A DAY AT THE RACES

The next paragraph of this text is fairly densely written. Why? Because whatever else this is, it's genuine biographical research and has to take on the complexities of life.

Two weeks after taking the photograph that dominates the last essay on this site, an image reflecting personal devastation, Evelyn was staying at the Union Hotel in Belfast. There seems to be some doubt as to who he was there with (both Martin Stannard and Selina Hastings
think he was with Alastair Graham and David Plunket Greene). But, as we'll see, Richard Plunket Greene, Evelyn's old friend from Aston Clinton, the man who had bought Evelyn a motorcycle and who had generally been a good friend to Evelyn when he'd needed one, was definitely of the party. If it was Alastair and Richard that were in Belfast with Evelyn, then he couldn't have been in better hands to help him recover from the break-up of his marriage. All chaps together...

Screen shot 2014-04-27 at 18.15
Image from official programme of Belfast TT race, August 17, 1929

On August the 15th, Evelyn wrote to his agent asking if anyone might be interested in a satirical account of the famous Belfast motor race. Richard Plunket Greene was pursuing his interest in being a racing driver. He'd driven in the Belfast TT in 1928 and was back in town this year. Practice for the race was on August 14 and 15, so perhaps Evelyn had already observed the scene by the time he wrote to his agent. However, the big day was to be Saturday, August 17, when half a million people would be watching the spectacle around the course a few miles to the east of the city itself. How do I know these details? Because they're in the official programme for the day, a document that, as we'll see, Evelyn must have had to hand when he was writing chapter ten of
Vile Bodies, the longest chapter in the book and a self-contained tour de force. I mean, literally.

Screen shot 2014-04-27 at 18.13

Perhaps the most interesting page in the programme is the one reproduced below. Note the name of the 'reserve driver', a phrase that has particular significance in chapter ten of
Vile Bodies, from the moment that Agatha Runcible decides that because she's wearing an armband that says 'RESERVE DRIVER' she can actually be one. In the novel, the name of the English car that Adam and his group are supporting is a Plunket-Bowse. This name has been made up from the slightly mis-spelt 'Plunkett' of the programme, plus a slight misspelling by Waugh of the actual driver of car 38 (Bowes becomes Bowse). The English car's main rival in the race is driven by a ('dirty') Italian called Marino, while it is Marioni whose name is at the top of the list of driver's in the page below, the driver of an Italian car, an Alfa Romeo.

Screen shot 2014-04-27 at 18.17
Image from official programme of Belfast TT race, August 17, 1929

What's particularly useful about the above table is that it tells us that the number of the car that Evelyn and his party were supporting on the day of the race was 38. Wouldn't it be grand if the press had taken a photo of the car in its pit that day, given that - though most of the action takes place in the refreshment tent (really Adam Symes, Archie Schwertz, Miles Malpractice and Agatha Runcible have the most boozy of days) - they are also in and out of the pit a fair bit? The picture below, focussing on car 27 and giving a glimpse of the pits from 27 to 30 takes us tantalisingly close.

B2557
Lea Francis in the pits at 1929 Ards TT. LAT photographic Archive

I must quote
Vile Bodies as the above photo is so pertinent to it:

'
The pits turned out to be a line of booths, built of wood and corrugated iron immediately opposite the Grand Stand. Many of the cars had already arrived and stood at the 'pits', surrounded by a knot of mechanics and spectators; they seemed to be already under repair. Busy officials hurried up and down, making entries in their lists.'

The above photo also reminds me of the scene where Agatha is smoking in the pits and is told not to by an official. She throws her cigarette over her shoulder and instead of it falling into one of the four churns containing petrol (se the churns in pit 27, above) it falls into one of the two containing water. Twice more Agatha lights up and is told off by an official. Actually, the sequence of her reactions is hilarious. The first reprimand is followed by '
My dear, I'm terribly sorry. I didn't know.' Second by: 'My dear, how awful of me. I quite forgot.' Third by: 'What a damned rude man. Let's go up to that divine tent and get a drink.'

The photo below takes us even closer to pit 38. But it also shows the slope leading from the pits towards the refreshments tent. Could the two men in the foreground be Evelyn and Alastair walking along the road on the look out for the quickest way up to the bar? In
Vile Bodies, Adam, Archie, Miles and Agatha are ordering a whisky when the race starts at noon. The barmaid can't believe they're going to miss the start just in order to have a drink, but as Archie says, "They'll be round again in quarter of an hour." And so they order another drink. The length of the nameless course in Vile Bodies is between thirteen and fourteen miles. And the Belfast circuit? 13 and 2/3 miles, according to the programme that Evelyn so sensibly invested a shilling in.

