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Major Tony Rolt MC (merged)


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#1 Doug Nye

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Posted 06 February 2008 - 17:01

Very sadly, I understand that Major Tony Rolt passed away this morning.

Pre-war ERA star, winner of the Military Cross for his role in the rearguard action around Calais in 1940, incorrigible escaper from German PoW camps, one of the masterminds behind the glider which the PoWs designed and built for an escape attempt from Colditz Castle, driver postwar of the former Bimotore Alfa Romeo, of Rob Walker's Delage-ERA and Connaughts, co-winner of Le Mans 1953 with Duncan Hamilton in the works Lightweight C-Type Jaguar, subsequently head of Harry Ferguson Research, developers of automotive four-wheel drive systems, constructor of the only 4WD car ever to win a Formula 1 race, also the last front-engined F1 car to win a contemporary F1 race....and so much more.

He had been (briefly) the oldest surviving member of the British Racing Drivers' Club. He was also the last surviving pre-war member. And the last surviving starter in the inaugural 'British Grand Prix'.

A great Briton.

RIP.

DCN

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#2 taylov

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Posted 06 February 2008 - 18:08

Not just a great driver - a great hero, too

Very sad news

Tony

#3 Vitesse2

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Posted 06 February 2008 - 18:15

Thank you for letting us know, Doug.

The dwindling band of pre-War drivers grows ever smaller ....

RIP

#4 David McKinney

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Posted 06 February 2008 - 18:16

Sad news
Though I believe he was in poor health for some years

#5 Alan Cox

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Posted 06 February 2008 - 18:38

I can't add anything more, other than to salute an English hero.

Perhaps a suitable opportunity to re-post one of the few photos I have of the great man, with his contemporary, the late Baron 'Toulo' de Graffenreid.
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#6 sterling49

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Posted 06 February 2008 - 18:39

Always red about him when I was a lad, another sad passing.

#7 Richard Jenkins

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Posted 06 February 2008 - 19:33

In one fell swoop, my reasonably good mood today was shattered.

What an amazing man he was. Yet despite all the above (and much more, like Doug says), he was extremely modest in many respects about some of his greatest achievements.

Certainly one of the old school, his like will never be seen again.

I also hope that in death, and the obituaries that will follow, finally dispel the "drunk" 1953 Le Mans win myth - mind with a life so full, they probably won't have any room for it!

Also a shame that a piece of history goes with this passing. 57 and a half years after the event, all the racers from the 1st ever Grand Prix have gone. But 57 years isn't bad, to be honest.

A life well lived, and whilst I am not at all surprised to hear he has gone, it was a long (and mostly happy) life.

If I ever achieve in life, just a small iota of what Major Rolt did in his life, I'll be a very happy man.

RIP. :cry:

#8 fines

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Posted 06 February 2008 - 19:42

Sad news, RIP! :(

#9 RTH

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Posted 06 February 2008 - 19:45

Nice tribute Richie, his passing is indeed a sad milestone.

#10 Paul Parker

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Posted 06 February 2008 - 20:01

Tempus fugit once more.

He was of a breed that no longer exists in modern life and surely deserves a proper biography by somebody able to do him justice.

Sad news and a time to reflect that we were all fortunate to have these heroes around for so long.

R.I.P.

#11 Squire Straker

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Posted 06 February 2008 - 20:20

This is truly the end of an era. From an Irish perspective the last survivor from pre war days at Tallaght, The Leinster Trophy, and the Limerick races. Post war of course Dundrod and the Tourist Trophy. My late father knew an ex Colditz prisoner called Billy Stephens in Belfast who spoke of Tony Rolt from that time. Later Rolt was associated with Harry Ferguson and Rex McCandless from Belfast.
One funny story from the late Andrew Ferguson when STP sponsored the Indianapolis Ferguson device was the horror of considering Rolt wearing Granatelli's promotional garb rather than a shirt and tie.
SS

#12 Doug Nye

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Posted 06 February 2008 - 20:55

Originally posted by Paul Parker
He was of a breed that no longer exists in modern life and surely deserves a proper biography by somebody able to do him justice....


