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Graham Hill

Champion Racing Driver crack

Max Le Grand recalls his early days in Cheltenham.

When Graham Hill lived in Cheltenham, he seemed to be a mobile collision looking for somewhere to repair. The fact this apparently accident prone man became a champion racing driver, is nothing short of miraculous. Graham was the last of the “up yours” characters who defied all logic.

He plundered motor racing, through sheer grit and determination. Graham was far from a natural racing driver, like current World Champion Jenson Button or Louis Hamilton. He achieved the World F1 Championship twice, for BRM in 1962 and for Team lotus in 1968. Then unlike any other driver in history, he also won the prestigious American ‘Indianapolis 500’ and the marathon ‘Le Mans 24 Hour Race’ in France.

Graham’s mercurial personality reached out to the public far beyond motor racing. The tales of Graham’s outrageous behaviour, are still part of racing folklore. He became a staunch family man, with his wife Bette, two daughters Samantha and Brigitte, along with his son Damon, who also achieved the F1 World Championship in 1996.

Upon leaving school in 1946, his Father got Graham a job at S. Smith and Sons Limited at Cricklewood. He obviously showed a degree of mechanical ability, so was sent for an entrance examination at Cheltenham College. Under the Swiss head Professor Indermuhle, Graham took a course in engineering while he also worked at Smith’s in Southam. Naturally, this meant he had to leave the family home in London and found digs in Cheltenham at thirty shillings a week.

The lively social scene in Cheltenham suited Graham’s out going personality. There was just a slight snag. He had a long standing girlfriend in London. Being a loyal sort of bloke, every Saturday afternoon after work at Smith’s, Graham would cycle to London. He arrived at his girlfriend’s place completely knackered, and not always up for the job. Then, come Sunday afternoon, he had to cycle the 100 miles back to
Cheltenham, to start work next day.

A friend in Cheltenham, sold Graham a pre-war Velocette 350cc motor cycle. First time out, he left his mates driveway, then promptly smashed into a parked car. Consequently, he ended up still cycling to see his beloved in London. He often spent week day evenings in Cheltenham, repairing his motor cycle before going to a pub for a few beers.

One night, dripping with oil, he entered the pub, where he got involved in an unsavoury argument with some drunks. Graham took exception to one fellow, then tossed him over the bar. For this gallant deed, Graham suffered a hernia. So a Cheltenham doctor sent him to London for specialist treatment.

This was winter time in 1947, a year noted for the horrendous snow blizzards that blocked most roads around the South of England. Undaunted, Graham paddled his motor cycle under power along the A40. Hours later, he arrived in the hospital, at deaths door. He was somewhat surprised to see a couple of nuns give him a shave before stitching the hernia back in place. A fact he might have enjoyed, had they not administered a heavy swab of ether, to keep him honest.

On another fog laden troll from Cheltenham to London, Graham rode his maligned Velocette straight into a broken down car on Whittington Hill. He was really crocked this time, with a leg broken in several places and his left thigh cracked. Graham spent three months getting the bones knitted together at Cheltenham General Hospital.

The outcome being, he had one leg shorter than t’other, which rendered him bandy for life. A two month period of convalescence prompted Professor Indermuhle to send Graham back from Cheltenham, to Smith’s at Cricklewood, where he did the night shifts in the engineering shop. His ties with Cheltenham were not severed. By now Graham had entered motor cycle racing. He was last seen competing at the Gloucester Grand National meeting in 1948.

Six years later, Graham was jobless. Undaunted, he seriously exploited his ambition to become a Grand Prix driver. So he saved up a few quid, to attend a racing school at Brands Hatch in 1954. The moustachioed wonder, managed a five lap lesson of the Kent circuit, to assess his potential in a racing car. Now, you would think, the two accidents on his old Velocette, may have punctured his pride. Any thoughts of grandeur, would have been deflated. Wrong!

Eight years later, Graham won his first World F1 Championship. Success brought wealth. He purchased
his own aircraft. By 1975 he was retired and ran his own racing team. He tragically died after an accident while approaching Elstree Airfield in fog.

Despite his universal success, he would visit Cheltenham on occasion, to see old mates. Graham Hill was that sort of man.