Nick’s fond memories of motoring legend father

Stamford author Nick Black with his book 'Triumph and Tragedy'.
Stamford author Nick Black with his book 'Triumph and Tragedy'.
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CHARLES Rolls, Henry Royce and, locally, Raymond Mays - people know these names and associate them with cars.

But the name of Sir John Black is right up there with them, even though you may never have heard of him.

He ran the Standard Motor Company, which produced the Standard Vanguard car and the Ferguson tractor, at one time ran the Hillman and Triumph motor companies and was a general high-flyer from the 1920s to the 1950s, mixing with the leading politicians, celebrities and industrialists of the day. He also had a strong connection with Raymond Mays, Bourne’s own motor company mogul.

Sir John died in 1965 aged 70 and his son, Nick Black of Cambridge Road, Stamford, has written a book about him entitled Triumph and Tragedy.

The book contains fascinating stories, wonderful photos, some local connections and even a mysterious link with the Knights Templar!

Nick, who runs a window-cleaning business and has lived in Stamford for 30 years, decided to write it after inheriting a collection of photographs when his mother, Sir John’s second wife, died eight years ago in Switzerland where she had lived for 40 years.

“This is a one-off for me and has taken me five years but I realised that with the photos and stories my mother had told me I had a great story to tell,” says Nick.

His parents split up when he was five and afterwards he and his two brothers spent summer holidays with their father at his Welsh retreat.

“He was a figurehead more than a real dad but I knew he had led a fantastic life. Back in the 1920’s when Raymond Mays was racing Hillmans, dad married Daisy Hillman and became joint managing director of the company. By 1938 he was supplying V8 engines to Bourne and after the war Standard engineers helped build a test house for racing cars on a site that is now Richardsons auction rooms in Bourne,” says Nick.

He found out that Ken Richardson, Mays’ BRM chief development engineer and test driver, went to work for his father in Coventry on the Triumph TR2 and after the two men crashed a prototype Swallow Doretti outside the factory gates, Sir John never quite recovered and was forced to resign.

These men were influential enough to report to the government on worrying trends in pre-war Germany. Officially their warnings were ignored but in 1936 Sir John was asked to build so-called shadow factories and when war came he quickly managed to turn out Mosquito aircraft. He became chairman of the Joint Aero Engine Committee and this earned him his knighthood.

A temperamental character, Sir John employed 12,000 people but sackings were frequent and he famously made employees sign letters of resignation before they were hired. His companies ran lavish entertainment budgets and he personally lived very well, enjoying hunting, ski-ing and sailing.

“He had a big social life, played tennis with Fred Perry and Dan Maskell and entertained at Mallory Court, his home in Warwickshire in some style,” Nick says.

Nick was born there weighing just 5lbs - his mother later admitted trying to terminate the pregnancy and she went off on holiday immediately after the birth leaving him in an incubator. He has been back to see Mallory Court which is now an upmarket hotel, its former summerhouse still featuring a wall bearing 100 signatures of famous people who visited his father there. Nick was 16 when his dad died.

“He was great company, good fun, there was never a dull moment. He took us out on boats and drove us around the Welsh countryside. But overall I had a traumatic childhood with 10 years at boarding school. Dad was an alcoholic. He was gifted in business but both of his marriages were disastrous. He never divorced my mother, she remained loyal to him. He was gassed at Ypres and shell-shocked, I think that affected his temperament for the rest of his life.”

Nick, who is pictured wearing his father’s blue velvet smoking jacket, only passed his driving test eight years ago and has no real interest in cars. He is married with two children and has led a very different life from that of his famous father. His involvements have been in pottery, music, travel, the theatre and gardening. His brother Hugo, who designed their father’s unusual pyramid-shaped gravestone, lives in France and is a retired counsellor while his other brother Steuart committed suicide.

Nick has been helped by historian Tony Emery of Stamford, graphic artist Ian Blaza of Stamford and Martyn Chorlton of Old Forge Publishing, Cowbit. He has had amazing feedback from the book which is selling all around the world. He is publishing 200 copies at a time through Print On Demand and selling through the Standard Motor Club website and Walkers Books in Stamford and Bourne.