I believe that Neville Hay has been preparing just such a biography for Transport Bookman...

DCN

#13 Twin Window

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Posted 06 February 2008 - 21:03

Originally posted by Doug Nye

A great Briton.

Indeed.

#14 llmaurice

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Posted 06 February 2008 - 21:04

Our driver( Charlie Waterman) at Taylor & Crawley was Maj. Rolts batman and was full of respect for him both as a bloke and as his superior officer . Sad day indeed although the family name lives on in motor racing.

#15 Gary Davies

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Posted 06 February 2008 - 22:35

An inspiring gentleman. RIP.

#16 D-Type

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Posted 06 February 2008 - 22:48

RIP

#17 Adam F

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Posted 06 February 2008 - 22:51

A truly multi-talented gentleman.

R.I.P.

#18 Robin Fairservice

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Posted 07 February 2008 - 01:02

I have one memory of Tony Rolt. I was working as a Track Marshall at Crystal Palace and Tony was racing Rob Walker's 2 litre Connaught, but rolled it on the back of the circuit somewhere. During the event I had to see the club doctor because I had a large rash on the back of my hand from ripping the rear light cables off when we were getting a wrecked car ready for the tow truck the day before. I asked how Tony was because I hadn't heard anything and he said the Tony was OK, and was apologising for causing so much trouble!

#19 Option1

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Posted 07 February 2008 - 01:10

A Boy's Own adventurer brought to real life.

RIP

Neil

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#20 David Birchall

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Posted 07 February 2008 - 01:49

Originally posted by Richie Jenkins
In one fell swoop, my reasonably good mood today was shattered.
If I ever achieve in life, just a small iota of what Major Rolt did in his life, I'll be a very happy man.

RIP. :cry:


Ditto and double ditto
DB

#21 Paul Parker

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Posted 07 February 2008 - 10:25

I look forward to it Doug.

#22 ensign14

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Posted 07 February 2008 - 10:37

I'm not going to be sad. I'm going to be thankful that someone so inspiring who went through so much could live to a ripe old age. Let's celebrate his achievements, that rank so far in advance of those of 99.9% of humankind as to ensure his name will live on.

And remember that it was a different age then. The war to save the world. Hundreds of thousands giving their all in the name of freedom. And after that motor racing with no safety belts, no roll-over cages, no (God preserve us) tyre warmers. Without the compensation of £million salaries.

Truly, there were Giants on the earth in those days.

#23 Doug Nye

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Posted 07 February 2008 - 16:17

Interestingly, the Major was evidently most proud of the achievements of his Ferguson Research and FF Developments companies post-war, and regarded them as being infinitely more significant than any of his racing exploits or wartime PoW experiences. Significantly he was not only awarded the Military Cross for personal deeds during the Calais rearguard action - I believe awarded for his leadership and in part for personally driving a truck full of wounded personnel to relative safety while under direct fire - but he was also awarded a second MC, a bar to the original, for the seven escape attempts he so boldly made from successive prisoner of war camps. He was a private person, very averse to personal publicity. He apparently never attended any of the Colditz PoW reunions, nor did he ever revisit the Castle itself.

He said "Escaping was not a game. Nor was it fun. It was a duty". And he did not want to recall it. Just imagine, five years as a PoW, seven attempts to escape, each one ending in recapture, each one ending in rigorous punishment and long spells in solitary confinement... Dark memories, no doubt...

FURTHERMORE - he absolutely refuted the legend that he and Duncan Hamilton "got drunk", "had a skinfull", "got absolutely bladdered" (J. Clarkson :o ) on the eve of the 1953 Le Mans 24-Hours when led to believe they had been excluded from the race, only to be told next morning they were in fact racing, so they did, and won. THIS FAMILIAR STORY IS ABSOLUTELY UNTRUE (A.P.R.Rolt as related to me this morning by his son, Stuart).

