mrs Hall-Smith and her death. She was apparently the daughter of a wealthy paper manufacturer (William Wrigley) from Bury, Lancs.

As I said, Robin Hanson won a DFC during the war (1942). His rank at that time was Flight Lieutenant, but I'm not sure what rank he ended up with.
He didn't race after the war as far as I can tell, although Weguelin's ERA book does list him as a potential customer for an ERA E Type in 1947.

To date I have been able to find neither his birth or death.
He was born about 1909/10 (from his marriage certificate) and was still living in 1969 when he was described as a writer.

Any pointers/ideas would be most welcome.

#6 Vitesse2

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Posted 07 May 2005 - 21:07

Adam, I'm afraid I sent you on a wild goose chase if you have been hunting through Venables. The quote I was actually thinking of is this:

One of the Dobson [6CM] cars was sold to Mrs Hall-Smith who entered it for her nephew Robin Hanson. Mrs Hall-Smith was an exceptionally good-looking woman, only slightly older than her nephew, and they lived together. Hanson was, unfortunately, a very slow driver, lacking in ability.



Anthony Pritchard: Maserati, a Racing History p63

Make of that what you will .....;)

#7 KJJ

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Posted 07 May 2005 - 22:20

Mrs Hall-Smith was only married to Mr Hall-Smith for a few weeks in the summer of 1919 before he was killed in a flying accident. She had previously been married to Captain John Sumnerscales Hutchinson of the South Lancashire Regt. who was missing in action presumed killed during the First World War.

Was she only slightly older than Hanson? In the late Thirties she would have been in her early 50s.

#8 Adam F

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Posted 07 May 2005 - 22:43

Richard/KJJ

Thanks for the Pritchard quote. Very interesting!
I had never seen it, depite having the book, and often referring to it.

Marjorie Hall-Smith's maiden name was Wrigley (not Hanson).
This would mean that if she was Robin Hanson's aunt, she must have been his mother's sister, or married to his mother's brother (I think!).
She was born on 16th May 1885 so I therefore somewhat doubt Pritchard's contention that they were of similar age. If so Hanson would have been about 50 when he raced in, say,1937. Contemporary photos show Hanson being, at most, in his early/mid 30s when he raced which would seem to mean he was born later than 1900.

However this is the first confirmation of the fact that they lived together. And maybe Robin Hanson was somewhat older than I had previously thought.

I'll see what else I can find.

#9 KJJ

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Posted 07 May 2005 - 23:01

Adam

When Miss Wrigley married Captain Hutchinson (30/12/1909), the Times announcement described her as an only daughter.

#10 Adam F

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Posted 12 May 2005 - 10:40

A bit of progress...........

An announcement in the Times in 1961 relating to Hanson's daughter's marriage refers to "the only daughter of Mr.R.L. Hanson of Toronto, Canada ".

Given Pritchard's reference to Hanson being Mrs. Hall-Smith's nephew , this would tie with him being a nephew of her second husband Philip Hall-Smith, who came from Vancouver, British Columbia, where his father was a cleric. Hanson must have been a son of Hall-Smith's sister, given the different surname.

So, it looks most likely Robin Hanson was born, and died in Canada. Hence no trace of him in U.K. births and deaths. Interestingly he was however a member of the B.R.D.C. and won a D.F.C. in the R.A.F. Volunteer reserve.

As further confirmation of the Canadian connection, I have found that he was divorced from his first wife in Canada in 1934.

It also looks as if he stopped racing upon his second marriage in late July 1939, as his last race was at Reims on 9th July 1939.

The next step would be to try and find a Canadian obituary for him...

#11 Vitesse2

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Posted 12 May 2005 - 11:59

IIRC it wasn't possible to get a Canadian international racing licence until after the war. So, as an Empire citizen racing on a British licence, he'd have been eligible to join the BRDC. And anyway, wasn't Bira a BRDC member too?

This sounds like a question for the guys over at CMSHG: I'll ask them.

#12 Geoff E

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Posted 12 May 2005 - 15:56

Originally posted by Adam F

Hence no trace of him in U.K. births and deaths.


Could this be his birth registration?