B2519
Alfa Romeos before start of 1929 Ards TT. LAT photographic Archive

There is no photo of pit 38 in the photographic archive I've found on the net. Only in a funny way there is. In
Vile Bodies, the Plunket-Bowse car is number 13. Why did Evelyn give the car this number? Because 13 is an unlucky number and there was no number 13 at the Belfast road race. However, I like to think of the photo below as showing pit 13 (in between the numbers 12 and 14 that hang down from the corrugated iron roof).

Could that be Adam, with hand on hip, and Miles Malpractice sitting down? If so, their armbands say: 'DEPOT STAFF' and 'SPARE MECHANIC', respectively.

Or is it Evelyn and Alastair, with bottles of beer in front of them? If so, their brassards say: 'ADAM FENWICK SYMES' and 'MILES MALPRACTISE'.

Or is it Harry Potter and Ron Weasley at platform 9 and 3/4, at London's King's Cross station?

B2543
Riley in the pits at 1929 Ards TT. LAT photographic Archive

Oh, reader, what a lot of spectators...

Masked spectators, savage spectators, Victorian spectators, spectators who have been made to dress as someone else, almost naked spectators in St John's Wood, spectators in flats and studios, houses and ships and hotels and nightclubs, in wind-mills and swimming-baths, spectators at school where one ate muffins and meringues and tinned crab, spectators at Oxford where one drank brown sherry and smoked Turkish cigarettes, dull spectators in London and comic spectators in Scotland and disgusting spectators in Paris - all that succession and repetition of massed humanity... Those vile bodies...

B2545
Wide view of the 1929 Ards TT. LAT photographic Archive

The race is off and there goes Evelyn's party's car on the right in the picture below, number 38 cum 13.

B2568crop
Bugatti, Alvis and Frazer Nash at 1929 Ards TT. LAT photographic Archive

However, it's not Richard Plunket Greene who's driving, it's one R.L.Bowes, accompanied by his mechanic. I expect Richard was in the refreshments tent with Evelyn and Alastair, on the assumption that the reserve driver would not be required. Was the reserve driver required in the Belfast race? It would be good to know. However, he - or rather she, Agatha Runcible - certainly is required in the book. After an opening two whiskies, she and the rest of her party have another couple of drinks in the tent. Then when 'the drunk major' turns up, promising to pay Adam the £35,000 that he owes him thanks to a successful bet on a racehorse, they each have a bottle of champagne to celebrate. When Adam's party is told that the driver of car 13 has been injured by a spanner thrown by Marino, their reserve driver is called for. Step forth, the undauntable Agatha Runcible. Adam is a little concerned that driving a racing car while tight might not be safe or entirely legal. He is reassured by Archie that all the drivers are tight. Their exchange goes on:

"All of them?"
"Absolutely everyone - tight as houses."


What happens? Ultimately, what happens is that Evelyn Waugh designs a striking cover for his own book, though the image below is the related
frontispiece.

vilebodies
Reproduced with the forbearance, I hope, of the copyright holder.

This is a much stronger image than the provisional cover painted by Waugh and which was discussed
here. But to come up with it, I strongly suspect Evelyn needed to be inspired by certain images in the official programme. The one below for a start, with its text above and below the car, and the bold, onrushing perspective:

Screen shot 2014-04-27 at 18.14
Image from official programme of Belfast TT race, August 17, 1929

The one below too, I think. The woman (actually, it's not a woman) in the image is so strong, so cool, so in control, so - in embittered He-Evelyn's view - asking to be brought crashing down to earth.

Screen shot 2014-04-27 at 18.14
Image from official programme of Belfast TT race, August 17, 1929

And Evelyn Waugh, the artist, needed to see certain things on the day of the race itself, or in newspaper reports of the race.

For a moment, I thought the car in the image below was car 13. For one moment, I thought the English Plunket-Bowse was jumping over the roadside verge in order to carry on cross country, like a hunter following the fox-hounds in the grounds of Brideshead.

