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Mike Hawthorn - memories by Gordon Wilkins


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#1 Doug Nye

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Posted 04 April 2021 - 12:04

The Mike Hawthorn books, 'Challenge Me The Race' and 'Champion Year' - plus his 'Carlotti' boys' books - have often been mentioned in these threads.

 

While engaged in another of my occasional archive blitzes here at home I have just found some notes of a conversation I had with Gordon Wilkins (b. October 6, 1912 - d. April 10, 2007), who is described in his BAFTA biog as follows: "A motoring journalist who combined expertise with a boundless enthusiasm, Wilkins began writing for The Motor magazine in the 1930s and later became technical editor at Autocar magazine. Turning freelance he presented the TV programme Wheelbase (1964-1973), thereafter working only occasionally in television while continuing his prolific output in print".

 

The conversation I had with him was about his ghost-writing 'Challenge Me The Race' with Mike Hawthorn, for which assignment Gordon was evidently the publisher's second choice after Robert Glenton, Motoring Editor and feature writer for 'The Sunday Express' from 1951...

 

Gordon recalled:  "Kimber the publisher took me to a posh lunch. He told me that Glenton had completed an existing manuscript and all I would have to do was tidy it up, he said.  Glenton was evidently out.  Kimber just substituted my name for his on the contract and then I found that Glenton had done nothing at all and Kimber held me to the contract by threatening legal action.  I ended up doing the bulk of the thing, then Nevil Lloyd finished it off and read the proofs.

 

"Bloody Hawthorn had never kept a record of his life and I had to dig out the rest, bloody dreadful thing, read the proofs and get it back to Kimber - I hadn't had a penny, Kimber persuaded Nevil Lloyd to read the proofs and get it back to him - the early stuff was a work of fiction.

 

"We had a flat in Mayfair..." - meaning Gordon and his then spectacularly glamorous (but 'notoriously pushy') wife Joyce - "...Hawthorn would come there to tape the story, couldn't remember a bloody thing of the early days.  I made up the visit to Brooklands, etc.  Just made it up because it seemed to fit what I could research. Hawthorn's main interest seemed to be trying to get Joyce into bed!

 

"He was bloody hopeless.  I didn't think much of him as a man.  I think he did lose a kidney. I don't think he did have long to live but I think he'd come to terms with it.  Let's face it, he was in a profession where short-lived fast lives were normal.  But he was a very extrovert bloke, it didn't seem to bother him. I think his mum knew he wasn't going to live long anyway - or at least, the chances were that he wasn't going to live long. 

 

"I did hear that his tyres in the fatal crash were extra-heavily or extra-firmly braced experimental radials which would have held on longer, later and faster until they let go, and that when they let go, they would just let go completely...".

 

Interesting testimony - long lost.

 

DCN



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#2 cpbell

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Posted 04 April 2021 - 12:32

I wonder whether he invented the Sebring reference to Hawthorn seeing a fire vehicle following him down the runway?



#3 doc knutsen

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Posted 04 April 2021 - 14:11

JMH was my childhood hero, I had just turned 10 years old that fateful day in January 1959.   Over the years  I have had many a good chuckle over some of his (printable) exploits, particularly those from "Mon Ami Mate". It would be a shame to be told that those were mere journalistic fabrications as well! Please say it ain't so! :lol:



#4 Doug Nye

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Posted 04 April 2021 - 17:55

It ain't so Doc - some of my older fellow townspeople here in Farnham still roll their eyes, curl a lip, or guffaw in merriment (dependent upon personality/background/mindset/inhibitions/sense of decency, etc) whenever JMH is mentioned locally...    :blush:

 

DCN



#5 D-Type

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Posted 04 April 2021 - 21:12

Doc, if you're a JMH fan, you must read Mike Hawthorn Golden Boy if you haven't already done so.  

 

​Doug, thanks for the Gordon Wilkins insight.



#6 FLB

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Posted 04 April 2021 - 22:10

The Mike Hawthorn books, 'Challenge Me The Race' and 'Champion Year' - plus his 'Carlotti' boys' books - have often been mentioned in these threads.

 

While engaged in another of my occasional archive blitzes here at home I have just found some notes of a conversation I had with Gordon Wilkins (b. October 6, 1912 - d. April 10, 2007),

 

I don't have much to add except to say that's fitting symmetry to the fact that Mike Hawthorn was born on April 10, 1929.



#7 doc knutsen

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Posted 05 April 2021 - 09:11

Doc, if you're a JMH fan, you must read Mike Hawthorn Golden Boy if you haven't already done so.  

 

​Doug, thanks for the Gordon Wilkins insight.

Thank you for the comment. I got my copy of "Golden Boy" as soon as it came out...and loved it. My copy of the book currently resides with the editor of "Jaguaren", the excellent magazine of the Norwegian Jaguar Drivers' Club. He's delayed returning it for quite a few months!



#8 Roger Clark

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Posted 05 April 2021 - 09:51

I think we should all give thanks that Gordon Wilkins took over that project from Robert Glenton; and especially that it wasn’t Basil Cardew. 



#9 Lola5000

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Posted 12 April 2022 - 21:48

Was Mike Hawthorn involved with running the TT garage in the early to mid 1950s?



#10 Doug Nye

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Posted 12 April 2022 - 22:05

Yes.

 

DCN



#11 Lola5000

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Posted 12 April 2022 - 23:08

Yes.

 

DCN

Ta Doug ,just knew you would know the answer , in what capacity was Mike involved ?  Ta .



#12 Doug Nye

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Posted 13 April 2022 - 07:06

As I understand it, father Leslie was very much in charge until his fatal road accident in 1954.  TTG mechanic Brit Pearce was full of Leslie stories, most centred upon his autocratic and decidedly martinet ways...by most standards too often inebriated and in unpredictable friction with wife Winifred - a domestic situation from which Mike preferred to escape into his own extrovert life style with his like-minded mates. Mike spent time at the garage in East Street, Farnham, whenever he was home during his Ferrari seasons of 1953-54 - but had been involved far more frequently when not away racing (with Leslie) 1950-52.  

 

His involvement appears to have been pretty much as "the guv'nor's son", for the few staff an avenue of approach to Leslie, rather than any formal role of what might be described as management.  In truth there wasn't a lot to manage.  

 

TT Garage was no major distributorship - it was a small family business punching above its real weight where Leslie's enthusiast clientele was concerned. "More front than Sainsbury's" springs to mind.  And that was absolutely due to the Hawthorns' growing racing fame.

 

Total employees could be counted on a full set of fingers. For a number of certainly younger-set customers, Mike's presence at the garage as a meeter and greeter, and good fun in the neighbouring pubs at lunchtime, became a major attraction. After Leslie's death Mike became more hands on - though a full-time manager had been engaged (necessarily-)  and the need for extended presence at home contributed to Mike signing contracts with Vanwall, then BRM, instead of "swanning off" to Italy for long periods. Really the survival of TTG during its Hawthorn family ownership was more due to the efforts of others than to Mike's, and I am told he fully appreciated that and was properly supportive. But don't get the impression that TTG during that era was a major motor trade player.  It was only ever a small family business in a small provincial town - albeit a very nice one (but then after 51 years here I can confess to bias).  

 

DCN