Births Jun 1909
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
HANSON Robin ........ Clitheroe 8e 281

Note: "Jun" signifies that the birth was registered in the 2nd quarter of 1909. Clitheroe was the registration district and included the following towns/villages:

Aighton Bailey and Chaigley, Chatburn, Chipping, Clitheroe, Clitheroe Castle, Downham, Leagram, Little Bowland, Pendleton, Thornley with Wheatley, Twiston, Whalley, Wiswell, Worston

#13 Doug Nye

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Posted 12 May 2005 - 17:09

Robin Hanson was not highly regarded by his motor racing contemporaries, witness this reference in a letter from photographer George Monkhouse to his friend Dick Seaman, at the Hotel Principe & Savoia, Milan, Italy - April 7, 1937, telling of the latest Brooklands race meeting:

"The 1 1/2-litre 6-cylinder Maseratis seem to be very disappointing and do not go anything like as well as Trossi's did in the Eifelrennen. One of them belongs to a man called Hanson, who is, I believe, an Oxford undergraduate. He appeared in bright red overalls and a bright red crash hat on Easter Monday, and people like Charles Martin asked him whether he was a fireman or Mephistopheles, which did not seem to please him very much. His driving of the car was quite extraordinary as he changes gear in the middle of Chronograph Corner, going extremely slowly at that!..."

Hanson's wartime RAF record seems by inference to bely his capabilities within the pre-war motor racing world.

DCN

#14 Adam F

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Posted 12 May 2005 - 17:58

Richard,
Yes, the CMSHG would seem to be the next place - thank you.
BTW Hanson was a Full Member of the BRDC whereas Bira (and others such as Fangio) were Honorary Members. Interestingly Spike Rhiando, who was also born in Canada, was listed in 1952 as an Honorary Member. Maybe, as you say, the rules were different pre-war.

Geoff,
I had looked at the Birth you refer to, but the details don't look like a future pre-war racing driver. That Robin Hanson was the son of a Joiner.

Doug,
I had got the flavour (from your Seaman book and elsewhere) that Hanson was not well regarded amongst the Brooklands fraternity, and of course it was he who spread oil in front of the Silver Arrows at Donington in 1938.
His wartime DFC citation is here......

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#15 KJJ

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Posted 12 May 2005 - 22:27

Adam

The Hanson divorce in 1934, it seems fairly early for someone who is described as an undergraduate in 1937. Can you add any more detail?

Wing Commander Robin L Hanson (of Cheltenham) who married Mrs Amy Cowans of McGregor Street, Montreal at Caxton Hall on 10th January 1959. Could this be our man?

#16 Adam F

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Posted 13 May 2005 - 00:03

Ken,

When Hanson remarried in 1940 (in the U.K.) his marriage certificate gives the name of his previous wife, Blanche Marjorie Short .
Via the power of the 'net I found that a Robin Byan Lewes Hanson was divorced in 1934 from Blanche Marjorie Hanson in 1934 in Canada - Source; Canadian Divorce Index.
I agree that it makes him being an Oxford undergraduate in 1937 unlikely, but contemporary report in 1937 do refer to him being at Oxford - maybe he was a mature student.

I think the marriage in 1959 that you found could well be the same man.....I don't know what his final RAF rank was. His wife's nationality would fit. If so he went (back?) to Canada by 1962.

#17 m.tanney

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Posted 27 May 2005 - 20:28

  According to his death record, Robin L. Hanson was born on March 3, 1908. He died on September 27, 1991 in Montreal. The search for Hanson's birthplace continues. At this point, it is hard to tell if he was a Canadian who spent a significant part of his life in the UK or an Englishman who spent a significant part of his life (both before and after the war) in Canada.

Mike Tanney

#18 Vitesse2

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Posted 27 May 2005 - 20:50

The plot thickens ....

Thank you Mike. As UK births don't seem to show any record of him, it looks to me like he was probably born in Canada.

Spooky coincidence: he died on my 36th birthday.

#19 Vitesse2

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Posted 27 May 2005 - 21:14

I've also found a story which may refer to Hanson: if it does, it shows him in a rather poor light.

The night before the Cork Light Car Race in 1938, Johnny Wakefield's mechanic was apparently conned into handing over a spare cylinder head to another un-named competitor, who had assured him that this was on Wakefield's orders.

