Who do you think you are, Stirling Moss?

13 Apr

A week after passing my driving test, sometime in 1969, I was enjoying the freedom of speeding down the A3 in my mother’s split-windscreen Morris Minor. Freedom. World at my feet. Until a Police Ford Anglia flagged me down and a burly, world-weary sergeant leaned in through the window. He growled the words of my title that my generation were so familiar with. In Formula 1 racing, indeed in any form of motor racing, Stirling Moss was a legend.

My childhood was evenly split between the grey compliance of the 1950s and the multicoloured social explosion of the 60s. From wireless to colour TV, Bing Crosby to the Beatles, ration books to the summer of love. My 1950s reading material was comic books and war stories, Treasure Island and Enid Blyton, boys’ own annuals and John Buchan’s Books of Sport for Boys. Without the ubiquitous reach of media, the printed page and pictures in books were all we had to fashion our heroes. Imagination filled in the gaps that YouTube now effortlessly provides.

Stirling Moss was one of the names, if not THE name of the 1950s and early 1960s. And he never won a world championship. His name was redolent of that fighter pilot charming heroism. He had effortless and sexy talent, the derring-do chancer, the brave yet foolhardy hero. He was fast, he was honourable, he was dangerous. At a time when racing drivers really did take their lives in their hands each time they leapt into their Lotuses or Vanwalls or Ferraris, Stirling Moss seemed to brush aside such trifles as personal safety. And he often nearly paid for it with his life.

But his story was the very stuff of  boyhood fantasy. He refused to complain about Mike Hawthorn’s rules-transgression in the 1959 Portuguese Grand Prix 1958, allowing Hawthorn to take the World title by a single point. Being a gentlemen trumped being a sneak. His popularity came from being the dashing old-fashioned hero and his  devil-may-care attitude won the hearts of many a young lad reading of him in sports books and watching the black and white newsreels.

Even today those of my generation are likely to use Stirling’s name in reference to fast driving but he is amongst the most famous British sportsmen of my lifetime – and as much for his style and integrity as for his statistics. RIP Sir Stirling and thanks for the feeding the imagination of so many young lads. Thanks too, to the burly police sergeant who told me to go on my way, “But just mind your speed Stirling.”

9 Responses to “Who do you think you are, Stirling Moss?”

  1. Martin Creasey April 13, 2020 at 11:30 am #

    Well said Paul. A legend in our lifetime, no longer with us. Stay safe dear friend.

  2. Tony Whittle April 13, 2020 at 11:41 am #

    Well said….. well written.

  3. Diana Riddick April 13, 2020 at 11:43 am #

    Thank you for that tribute, Paul. Didn’t he have a sister, Pat, who was also a talented racing driver?
    Hope you’re both surviving. Lucky we love books and reading. See you when this is all over xxx

    • simplysorro April 13, 2020 at 11:47 am #

      Yes, you’re right, Diana. She too was pretty famous. I’m going to google her now! Thanks. Hope you and David are healthy and happy in lockdown! Belinda sends xx.

  4. Nick April 13, 2020 at 12:23 pm #

    Great comments here Sorro many a young lad will appreciate your comments!

  5. rocket1101 April 13, 2020 at 1:05 pm #

    An excellent blog Paul and very nostalgic for me too. I seem to remember us being similarly stopped in Kingston town centre on my Vespa scooter. The policeman, who luckily knew my father, used that other opening gambit, “OK where’s the fire?”

  6. prez April 13, 2020 at 3:06 pm #

    Top tribute Soro, a real hero RIP.

  7. Julian King April 13, 2020 at 5:29 pm #

    Well done and what an excellent testimonial to a genuine hero. I was lucky to have met him a couple of times. He was client of the solicitors to whom I was articled in the 70’s. A nicer man you could not hope to meet.

  8. Judexx April 14, 2020 at 12:48 pm #

    Excellent piece PAUL. Stirling raced against my uncle Richard Manwaring who was killed in 1956 in the Dundrod race in N.Ireland. A great hero! Judexx

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