NEVER LOOK BACK
- This item will be available in June 2024
FOCUSED, FROM THE START
For as long as I can remember, my ambition as a kid was to run the family business, Warwick Trailers. I didn’t care about anything else, most especially going to school.
And then, when I was doing just that, running the business, I got started in motorsport and then I wanted to race against my father and uncle and be Superstox World Champion.
I was helped immeasurably in both ambitions by my background. I come from a family in which nobody was afraid to work hard to get what they wanted in life. It was something that just came naturally to all of us. My Dad, Derrick, or Derry as he was better known, and my Uncle Stan, of whom we will hear much more, had their own business in Alresford, in Hampshire, making agricultural trailers. They bought it after the war from a gentleman called Mr Grace and moved it from The Avenue to The Dean, not far away, and changed the name from Grace Trailers to Warwick Trailers. Dad and Stan were 50/50 partners.
Warwick Trailers was my Nirvana. It shaped my childhood and influenced my entire life.
Stan was two or three years older, although Dad usually had to play the role of elder brother getting Stan out of various scrapes. I would later inherit that role. There were eight children in their family, but they were the only ones involved in the trailer business.
Mum, Beatrice, came from Portsmouth and was a war child, so she got evacuated to Alresford, where Dad and my Nan lived in one of those old prefab houses they used to build. That’s where Mum met Dad. She was an amazing woman, one of those who just did everything for us kids out of maternal kindness, simply because she wanted to. She all but put toothpaste on my toothbrush, and I was completely mother-cuddled by her pure love all through her life.
I was born on August 27th, 1954. I’ve got a big sister, Linda, who’s two years older than me, and two younger sisters, Julie and Delia, or Deelie as she’s called. Then our baby brother Paul came along in January 1969. Mum would always joke that he was a mistake, that she got caught out! But of course he was such an important part of the family; the rest of us were 17, 15, 14 and 12, and there all of a sudden was a new baby. My little baby brother. It was absolutely perfect and he was adored by all of us.
We were brought up with very strong, old-fashioned family values. All the girls had to do something round the house. The cooking, the washing up, washing the clothes, the ironing, cutting the grass and so on; they each had their chores. Meanwhile the boys, not so much Paul to begin with (although certainly later) but Dad and me, we did the day job at the trailer factory, where the money was earned. It was a bit like they did it in farming families, the males going out and generating income, the women keeping home and hearth. Very Fifties, I suppose you could say. That was how it was back then and everybody in our household was happy with that and accepted it. Just like you walked to school back then, usually on your own.
There was a lot of bad language at Warwick Trailers so I learned all that quite early in my life, but I never, ever swore at home. Mum just wouldn’t have it. That was something else that was accepted. You’d have eight hours of effing and blinding in the factory, and then come home and not utter one swear word, because you’d get a slap under the ear from Mum if you did. Actually, it was the respect you had for Mum that stopped you, not the little tap.
I went to the Dean Primary School on The Dean to start with. It was literally 100 yards from the front gates of Warwick Trailers. So, even when I was supposed to be learning my 10 times tables, I would escape there as often as I could. Like I said, even from a very young age all I ever wanted to do was work there, to build trailers, learn how to spray better and weld better and press metal better than anybody else, and to do it quicker than they could but with superior results. For some reason I was competitive from day one, unbelievably competitive in everything I did.
Linda and Julie will delight in telling you that I was a ‘scaredy baby’. I had a nice bedroom, but it was next to the garage with its flat roof and I was always terrified that someone would break in, so when I was little I used to prop mops and brushes over the door, so they would fall on top of them if they tried to enter in the middle of the night.
Delia Bryant, youngest sister
‘Derek was definitely scared of the dark, so it used to be fun to leap out and see how high he would jump.
‘I always remember he was never at school and instead was always down at the factory. Oil under his fingernails, and driving anything that was put in front of him.
‘He used to have a band in the back garden shed, with his mates playing various instruments. He was on the guitar. They couldn’t read or write a note of music between them so it was just a noise, but they thought they were good.