On discovering this, a furious Wakefield demanded that the other driver should be disqualified forthwith. He was eventually persuaded to withdraw the demand with the promise that the matter would be investigated after the race. An investigation was conducted, but the outcome was never made public. However, the driver concerned apparently never raced in Ireland again.

Wakefield was driving his Maserati 6CM at Cork. The other 6CMs in the race were handled by Herbert Berg (who died soon afterwards), Luigi Villoresi and Robin Hanson.

Source: The Cork Motor Races 1936-38 by Wilf Fitzsimmons, page 24.

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#20 KJJ

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Posted 27 May 2005 - 22:16

Just a thought, the birth of a Robert Lewes Hanson was registered in Greenwich 2nd Quarter 1908. Any reason why a Robert shouldn't prefer to use the diminutive Robin?

Well we seem to have marked Mr Hanson down as an incompetent driver, a gigolo and a possible conman! Though securing the cylinder head does seem to show a fair degree of initiative and he did win a DFC.

#21 Adam F

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Posted 27 May 2005 - 22:24

Ken,

I just found the same reference to Robert Lewes Hanson in June 1908.
Yes, I think it's likely to be "our man" - as his father was born and died in South London.

I'll order a copy of the birth certificate and see what it says.

With Mike's help I think we're completing the jigsaw.

#22 Vitesse2

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Posted 27 May 2005 - 22:44

Originally posted by m.tanney
According to his death record, Robin L. Hanson was born on March 3, 1908.


Originally posted by KJJ
& the birth of a Robert Lewes Hanson was registered in Greenwich 2nd Quarter 1908.


Originally posted by Adam F
&I just found the same reference to Robert Lewes Hanson in June 1908.


It's a long way from March to June ....

#23 KJJ

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Posted 27 May 2005 - 22:48

No, a birth on March 3rd might very well not be registered until April. This would be in the 2nd Quarter or the June Quarter - Genealogyspeak!

#24 KJJ

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Posted 25 June 2005 - 16:11

Adam

Any progress? Any clues on the birth certificate (parents' names?) to provide a family link with Mrs Hall-Smith?

#25 Adam F

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Posted 28 June 2005 - 19:56

Ken,

Yes, we have made progress (Mike Tanney has been invaluable at the Canadian end) but no, we still haven't found a family link with Mrs. Hall-Smith, but there's still work in progress on this.

This is a summary of what we do know about Robin Hanson..........

Robert Lewes Hanson was born in Greenwich, London on 9th March 1908

In 1927 he emigrated to Canada, then called Robin Hanson.

In 1928 he married in Montreal, but the marriage didn't last and he was divorced in 1934.

In the same year he returned to the UK and entered Oxford University to study law, graduating in Spring 1937.

As far as I can ascertain, he began racing in mid-1936, driving an MG entered by Mrs. Hall-Smith.

His racing career lasted until July 1939 when he got married again and joined the R.A.F.
He rose to the Rank of Squadron Leader and was awarded the DFC.

Some time during the 1950s he returned to Canada where he worked as a pilot for Canadair, amongst others. He also apparently worked as a writer.

Robin Hanson died in Montreal on 27th September 1991

Although we have the names of RH's parents and those of Mrs. Hall-Smith's two husbands, there is no obvious family link between them.
However the "aunt" link has come up again, in Mike's conversation with the daughter of his last partner.
All the circumstantial evidence suggests that the relationship between Hanson and Mrs. Hall-Smith was not that of lovers, but we haven't found the full story......yet!

Great thanks are due to Mike Tanney in piecing together this story.

#26 D-Type

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Posted 28 June 2005 - 22:52

Could the 'aunt' be some other relative like a second cousin? Or possibly even a family friend? I remember calling all my parents' friends 'uncle' and 'aunt' when I was small.

#27 KJJ

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Posted 29 June 2005 - 11:52

Thanks for the interesting update.

A couple of points which no doubt are more likely to be "red herrings" than leads:

I think Mrs Hall-Smith's father was Frederick rather than William Wrigley, her brother was Major Edgar Frederick Wrigley of Windemere, a high sheriff of Westmoreland in the 30s - perhaps his wife was related to Hanson, I have no idea who she was though. Mrs Hall-Smith did have an elder sister Effie Amy Wrigley, seemingly deceased by 1909 though.