#24 FrankB

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Posted 07 February 2008 - 16:41

I'm not sure if this is the right time or place to raise a fairly trivial question, but I have often wondered if there is a family link between Tony and Tom (LTC) Rolt who was in at the beginnings of the VSCC, champion of the inland waterways, author, railway rescuer etc.

#25 ensign14

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Posted 07 February 2008 - 17:30

Originally posted by Doug Nye
Interestingly, the Major was evidently most proud of the achievements of his Ferguson Research and FF Developments companies post-war, and regarded them as being infinitely more significant than any of his racing exploits or wartime PoW experiences.

That says a lot about the man, doesn't it? He was proudest of achievements that improved the lot of people's lives, rather than his own personal triumphs that were for his own benefit.

#26 Ian Stewart

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Posted 07 February 2008 - 17:39

I was profoundly saddened to hear of Tony's passing. Not because he was such a very good driver, nor because of his admirable war record, but because he was such an extremely nice person in every way. As a "new boy" in the Jaguar team he gave me encouragement and support, and a load of kindliness too.

He could be the life and soul of the party, but his serious side was ever-present when it mattered, and I think Bill Lyons and Lofty England valued him enormously not simply for his skill, but for his calm quiet wisdom.

Au revoir Tony, and thank you.

#27 AAA-Eagle

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Posted 07 February 2008 - 18:12

Another sad passing :cry:

For a year, after Baron Toulo de Graffenried had passed away in January 2007, Tony remained the last surviving participant of 1950 British Grand Prix. Now the last link has gone...

And I have always believed that such great men, who undoubtly Tony Rolt and Duncan Hamilton were, had nothing to do with that silly drunk driving story! So glad to see it has been dispelled.

R.I.P.

#28 Vitesse2

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Posted 07 February 2008 - 18:22

Kind of O/T, but I was just searching for details of Major Rolt's MC (it was gazetted on September 18th 1945, with bar on October 30th 1945). As Doug pointed out his first MC was for the defence of Calais and the second for services rendered while a PoW.

Among the other recipients of the MC for the Calais action was one Second Lieutenant John Sidney Durlacher of the Royal Regiment of Artillery. Was this Jack Durlacher, later a well-known racing sponsor?

#29 Fiorentina 1

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Posted 07 February 2008 - 18:34

I just read his bio. Wow! What stud he was, a true hero. Amazing. His life story should be a book, made into a movie. RIP Champ.

#30 flat-16

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Posted 07 February 2008 - 19:51

One can only hope that Major Rolt's passing gets the kind of media coverage it deserves. I do not believe it would be possible to over-emphasise how important it is to society that figures such as Major Rolt are celebrated for the paragons of integrity that they are.

Seven attempts! That says a lot about his determination. Considering the amount of punishment he must've received, that means he must have devoted pretty much every minute spent as a POW to planning an escape. An amazing individual :clap:

I look forward to his biography :up:


Justin



BTW - I too was spitting blood at the TV when I saw the report about Hamilton and Le Mans.... The less said the better... As I remarked in another thread, that kind of vacuous, pernicious tabloid TV has no place on a publicly-funded network IMO.

#31 Alan Cox

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Posted 07 February 2008 - 21:08

As far as I can see, no obits have yet appeared, but, in searching, found this page about the glider
http://www.colditz-4...glider.htm#Best

#32 Richard Jenkins

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Posted 07 February 2008 - 22:24

Originally posted by Doug Nye
FURTHERMORE - he absolutely refuted the legend that he and Duncan Hamilton "got drunk", "had a skinfull", "got absolutely bladdered" (J. Clarkson :o ) on the eve of the 1953 Le Mans 24-Hours when led to believe they had been excluded from the race, only to be told next morning they were in fact racing, so they did, and won. THIS FAMILIAR STORY IS ABSOLUTELY UNTRUE (A.P.R.Rolt as related to me this morning by his son, Stuart).