‘I remember once he was shooting cans off a back wall in the garden, and there was a close call when a pellet went whizzing past my face as I appeared suddenly on my bike. That was a scary moment which had to be kept quiet from Mum and Dad! I earned quite a bit out of that one from him, though.’
Linda Jones, eldest sister
‘One time Dad was having a beer at home and we were all sitting in the front room and he sneaked out and then suddenly appeared outside this window and went ‘Waaaggh!’ Little Derek was so unsettled that Julie and I had to spend ages calming him down.
‘Another time, Derek went pheasant shooting at night with his best mate, Bob Barrett, and Chris Jones, my future husband. It was Chris’s idea, because he’d just bought an air rifle. So they went to the woods and got the torch out and Chris says, ‘There’s one up in that tree there, Derek!’ And Derek shot at it. But it didn’t move. ‘Did you hit it?’ Chris asked. ‘I think I got it, yeah.’ Then suddenly it sort of flipped about and rolled all the way down this tree, like it was still alive. All three of them were so spooked they ran away, and no-one would touch it. Then they remembered he had one of his welder’s gloves in the boot of the car, so Derek picked it up with that and gave it to a mate in the pub.
‘Another time the three of them decided they’d go camping in Cheriton Wood, near Winchester. So off they cycled the seven miles, pitched their tent, put all their things down, and settled in for the night. And then they all heard some wailing, which frightened my tough little brother, so they dumped the tent and started cycling back home in the middle of the night. They were picked up by a police car because they had no lights and taken home, where everyone laughed at Derek and took the mickey out of him for weeks.’
Lin and Julie also like to tell the story of my ear infection. I went to the doctor with it, when I was 14 or something. He poked around for a while, then came up with a bead. I’d forgotten that I’d pushed it into my ear when I was a little kid. I’d told Mum at the time and she’d had a look but never found it. It had been in there for 10 years…
They say that I was a menace as a kid, but sisters would, wouldn’t they? And that I was permanently dirty and never went to school. That I was expected to work in the family business since I was eight or nine. All of that is partly true. My face and hands were usually filthy, ingrained with oil and dirt, because I’d be in the factory whenever I could, working hands-on. I didn’t care. I loved it. At that stage of my life it never occurred to me that I might want to do anything else.
The girls also remember the time when Dad and Stan left me in the boot of their car. It happened one day when I was so dirty that Dad said I had to get in the boot. This happened many, many times, because Dad didn’t want me getting the inside of his car all messed up. So I would climb in obediently. They would then drive off, and depending on the time of the day it would be sometimes to a café for a bacon roll but mostly to the pub for a quick one. One particular night they had maybe a couple more because when they got home Mum said, ‘Where’s Derek?’ And Dad said, ‘Oh damn [or something like that], he’s still in the boot!’
Another time Stan and I were in a café in Southampton and he left me behind. We were on a job and Stan said he fancied a cuppa. I was about eight at the time, and not at school again. Stan went up to the counter to pay, then just walked out. He got in his car and drove back to Alresford, started working again, and Dad said, ‘Where’s Derek?’ It must have been getting like that ‘Where’s Wally?’ thing. And Stan said, ‘Oh, shit, I left him in the café!’ And he had to drive all the way back to Southampton, and there I was, still sitting there patiently with half a dozen empty crisp packets… I never felt anxious about this kind of thing, it just became normal.
I’m ashamed to admit it, but I once inadvertently did something similar to my daughter Kerry. We went to a family christening and after the service someone said, ‘Where’s Kerry?’ We’d left her at Mum’s, thinking she was with my sisters. She was still screaming when we got back — but at least I didn’t leave her in the boot.
There was also the time when I was criminalised at a tender age.
Dad and Stan took me along when they went to an Army sale. We bought a few bits and pieces, then we went into a large container and there were a load of inch-and-a-sixteenth drill bits. We used to drill holes that size on almost every trailer we made, that was the size for the anchor points for all tipper trailers.
