Stock Car Sewell, Radio 4
Humph Celebration Concert, Radio 4
The prince of posh goes stock-car racing – and loves the colours
Sunday 05 September 2010
Of all the possibilities raised by the programme title Stock Car Sewell, the very last one to come to mind is that Brian Sewell, high-minded art critic and the poshest man in the world, is a fan of stock-car racing. Come again?
It's like finding that the Queen's into mud wrestling and the Pope reads Playboy.
But yes, at a loose end with his teenage godson in 1975, he headed for Wimbledon Stadium. "With an air of resignation I came here," he said. "And I was hooked." He was spending the day behind the scenes for the first time, watching the drivers prepare, noting the "extraordinarily vulgar colours here, there and everywhere, pink, lavenders ...".
The sport got going in this country in the 1950s, and Sewell visited one of the early stars, Pete Tucker, who these days sells American cars out of his back yard.
"There was me, Whiskers Walnough, Oily Wells, Freddie the Mad Parson," said Pete. "I was like a kid amongst them." He was making £400 a week up and down the country. "I had the time of my life."
Stock-car racing was imported from the US by a circus and speedway promoter, Digger Pugh, who was vividly evoked by Pete. "Digger was about four foot high. He was running round like a blue-arsed fly wherever he went. He had a flash shirt on, a flash pair of strides. I got on well with him – a lot of the boys didn't. He was very forceful. He ran it with an iron fist."
The stars would turn out in force, Pete recalled. "Diana Dors used to come down to Staines – what a sport she was."
He ended up dancing the tango with her. "But I must have had a few 'cause I can't remember it."
A stern reminder, to drink responsibly, I'd say.
Back at the race track, Sewell was thrilled by the evening's sport. "Like most men, I've never grown up and I've always been in love with cars," he sighed. "Beautiful, aggressive and wonderful, they are – and how nasty. They embrace every characteristic of the human male."
He left the track a happy man. "You come out feeling you've been watching Ben-Hur, King Lear and a pantomime, all at the same time."
Still, not even a night out racing at Wimbledon Stadium could match the Humph Celebration Concert in the feelgood department.
Convening on the first anniversary of the death of the great Humphrey Lyttelton, the I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue team joined forces with assorted illustrious musicians and singers in a fiesta of fond memories. All the favourite Clue games were aired, the undoubted highlight of the whole programme coming in "One Song to the Tune of Another". Rob Brydon, in splendid, full-throated, boy-from-the-valleys voice, did a tingle-inducing rendition of "Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick" to the tune of "Delilah". Clearly carefully chosen, they made a perfect fit.
Humph would have loved it.
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