BL17 FINAL - Page 62



PURSUITS
After Babe, two Bentley Boys really
stand out. Sir Henry ‘Tiger Tim’ Birkin
was a Royal Flying Corps officer and
heir to a Nottingham lace fortune. He
was a wild racer – too wild for WO.
When he asked for a supercharged car
with even more power, WO refused,
reasoning that they could not be made
reliable enough to last 24 hours. Birkin
then turned for finance to his friend
Dorothy Paget, the oddball, largely
nocturnal 23-year-old Standard Oil
heiress and racehorse owner, who
named her servants after colours. Their
‘Blower’ Bentleys – which Bentley has
just announced it is to make new
versions of, with 12 cars planned –
never did win Le Mans, but Sir Tim set
death-defying speed records in them,
his trademark blue-and-white polka-dot
scarf billowing behind him so hard it
must have nearly throttled him.
B
ut perhaps the most romantic of
this extraordinary cast of
characters was Lieutenant
Commander Glen Kidston (grandfather
of retailer Cath Kidston). Barnato
described him as “the beau ideal of a
sportsman. The word fear had been
expunged from his dictionary. He was a
man about town when in the mood, a
man of action in another.”
Kidston was the heir to the Clyde
Shipping Company fortune and joined
the Royal Navy on the outbreak of war,
aged just 15. He led a life even more
accelerated than those of his Bentley
Boy pals: he was a pioneering
submariner and aviator; car and
motorcycle racer; and big-game hunter.
While still 15, he was torpedoed twice
in one morning, and at 17 survived the
Battle of Jutland though his submarine
ran aground.
He first entered Le Mans in 1929 and
came second, Bentley taking the top
four places. He was the only survivor of
an early commercial airline crash later
that year, kicking his way out of the
fuselage with his clothes alight before
returning to the burning wreckage in an
attempt to rescue the other passengers,
including the German prince with
whom he was travelling.
Despite this he returned to Le Mans
in 1930. He and Babe won, his partner
setting a record of three entries and
three wins, which has never been
matched. It would be Bentley’s last
official Le Mans entry for 71 years. In
1931 it went into receivership, and had
the Bentley Boys not given the brand
such glamour and repute, Rolls-Royce
might not have rescued it.
Babe’s Le Mans
record of three
entries and three
wins has never
been matched
62
BOISDALELIFE .COM
AUTUMN 2019
ISSUE 17
The Bentley Boys were dispersed, not
least by early deaths. That same year,
Kidston set a record for a flight from the
UK to South Africa, but was killed soon
afterwards when his aircraft broke up
over the Drakensberg Mountains.
Barbara Cartland, one of his lovers, is
said to have fainted at the news. He was
just 31 years old. Tim Birkin died in
1933, of a wound suffered at the Tripoli
Grand Prix. He was just 36.
In eight years, the Bentley Boys won
Le Mans five times, set a standard for
glamour and adventure in motorsport
that modern Formula One can’t
approach, and probably enabled
Bentley to celebrate its centenary this
year. “I don’t think many companies
can have built up during such a short
period a comparable font of legend and
myth, story and anecdote,” WO said
later. “The company’s activities
attracted the public’s fancy, and added a
touch of colour, of vicarious glamour
and excitement to drab lives.”
GETTY
Right: Glen Kidston
and Babe Barnato
celebrate victory at Le
Mans in 1930. Below: a
1937 memorial portrait
of Birkin by Gordon
Crosby





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