The sale was over and we were just leaving when Stan pushed three or four of these massive drill bits down my trousers and told me to hold my tummy so that would keep them in place. We started walking towards the main gate where there were soldiers making sure no one left with anything they shouldn’t have. I was literally walking like I needed to go to the toilet, holding my stomach and these drills. Then Stan decided to give me a smack under the ear and said ‘You dirty little bugger!’ and turned to the soldiers and told them I’d had an accident in my pants.
I was only about six years old and already a thief because of my father and uncle…
Dad and Stan raced karts in the early days but gave it up after Dad put a nasty hole in his leg after a big crash in Southampton, and then the business got very busy and they just didn’t have time. Work always came before pleasure. Then we went through some real financial problems in the Seventies, just before I started racing, almost going bankrupt.
We’d built up a little industrial estate with three buildings beside Warwick Trailers, but we had to sell them because the bank was about to foreclose on the business, and we had to flog it to the bank for 42 grand. The reason I remember that number was because it set the business back massively, but it was the only way we could keep going. The really weird thing is that I’m just buying them back now for a development I’m doing, and about to pay about £1.5 million…
We always owed the most money to Avon, who supplied us with all the axles and tyres for the trailers. We’d be in the office for a tea break or something and somebody would look out the window and say, ‘Uh-oh, look out, it’s Fred from Avon!’ I’d look around and Dad and Stan would be climbing out through the back window to avoid him, because we just didn’t have the money. Times were often very tough. But the bills always got paid eventually, we never let anyone down.
People may think I came from quite a privileged childhood, which I did in some ways, because we always had good cars and everything, but it was tough at the same time. Dad would work 10 hours every day. And I think that’s where I get my work ethic from. I don’t need more than a few hours’ sleep and sometimes I can go without a wink for days at a time. I always had to open the doors ready for everyone to start at 7.30am, so that’s what I do even now. I’m always in the office at Derek Warwick Honda, my dealership in Jersey, at quarter to seven and finish at six. We normally went home for our dinner around six.
Then, and only then, were we allowed to work on the stock cars. That was the religion. You weren’t allowed to work on them during the working day, no matter what. Racing was never allowed to interfere with work.
Dad and Stan had big Vauxhalls in the early days. Crestas, I think. I also remember them getting their first Jag, which they drove flat out everywhere. Dad stuffed one of his Jags into a bus, but the clever thing was that he went in backwards. He could see that it was going to be inevitable that he would hit the bus, so he did a last-minute handbrake turn and went into it boot first. Safer.
It was funny because Linda had left her new Brownie uniform in the car, and coming out of school she saw this smashed up Jag but didn’t think it could be Dad’s until she saw her uniform there on the back seat.
Dad had a couple of caravans. Mum once towed one down to the seaside behind an Austin 1100, of all things, but Dad towed a bigger one with his Jag. He’d probably been in the pub until two in the morning, then we’d load up and leave at four, all of us kids actually in the caravan.
I remember Linda and I were rigid with embarrassment the day Dad offered one of our teachers a lift to school. Mr Kingswood lived nearby, and when Dad saw him, he skidded to a halt. ‘Morning Mr Kingswood, would you like a ride?’ That was excruciating.
We all hated being dropped off in this posh Jag. It was embarrassing, so I made Dad drop us before we got there, and I would walk the rest of the way. Later, Julie would experience the same embarrassment.
It’s funny, I have the dealership here in Jersey and a lovely house, but even today I’ve never considered myself as one of those wealthy people who lives here. My upbringing was to respect people, treat them how you want to be treated, work hard and be modest. That mentality carries you through life.
Julie Eaton, middle sister
‘I’d beg Dad to drop me off before we got to school, so I could walk in, like he did with Derek, but he used to insist on taking me right into the car park. I hated that! Most people there were poor families and hated wealthy people who had flash cars; we certainly never considered ourselves wealthy. We always considered ourselves a working-class family that worked hard and hated that some people might think we were rich kids.
‘When we travelled in the caravan, Dad just told us to watch our balance, and we had so much fun. All you could hear was the Jag’s engine, and then we’d put a tape machine on, listen to music, just sitting on the bunk beds, no safety belts or anything like that. Then one day Dad saw a caravan that was totally wrecked, it had flipped over, and he pulled into a layby and made us get into the back of the car, so unfortunately that was the end of that. But he let Derek drive the Jag around when we got to the beach.’