#28 Adam F

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Posted 29 June 2005 - 12:31

Ken,

Thanks for your points.

Yes, Mrs Hall-Smith's father was Frederick Wrigley (I don't know why I typed William earlier in the thread).
I'll see if the relatives you mention give any link to Robin Hanson.

#29 Vitesse2

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Posted 04 July 2005 - 15:23

Slightly O/T, but I've found an earlier competition reference for Hanson.

He was among the "resident" (ie student) entries from Oxford University in the 1935 Inter-Varsity Trial, run on November 2nd. He was entered in a 2.0 litre Bugatti.

Other entries included Reggie Tongue, Peter Whitehead, Kenneth Evans, Hugh Conway, Ian Connell, Richard Bolster and Lord Avebury. Plus one of the three MacRobert brothers (RA).

Source: cutting from the Sporting Life reproduced in Reggie Tongue's "High Speed Diary".

#30 migod

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Posted 15 April 2007 - 22:37

I realize that this thread is two years dormant, but anyone interested in this fellow might be interested in this tidbit.

I found this board by googling for my grandmother's full name: Blanche Marjorie Short (known as Marjorie, born 1905 in Montreal, died 1997 near Toronto). As far as anyone knows, there were no children from this marriage. My grandparents were married in 1934 or 1935, and my mother was born in 1936. My grandfather was killed in a car accident a few months after my mother was born.

I knew my grandmother had been married before marrying my grandfather. To confirm, I asked my mother what her mother's first husband's last name was and she said "Hanson".

My mother said that -- according to what her mother had told her -- Hanson was definitely British, and that he went back to the UK shortly after the divorce. She further said that apparently he tended to put people off with his "superior" attitude.

What a strange happenstance that I should come across this exchange.

#31 Vitesse2

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Posted 15 April 2007 - 23:23

"Strange coincidence"? Not at all!!

It's wonderful that you have confirmed what we had speculated, Mike. :up:

#32 migod

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Posted 15 April 2007 - 23:49

Sorry, I need to clarify what I said above. I just talked to my mother on the phone, and she read me some of the details of the divorce certificate, and also clarified some of the details

My grandmother was married to Hanson between 1928 and 1934. However, my mother says that they were only "together" as a couple for a few months after the wedding. Apparently, Hanson "failed to provide" for my grandmother (ie he never set up house for her), and generally left her to her own devices. My grandmother lived with her parents until she finally married my grandfather, after the divorce from Hanson. It is thus not surprising that there were no children from Hanson's marriage to my grandmother.

My mother isn't sure when Hanson left Montreal for the UK, but it could have been earlier than the divorce in 1934. Again, this is second hand, as my mother wasn't born until 1936 and my grandmother died 10 years ago.

I can also provide a very small piece of information about Hanson's life in Montreal after the war: If he was a pilot at Canadair, this was before 1959. My father, a British aeronautical engineer, also worked at Canadair betwen 1959 and 1965, and he knew all of the test pilots at Canadair during this period. There was no pilot named Hanson in this period, but Hanson was probably too old to do this by then anyway.

#33 Adam F

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Posted 16 April 2007 - 16:41

Hi Mike,

Thank you for posting this interesting information.
Hopefully Mike Tanney, who did all the Canadian part of the above research, will also spot that this thread has "come to life".

I have sent you an e-mail.

Regards

#34 Ray Bell

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Posted 16 April 2007 - 17:11

One of the fascinations of TNF is shown in this thread in spades...

Whereas some questions are answered here within minutes, others lay dormant for years and then blossom with fresh information.

Keep it up, guys... let's find out more about this (supposed) charlatan and journeyman.

#35 Doug Nye

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Posted 16 April 2007 - 18:09

Fascinating stuff indeed - an earlier thread notes that although Hanson seems to have been a less than snow-white character at least he won a DFC. If I might say so - and with all due respect to any decorated military veterans - he would be neither the first nor the last rogue to have shown sufficient mettle in action to earn a gong! Courage and personal probity are not interdependent attributes... I like to think of myself as being pretty honest, but I'm depressingly convinced I'd be reduced to a feebly wobbling jelly in the presence of an armed enemy! (Unarmed - I know from experience - is no problem :cool: )

DCN

#36 m.tanney

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Posted 16 April 2007 - 18:53