B2530
Bentley Old Number One Crash at 1929 Ards TT. LAT photographic Archive

In
Vile Bodies, a tannoy announces that car 13 has disappeared from the course at Church Corner, turning left instead of right there, and was last seen proceeding south on the bye road. This can be made sense of by referring to a map of the circuit, as below. The road that goes south from St Mary's Church in Comber (bottom edge of map) goes straight south for many a mile. Picture poor Agatha at the wheel, trying to keep control of the beast of a car that she's voluntarily taken the wheel of.

map-ards-tt

The suggestion is that the Plunket-Bowse crashes into a war memorial. I haven't checked up on the likely literalness of that. However, I expect Waugh chose such a denouement for symbolic reasons given where the book ends up in its last chapter.

It's been suggested in the Waugh literature that the character Agatha Runcible, is in part a portrait of the Bright Young Thing, Elizabeth Ponsonby. There is probably something in this, but in chapter ten, Evelyn is surely thinking of She-Evelyn, the woman who has just deserted him, notwithstanding that she is already well and truly embedded in the book as Nina.

In 1936, Anthony Powell wrote a novel called
Agents and Patients. Two of the main characters are the Maltravers, and this is known to be a portrait of She-Evelyn and John Heygate. Moreover, it's a portrait of their relationship when, married, they lived together in the Canonbury Square flat that had once been the home of the Evelyns. I go into this in more detail in Evelyn! Rhapsody for an Obsessive Love. Suffice to say here, that directions given in the novel take one to the Heygates' home in Canonbury Square, and Anthony Powell admits the connection in his autobiography, To keep the Ball Rolling. In the novel, Sarah Maltravers (She-Evelyn, once removed) is described as a motoring correspondent for Mode. When she is asked by another character whether she is interested in cars, she admits that she goes down on her knees to them. John Heygate's son, Richard, has told me that She-Evelyn had a penchant for motor mechanics, so the sexual undertones of that last Powell sentence are probably no accident.

"I'll take you out in my car sometime," says Sarah to Blore-Smith at one point in
Agents and Patients. Be scared, Blore-Smith. Be very, very scared...

Young_woman_driving_a_sports_car_1928_Andr_Kert_sz_
Young woman driving a sports car, 1928. Photo by André Kertész.

When John Heygate travelled around Europe in an M.G., She-Evelyn was by his side. Yes, when a reserve driver was called for during a continental road trip in 1930 or so, step forward Evelyn Heygate! (That M.G. is one car that Evelyn Waugh would have liked to have seen crash...)

Another connection between Agatha Runcible and She-Evelyn is a nursing home in Wigmore Street, central London. In January 1929, following the Evelyns' Christmas with Henry and Pansy Lamb, as described at the end of this essay, She-Evelyn went into a nursing home on Wigmore Street to recuperate from an operation on her throat. In Vile Bodies, Agatha is in such a Wigmore Street nursing home recuperating from her high-speed crash. Adam comes to see her, MIles pops in as well and soon there is a drinks party underway, with cocktails and a gramophone.

'
Faster, faster... it'll stop all right when the time comes.' says Agatha.

Which is true enough as she dies in between chapters 12 and 13, Adam informing Nina that he had been 'rather tight' at her ill-attended funeral.

I'm pushing on to the end of
Vile Bodies now.

'
Faster, faster... it'll stop all right when the time comes.'

A good time to go and visit the original manuscript in Leeds, I think. There are things I urgently need to check up on. If I hop in the Alfa Romeo I should make it by opening time tomorrow morning.

1928ards-tt-curzon-bugatti-t43
LAT photographic Archive

Oh my God, it's the drunk major! What does he want?

"I met a mutt today," he barks. And he tells me the story of how he approached Adam at the racecourse, owing him £35,000. And ended up drinking a bottle of the mutt's champagne and being leant another fiver by said mutt.

"Actually, strictly speaking it was Adam's pal, Archie Schwertz, who gave you the fiver and bought everyone champagne."

"In that case, I met two mutts today," says the drunk major, one of two bizarre father-figures, who, in the pages of
Vile Bodies, always seem to get the last word.

But not today. Belfast to
Leeds in record time, that's the last word.







Note
The photographs from the 1929 race have been taken from
www.austinharris.co.uk. The archive also includes six photos of Richard Plunket Greene, or rather the car he's driving. "On, Richard, on," you can almost hear Evelyn shouting down through the years.