Delia Bryant, youngest sister
‘Derek was famous and much admired by the local girls at school, who would wait for him to drive up from the factory for lunch, standing outside the gates just to hear him rev up the engine and give them a smile.
‘I have always felt so proud to be in his company, and it was the same with Paul. It felt really special to be able to be with them and when I was a lot younger, I couldn’t stop smiling inside to be the one to be walking out with them.’
When I could drive — as opposed to when I was legally old enough to drive — Stan would stick me in anything and everything. There was always a drot, one of those diggers with caterpillar tracks and a big blade at the front that you used to dig holes or move earth with. Or a crane or a forklift. In the drot, I’d bang round this big field that we owned alongside the factory, making a track so I could drive cars that Stan bought from a scrapyard. We had a big heap of soil, probably as high as a house, and I’d use the drot to build ramps to jump a car over.
I would have endless fun driving old bangers round that big field. Stan would go to the scrapyard and buy three or four and give them to me. I had to repair them and keep them going, which taught me a lot. I would race them round and round and round until a tyre came off or the thing ran out of fuel. All I had to do was buy some fuel with my pocket money, but that wasn’t for me. I would go round the car park syphoning just a little fuel from each car so nobody would miss it. I was still only 11 or 12, and I’d be driving these cars in endless circles. And whenever one went pop on me, I’d jump in the next one and then later I’d repair the one that broke.
I can’t remember what age I was when I first drove a lorry, but I was pretty small. I always thought I was four, but when I think of my grandsons at four, there’s no way I could have driven even a little van at that age, let alone a lorry. So probably seven or eight? I remember driving a lorry up the hill towards the factory. I couldn’t sit on the seat and drive because my legs weren’t long enough to reach the pedals, and anyway I wouldn’t have been able to see over the wheel. So I would stand up and press on the clutch and the brake to balance it, then set off with the throttle and steer while standing up.
Even while I was at primary school I would be driving something around the yard, loading a lorry first thing in the morning before I reluctantly went off for lessons. Well, sometimes.
One time at the factory a customer was coming down in his car and we had a ramp we used to back the articulated lorries up to so that we could roll the trailers on when they were ready for delivery or collection. There was a four-foot drop from this loading ramp, and this guy was looking at me so much when I was driving by that he drove straight over the edge of it and nose-dived into the bottom of the ramp. I just laughed and kept going.
To get to the top shed where we unloaded all the steel, you had to go past the unloading bay, up two big slopes and then round a corner, so it was quite difficult. Quite a lot of drivers hated having to do it. I remember Dad used to say to a driver, ‘Do you want me to get my boy to back it up for you?’ I was only 11 or 12 at the time and these macho drivers would see this little twerp and they’d go, ‘Nah, I can do it.’ And then they’d just tie themselves in knots and make a right mess of it. So in the end, what Dad used to say was, ‘Do you want me to get our shunter to back it in for you?’
‘Get your shunter… Yeah, that’s great.’
Then they’d see me jump in and back it straight in.
About that time we used to get a lot of steel delivered from British Rail, and their drivers were by far the worst. Not one of them could put their trucks up into the top shed, whereas I could do it without even thinking about it.
Stan was always taking me out in the lorry and letting me drive. When we were building a second Warwick Trailers factory in Shepton Mallet, in Somerset, 70 or 80 miles from Alresford, I would always drive. Stan would never want to, maybe because he’d just got in from the night before! It wasn’t even, ‘Do you fancy driving today, Derek? Do you want to have a go?’ In the lorry he’d just jump into the passenger seat, or if it was the Jag the back seat, and go to sleep, and I’d sit on a couple of cushions at the wheel. I didn’t care, I loved driving. I would just punt the thing down to Shepton Mallet or back quite happily.
When we were bringing back our first forklift from Bridgend in Wales, I drove the artic the first stretch to the Severn Bridge, Stan took it across the bridge, then I jumped back in and drove it home. And any time I could drive home at night, I always would.