Doug, I mentioned this in post seven, and Ian Stewart has already refuted this a number of years back. It depends on how lazy journalists are with reporting his death over the next few days, but I suppose it'll show up the bad 'uns if they do resort to myth.

Here, find the first of the national obituaries for him - he's the lead obituary in the Times

#33 wdm

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Posted 08 February 2008 - 09:03

The Telegraph 's obit also, thankfully, gives the lie to the tale of drunkenness.

RIP, Major Rolt

#34 Vitesse2

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Posted 08 February 2008 - 10:20

Originally posted by wdm
The Telegraph 's obit also, thankfully, gives the lie to the tale of drunkenness.

I'm pretty sure we can assume that was written by Anon of Farnham.;)

One detail which was missed was that Rolt and Dixon had been exploring the possibilities of using four-wheel-drive as early as 1939 and had announced plans to build a 4WD racer for the 1941 Formula.

#35 Derwent Motorsport

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Posted 08 February 2008 - 12:20

So who is now the oldest surviving Grand prix driver?

#36 Vitesse2

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Posted 08 February 2008 - 12:36

It's still Paul Pietsch, who is also the only surviving pre-War GP driver.

Tony Rolt was the last surviving driver from the first World Championship GP. Robert Manzon and Froilan Gonzales - still with us at the time of writing - were in the field at Monaco a week later. I'm sure Richie will correct me if I'm wrong, but I think only Manzon, Gonzales and Pietsch (who raced in Italy) survive from the 1950 Championship races (excluding Indianapolis).

#37 flat-16

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Posted 08 February 2008 - 12:45

Originally posted by wdm
The Telegraph 's obit also, thankfully, gives the lie to the tale of drunkenness.

RIP, Major Rolt


What an extraordinarily talented individual. In a professional context, he seemed to excel in pretty much anything he turned his hand to.


Justin

#38 Doug Nye

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Posted 08 February 2008 - 15:11

Posted Image

A.P.R. Rolt

Posted Image

'Remus' - ERA R5B

Posted Image

London Rifles (Prince Consort's Own)

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Alfa-Aitken (ex-'Bimotore' - i.e. 'Monomotore?')

Posted Image

Tweaking the old fibber's nose - Le Mans 24-Hours 1954, after their second place finish.

Photographs: The Rolt Family Archive/The GP Library

DCN

#39 Jim Thurman

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Posted 08 February 2008 - 18:37

Originally posted by Vitesse2
It's still Paul Pietsch, who is also the only surviving pre-War GP driver.

Tony Rolt was the last surviving driver from the first World Championship GP. Robert Manzon and Froilan Gonzales - still with us at the time of writing - were in the field at Monaco a week later. I'm sure Richie will correct me if I'm wrong, but I think only Manzon, Gonzales and Pietsch (who raced in Italy) survive from the 1950 Championship races (excluding Indianapolis).


Including Indianapolis, the only surviving driver from 1950 is Jim Rathmann (and since that seems to come up, 9 drivers from the 33 starters in that 1950 '500' died in racing accidents).

Danny Kladis is the oldest surviving Indianapolis 500 starter, having raced in the 1946 event.

There are no pre-WWII surviving '500' drivers. I believe George Connor was the last pre-war survivor at the time of his passing in 2001.

RIP Mr. Rolt. And as always, thank you for the photos Doug.

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#40 raceannouncer2003

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Posted 08 February 2008 - 22:03

In the last couple of years, I've written to some of the heroes of this bygone era, asking for autographs. Last summer, I wrote to Major Rolt. I received his autograph, apparently written by a shaky hand. It will be treasured.

Vince H.

#41 Alan Lewis

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Posted 08 February 2008 - 22:35

Saw the Times obit this afternoon, having been too busy to see any news of any sort since Tuesday. "End of an era" is one of a great many easy phrases used too easily today.

But it fits.

APL

#42 Vitesse2

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Posted 08 February 2008 - 23:16

Posted Image

Lovely picture, Doug. In the Paddock at Cork, on the occasion of Tony's third race in R5B.