  I have been following the recent discussion of Robin Hanson, Adam. I can't really add much to it. I think that I am probably the source of the confusion about Hanson's role at Canadair. When Hanson met the fourth Mrs. Hanson* in Montreal the early 1960s, he was working for Canadair. He had worked as a test pilot in the 1950s, presumably in the U.K. Sorry about the confusion.
  I think KJJ hit the nail on the head with his tongue-in-cheek remark early on in the thread that, "...we seem to have marked Mr Hanson down as an incompetent driver, a gigolo and a possible conman!" I'm not mounting a case for the defense, just pointing out that the case for the prosecution is more innuendo and guesswork than solid fact. I don't know what sort of person Robin Hanson was in the 1930s, or later. He obviously had a complicated romantic life. I have only talked to people who knew him in his last 25 years or so. They all speak highly of him.
  IIRC, a record of Hanson's first divorce (from Mike Godfrey's grandmother) can be found in the Canada Gazette and Hansard from 1934. In those days, divorces required parliamentary assent. I'm embarassed to admit it but, once my correspondence with Adam was finished, I tossed out most of the Hanson file. I thought, "This will never come up again". Lesson learned.

Mike

*It was what Quebec's Civil Code describes as a "conjoint de fait" relationship. Basically, a common law marriage. Hanson was sometimes mentioned in the society column of the Montreal Gazette, usually in connection with the Oxford and Cambridge Society. Marguerite was always referred to as "Mrs Hanson".

#37 Vitesse2

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Posted 16 April 2007 - 19:09

I don't think the Irish story can be dismissed as "innuendo and guesswork", Mike. As I pointed out, Berg was dead within a year of the incident. Wilf Fitzsimmons published his book in 2000, three years after Villoresi died, a fact of which he was surely aware. As you can't libel the dead (and they can't sue), then that really leaves Hanson as the only possible suspect ..... Fitzsimmons almost certainly wouldn't have known Hanson was dead and so played it safe.

But that's not to say that his obviously meritorious service in the RAF didn't change his character, of course.

#38 Adam F

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Posted 16 April 2007 - 19:41

How nice to be discussing the well-travelled Mr. Hanson again.........

Ray - I agree that this is where TNF comes into its own, though some credit should go to Mr. Google for pointing Mike Godfrey in the direction of TNF.
The progress of this research is a shining example of the impact of the internet - ten years ago we wouldn't have had had a chance in hell of getting anywhere near this far.

Re. Doug, Mike (Tanney) and Vitesse's varying views of Hanson, I generally lean towards the view expressed by Mike that what we've found isn't necessarily a "rounded" portrait of the man.
However the 1938 Cork episode (if it was Hanson, which I agree seems very likely) does seem to show him in a bad light.
Balancing that, is his D.F.C. citation - maybe another case of "cometh the hour, cometh the man".

#39 m.tanney

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Posted 16 April 2007 - 19:53

  When I wrote about "innuendo and guesswork", I was thinking more of "The implication might have been that the relationship was something more than aunt and nephew ...." Your argument re. the Irish matter is sound enough but it relies on the assumption that Fitzsimmons only omitted the name of the culprit to avoid a libel suit, which would emininate the deceased. That is a reasonable assumption, but it is not necessarily correct.
  One of the things I find interesting about Hanson is the fact that he went out, bought himself a serious racing car and entered high level races with some of the top drivers in the world - with very little in the way of previous racing experience. Say what you will about the current over supply of feeder series, there is a lot to be said for working your way up through the ranks. Talk about being thrown in at the deep end! The really remarkable thing is that some people adapted quickly and proved equal to the competition. Straight and Seaman, for example. Others, like Hanson, were out of their depth.

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#40 ensign14

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Posted 17 April 2007 - 08:05

Originally posted by Vitesse2
As I pointed out, Berg was dead within a year of the incident. Wilf Fitzsimmons published his book in 2000, three years after Villoresi died, a fact of which he was surely aware. As you can't libel the dead (and they can't sue), then that really leaves Hanson as the only possible suspect ..... Fitzsimmons almost certainly wouldn't have known Hanson was dead and so played it safe.

It might also have been to spare the reputation of someone who could not fight back? As it says the outcome was never made public. Could have been a misunderstanding. Or even a linguistic cock-up.