I think Stan always wanted me to do something extraordinary, if you understand what I mean. He had a family of his own, five kids, all daughters. So, in those days before Paul arrived, with my three sisters and Stan’s girls, I was lucky because I was the only boy. And Stan treated me like his own son and really lived that part of his life through me, in some ways.
But, boy, he could give me a hard time. Both he and Dad were tough guys who never let you get away with anything. You were made to be the quickest, you were made to be the best. No matter what it was in the trailer business, you had to be the best. They were the best, so you had to be. But I had that in me anyway, right from the start, without them pushing; I wanted to be the best, so it didn’t bother me. I didn’t need them to push me because I was already pushing myself harder than anyone else could. I would always be that way.
I left school at 14, as soon as I could. You could leave legally when you were 15, and I turned 15 on August 27th, still in the school holidays, so I didn’t bother going back the next term. I never wanted to be there anyway; like I said, I was always desperate to be working at the factory.
I didn’t get any O-Levels, let alone A-Levels. When I look back at my schooling, I definitely miss it in terms of my vocabulary and spelling. I’m a million miles behind where I could and should be. But, on the other side of that, the common-sense and practicality, I’m a million miles ahead. I could put my hand to anything. I’m the odd-job man here at the dealership. If anything breaks, I fix it. When we had a refurb, I was the one taking the desks down and moving them by forklift. It’s just the way I was bought up. If my daughters, Marie and Kelly, need a painting hung or something like that, I get the call to do it rather than their other halves. I still do all that sort of stuff for the family.
Dad and Stan handed me the keys to Warwick Trailers when I was 17. It was one of the best days of my life, that feeling of ambition achieved, and so early. I felt so proud.
The pair of them were chalk and cheese. The one thing they had in common was that they were both colour blind. Dad was the conservative, committed family man who eventually had five children. He lived and worked for them, and he wanted his son to run Warwick Trailers and, later, race Superstox and be World Champion in them. That was it. That’s what he wanted for me in my life because he wanted me to follow him in what he’d built in his life.
I have no idea when Dad was born, was never really sure when his birthday was; that sort of thing was left to Mum and the girls. They would always leave it to the night before, then ask me what I’d bought for Mum or Dad. It’s okay now, though, because my laptop diary reminds me of everything, and maybe I’m better than the girls now.
Stan was a family man too, with his five girls, but he was also a player. He did all sorts of extraordinary things. He flew aerobatic planes, he flew helicopters, he drove flat out everywhere. He was that sort of person. Reckless in so many ways, considering that he was blind in one eye. That happened in an accident with a cutting torch, when it sparked back. So he was blind in one eye and colour blind in the other. Whenever Stan had a medical for his pilot’s licence, the first thing he’d do was give the doctor a bottle of scotch and bet him £20 he would fail! He’d then wait until he told him to put one hand over one eye and read the eyechart. Then when the guy was writing something down and not looking up at him, Stan would read it again with the same eye. He was always up for a laugh or an adventure.
Dad was actually a pretty good stock car driver, when you consider he was neither as committed as me nor raced as much as I did, and only really wanted me to win. He’d go to Aldershot, Wimbledon or Ringwood, our local tracks, but then he might not race again for weeks. He might race at Ipswich just once a year, but you could bet that he’d be second or third in the final, with probably only me beating him.
He could be quite fiery. Chris Jones and Mark Eaton, two of my brothers-in-law, remember a time at Aldershot when a guy called John Kaiser had taken Dad off in the last corner. They were on their way home, leaving the track, when Kaiser drove by, still wearing his helmet, and sort of waved cheerily, the way you do. But Dad was still steaming and ran after him and jumped on his car and had him by the throat while trying to punch him through the window. Chris jumped on too, trying to drag Dad off, but John must have thought he was joining in, because he started accelerating and there were Dad and Chris clinging on to the side of this car. Eventually Chris dragged Dad off.