#43 Catalina Park

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Posted 09 February 2008 - 03:27

There is a surviving pre-war GP winner. I suppose it just depends on the definition of GP.
Is an Australian GP a GP?

#44 Ray Bell

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Posted 09 February 2008 - 04:19

As much as any other, I'd think...

It's only from 1950 onwards that the distinction, 'World Championship GP' can be drawn, so the AGP of 1939 is a Grand Prix by any estimation.

That the winner did such a good job, that the circuit was so fantastic and that he's still alive are icing on the cake. Looking forward to October and seeing him again!




Coincidentally, the other night I was talking to an old bloke I know. I knew he was in his nineties, but I didn't realise he was only 91. "I'll be 92 in June," He said. Naturally enough I asked him what date in June. "On the 14th," he replied with his weak Scottish accent.

He's two days older than Tomlinson...

#45 David McKinney

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Posted 09 February 2008 - 07:36

Originally posted by Ray Bell
It's only from 1950 onwards that the distinction, 'World Championship GP' can be drawn, so the AGP of 1939 is a Grand Prix by any estimation

Did it comply with the AIACR Grand Prix regulations of the time? Not by "any estimation" then :)

(Posted by someone who as frequently argues from the opposite standpoint, and would be among the last to belittle Mr Tomlinson's efforts)

#46 Richard Jenkins

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Posted 09 February 2008 - 19:16

One answer to clear up, another to ask Doug (or anyone else for that matter)

1950 does indeed see three surviving drivers, as Vitesse said above - Manzon, Gonzalez & Pietsch.

Rolt was far from being the oldest driver - Fitch, Frere, Karch & Lecaze, to name just four off the top of my head, are older.

George Connor was not the last pre-war surviving '500 driver, that was Overton Snell, who died in 2004, aged 97. Connor was the last starter, however.

But Doug mentioned in the first post that APRR was the oldest member of the BRDC. Does that therefore mean that Dick Gibson, who was born in April 1918 (a few months older than Rolt) is no longer with us?? Or is Gibson still alive, but not a member of the BRDC??

#47 Vitesse2

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Posted 11 February 2008 - 12:50

Obituary by David Tremayne in today's Independent:

http://www.independe...ero-780721.html

#48 D-Type

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Posted 11 February 2008 - 14:51

Originally posted by wdm
The Telegraph 's obit also, thankfully, gives the lie to the tale of drunkenness.

A pity DJT didn't follow the Telegraph writer's lead :down:

#49 David McKinney

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Posted 11 February 2008 - 18:06

Originally posted by D-Type

A pity DJT didn't follow the Telegraph writer's lead :down:

Only if it can be assumed that Independent readers had heard - and believed - the story :)

#50 Mal9444

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Posted 12 February 2008 - 08:27

I somehow missed this thread, being off the air for most of last week, and saw Friday's Telegraph obit only this morning (dont ask!) - so am way astern of station.

The Colditz aircraft did fly, eventually (http://www.telegraph...03/ncold03.html)
about 8 years ago but I do not know if Tony Rolt was among the Colditz surviviors present.

An avid reader of Touch Wood I am afraid I had fallen for at least there being some truth in the Le Mans story. Oh dear - another golden myth demolished ):

I quite like the Lofty England quote from the Telly's obit:

'According to his extrovert co-driver, Duncan Hamilton, on the night before the event the two men drowned their sorrows after being excluded for a practice infringement; to their consternation (given their powerful hangovers) they were reinstated next morning - yet they emerged victorious. This often-repeated fairytale deeply upset Rolt; and Jaguar's formidable team manager, "Lofty" England, insisted: "Of course I would never have let them race under the influence. I had enough trouble when they were sober!" '

BTW - while my hard copy Daily Telegraph obit has a picture, properly captioned, of Rolt and Hamilton together with the '54 D-type, the online Telegraph obit (http://www.telegraph...2/08/db0801.xml) has a picture of Rolt in the 1953 Le Mans winning Connaught A-type!

What would DSJ make of that?