Stan was fiery too, but could also make big mistakes. There was one race at Matchams Park, down near Ringwood in Hampshire, where it was wet, and there was a procession of cars going round the inside of one corner. So Stan decided that he would go round the outside. But the reason everyone was on the inside was that it was the dry line, and there was also a massive post on the outside. With his bad eye Stan didn’t see it. He overtook a whole bunch of cars, then drove straight into the post.
Another time at the same circuit he was winning the final when the superstars from the back of the grid, led by a driver called Barry Plumber and then me, caught him up. We followed Stan for two or three laps with Barry frightened to bump Stan because I was right behind him, so going into the last lap I gave Barry a massive push out of the way and he in turn hit Stan. Stan ended up hitting the same post again — and was out of the race. I won and when I came back into the paddock I found Stan trying to beat the crap out of Barry, and Barry protesting, ‘It wasn’t me, it was your boy!’ Of course, I denied it.
Stan was a real character. And because of all that, and the way he treated me effectively as his son, he was always pushing me, but would then stand back and smile. Besides pushing me Stan was also very hard on me.
Once he wanted me to clean the toilets in the factory. I can vividly remember right now how the toilets were set up, just down from the factory. We’re talking real roughneck stuff, not even in the context of the worst toilet you’ve ever been to in your life. Worse. It was disgusting, primitive, mainly urinals and one cubicle. We scarcely catered for women in the factory back then.
So I cleaned them, then came back out and got on with something else. Then Stan went to look at them and came back in and went mad. ‘I told you to clean them. Now get back in there and clean them properly! And paint the walls, I told you to paint the walls!’
Now, everything at Warwick Trailers was blue. If you stood still long enough, you were painted Warwick Blue, our very own shade. It’s the colour we painted all the trailers too. So I went back in there and recleaned the toilets, then I painted everything Warwick Blue. But not just the walls and ceiling, the urinals too. Everything I could see, I painted blue, I thought it was funny.
When Stan came in he gave me a real ear-bashing, then a clip round the ear, because obviously I had deliberately taken it to the extreme. I was so angry because he told me off. I also had a temper, which got me a second bollocking, and I got an even bigger one after I went back in with a sledgehammer and smashed all the urinals off the wall.
I’ve always been very proud of the fact that neither my father nor my uncle ever really hit me, but at the same time I was petrified of them. And I came very close that day, for sure. If I did something wrong at home when I was a little kid, there was always the threat, ‘Wait till your father comes home!’ And I’d be scared by that, although it was never as bad as you imagined it was going to be.
Dad usually was able to put a brake on himself, but Stan never really did. He never knew where to draw a line. I think Dad was okay with the fact that Stan treated me like his own son, and he was as hard on me as Stan was. But he didn’t like the fact that Stan always got me into trouble, and we seemed to be constantly getting Stan out of trouble. He wasn’t as hard-working as Dad, but together they were formidable. And Stan wasn’t quite as quick as Dad in a stock car, that’s for sure. But for me, despite all his foibles, Stan was as fantastic as Dad was and I loved them both.
Stan was actually a pretty good pilot, to be fair, and once got fined for flying underneath one of the bridges in London. That must have taken a high degree of skill, especially with only one eye.
And he won the prestigious King’s Cup Air Race in July 1972. If you go and have a look, there he is in the results. This was a cross-country air race that was established by King George V in 1922 and was a really big deal in the pre-war years, up there with the Schneider Trophy as far as pilots were concerned. And Stan was in good company. Two past winners were Richard (later Air Marshal Sir Richard) Atcherley, who was a member of the RAF High Speed Flight that contested the 1929 Schneider Trophy race, and designer and aviation pioneer Geoffrey (later Sir Geoffrey) de Havilland.
Stan beat 57 other competitors over a distance of 120 miles averaging 164.5mph in his AESL Glos-Airtourer T4. When he landed at Booker Aerodrome (now Wycombe Air Park) in Buckinghamshire, he was awarded the trophy by the Duke of Edinburgh. But later the organisers asked him never to return because they said he’d cheated. What, Stan? The race is handicapped because of all the different planes, so they start at varying times and in theory should all get to the finish within a few seconds of each. But Stan was never one to be troubled too much by rules and had modified his 150bhp Lycoming engine to give an extra 200rpm. The organisers might not have been happy, but Stan had won and they had to award him the trophy. He really was so proud of winning that race.
He loved taking people up in his aerobatic plane and just doing roll after roll after roll. I wouldn’t even contemplate going up with him, I had zero interest in putting myself through all that. But Rhonda, who was later to become my wife, did. She absolutely loved it. Julie went too, with Stan’s daughter Angie. She said she was terrified!
Stan also liked doing three rolls one way, and three the other. But his speciality was what he called his falling-leaf stall. He would fly the plane straight up until it stalled. And you actually did stop in mid-air momentarily, like in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. There would be no sound and then you’d fall like a stone and be heading for the ground, with all the fields down there just waiting for you, all visible through the windscreen. There was no engine noise, just tickover, and you would look over at him and he’d be completely calm and smiling to himself. Then at what seemed like the last moment, he would throttle up and pull out of the dive that seemed headed for certain death. He loved doing that.
Not everyone appreciated his flying ability, though. One day down at Shepton Mallet when we were building the second Warwick Trailers factory, we had run out of hook bolts, those J-shaped bolts you used for holding the roof on. Dad rang Stan and told him we could get the job finished that day if he could get us some more, without us having to waste time leaving the site to get them ourselves. Stan said he’d get some and bring them down in the plane. Neither of us thought any more of it. So Stan and another guy got hold of two big bags of these hook bolts, and the next thing we know he’s flying overhead, circling round the local train station nearby. That’s when it occurred to us, where’s he going to land? But he had no intention of doing that. Stan had a much better idea.
The cockpit cover was one of those that you slide back, so he yanks it all the way open, and the guy with him lifts out one of the bags of bolts. Each bag must have weighed 20kg or more. There’s Stan, flying right over the factory, with the guy hanging out of the cockpit with this heavy bag, tied with a sort of handkerchief round the top as a sort of parachute. Stan virtually stalls the plane right overhead and the guy chucks the bag out. Bang! It lands right in the middle of the concreted car park. We’re all standing on the roof, cheering and clapping. Bullseye! Great job, Stan!
So he does a turn and comes back with the second bag, and we’re all still cheering and he’s waving like Douglas Bader. But this time when the guy throws it out, the bag doesn’t drop straight down to us. Instead it gets caught on the wing. Then it rolls to the end of the wing, and obviously Stan has now overshot us, in a plane destabilised by 20kg of hook bolts balanced precariously on one wing. Now he’s flying over the centre of Shepton Mallet. It really doesn’t look good.
Somehow, he manages to come back around, but he can’t get rid of the bag, it’s caught up. So he does another flypast. By this time, of course, the world and his wife in Shepton Mallet are out in the street or in their gardens watching this spectacle. This time Stan tips the wing violently enough to shake the bag loose, and down it plunges. But instead of landing on the concrete car park like the first one, it misses by a mile and hits the next-door neighbour’s shed. Which it demolishes.
Of course, somebody took Stan’s registration number down and reported him to the police, and eventually he lost his licence for six months and got fined 500 quid. But that’s the sort of bloke he was. And we got some great publicity.
When he got the helicopter, it was just for him to play with. He’d fly over and land in our back garden in Alresford, pick up some kids and fly off with them. He did all sorts of silly things, just for the hell of it.
Much later in life I’d do a bit of flying myself, but I’ll save that for a later chapter.
As well as his plane, Stan loved his cars. And he was even worse on the ground. He and Dad had all sorts of Jags: S-Types, E-Types, XJ6s, 3.4s, 3.8s, 4.2s… And Stan wrote off nine brand-new ones, that I know of. He would ring me in the middle of the night. Two or three o’clock in the morning, and the phone would go. It almost got to the stage where I would just get out of bed and start getting dressed while Rhonda would say, ‘Where are you this time, Stan?’
One time the answer was, in a whisper, ‘I’m in a phone box in Itchen Abbas. There are police everywhere. I’m a little pissed. I’m bleeding and hurting.’
‘Okay, Derek’s on his way.’
‘Great. Tell him to drive past the blues that are everywhere here, and the upside-down Jaguar in the hedge, turn left, right, left, right, and I’m in the little phone box.’
So I turned up and, sure enough, there’s Stan, blood on his face, arms and legs, teeth knocked out and clothes all ripped. So I the open the boot and shove him in, then go back round the long way. He stayed at my house for the rest of that night, just in case. At least I remembered he was in the boot… I wouldn’t say he was pissed, but he liked a drink and would do this all the time.
That Sixties band, Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich, had an E-Type that they’d customised with gold leaf, and had 16 speakers inside. Stan bought it from them and took it to Thruxton one time. But again he rang me up. He’d come out of the circuit after drinking in the clubhouse, gone down the long drive, and forgotten there was a tree at the end. He never even turned, because when I got there to pick him up the thing was buried halfway up the tree and had broken its back. Luckily, Stan got out of it okay.
On other occasions he would come into the drive at his house in Ropley after a night out and would turn the engine off as he came through the gate, so he would just roll to a stop. But he’d get braver, turn it off closer and closer and closer, and he once turned the engine off and took the ignition key right out, and the steering lock came on and instead of going straight down the drive the car swerved into the front porch and crashed through the front door. That was Stan. That’s the sort of person he was.
There are so many Uncle Stan stories. Which, one night, proved just as well. I was once asked by my accountant, Chris Holehouse, to go and talk to a Rotary Club function in London. So, I was thinking I was going to a little shack on some corner to talk to 20 or 30 people, but it was like a convention or something and when we got there it was more like 250 people. When we walked into the room and saw everyone, all dressed up, I said to Chris, ‘What is this?’ He said this was where I was talking that tonight.
‘But I’ve not prepared anything!’
And I hadn’t. I really hadn’t expected it to be that sort of posh night. So I was sat there, nervously eating supper and thinking, ‘Oh God, I haven’t made any notes. These aren’t racing people. I can’t get up and talk about carbon-fibre brake discs and rear-wing endplates, or anything.’ I was really panicking. Then I hear my name being announced: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, meet our guest speaker, Grand Prix driver Derek Warwick, blah, blah, blah, blah.’ As I was walking to the stage, I still literally didn’t have a clue what I was going to speak about. Then, as I took my first step up to it, it suddenly occurred to me: Uncle Stan. He turned out to be my saviour.
I stood up there for an hour talking about him, about all his antics, all the crazy things he got up to. That sort of thing just came so easily, and I had those guys rolling about in the aisles. I probably only spoke about motor racing for two minutes, all the rest was about Uncle Stan and what a character he was. They loved it, and he saved the day for me, thanks to the character he was.
Things could be a little bit tricky, because Stan was married to Aunt Sybil and had his five girls, but he also had another family over in Andover. He never married Joy, his other woman, but they had two children, another daughter and his first son, Michael. His family didn’t know about the second one, and I think vice versa.
The only people who knew were Dad and me. Even Mum didn’t know. I was always the conduit. Stan would call me and say, ‘Derek, they need some money, would you go over and take some for me?’ So I would take cash over to them. He would sometimes take them to races, and it was up to me to organise it all. The two families lived in mutual ignorance until shortly before Stan died, I believe. I wasn’t happy having to be part of that duplicity, but my allegiance was always one million percent to Uncle Stan.
There was a poignant postscript to it all. Tragically Michael, the son Stan had always been so desperate for, died of a brain haemorrhage when he was eight years old. It was very hard consoling this tough man during that horrible period. He had undoubtedly lived some of his life through me and then finally along came the son he craved, so having him taken away again so soon was unbelievably cruel. And the whole time that the sadness of Michael’s death was tearing him apart, he could never say anything about it in front of his married family. So, although he had this extraordinary life, full of adventures and all sorts of other crazy capers and complications, there were also tough times that were full of hardship and unbearable heartache.
He was a bit of a liability, no question. But he was such a great, colourful character and I owed him so much. I wouldn’t have got into motor racing, nor progressed in it, without him, and I loved him for all his foibles.