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Right royal occasions

The RREC has had the honour of presenting its vehicles to The Queen and Prince Philip at Windsor Castle for some of the royal couple’s most landmark occasions, as Club photographer Colin Hughes recounts

The Silver Jubilee, 7–8 May 1977

The Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts’ Club relationship with Windsor Castle and The Prince Philip Trust Fund for the Royal Borough began when the Club became the first to have its cars reviewed by Her Majesty The Queen at a Royal residence. In 1977, the Club could also claim the record for bringing together over 850 one-make cars in one location. The event, in honour of Her Majesty The Queen’s Silver Jubilee, was a monumental moment for the RREC.

In 1975, Christopher Aston, Mayor of the Royal Borough – and a director of Rolls-Royce Motors – was charged with arranging the town’s celebrations for Her Majesty The Queen’s Silver Jubilee, the primary aim of which was to raise money for charity. One night, Aston’s wife woke him at 3am with an idea for the occasion: “Silver Ghosts for a Silver Jubilee” – a parade of Rolls-Royces before The Queen at Windsor Castle. Aston thought this to be a brilliant suggestion, and in October that year, he set the wheels in motion and proposed the concept to RREC Chairman George Birrell, Chairman-elect John Schroder, and Rolls-Royce’s PR contact with the Club Dennis Miller-Williams.

The Club received the go-ahead in February 1976, with Schroder nominated by General Secretary Eric Barrass to lead the planning process. Initial discussions raised the concern that Rolls-Royce cars alone might not attract enough visitors for a two-day event, so Barrass suggested allocating the Saturday for The Queen’s review of the RREC cars, followed by a gathering at Ascot the following day for the Veteran Car Club, Vintage Sports-Car Club and Historic Commercial Vehicle Club, which would be managed by the Transport Trust. And so, the Historic Vehicle Silver Jubilee Tribute was born.

With over a year to organise the event, overseas cars could be shipped to the UK and models of interest arranged, such as the Science Museum’s Rolls-Royce 10 hp car that would be shown alongside the two other surviving 10 hp cars. The sheer number of vehicle owners who responded – including many overseas members – meant that the drive through the castle had to be limited to pre-Second World War cars. In turn, a parade of all models was planned for the Silver Ring at Ascot later the same day. In March 1977, two months before the event, the BBC announced it would be broadcasting the occasion on television.

Arriving the day before the event, Kenneth Neve recreated the epic “London to Edinburgh in top gear” trial of 1911 in the same car, but this time starting from Edinburgh, while Michael Sapsford honoured 100 years since Charles Rolls’s birth by driving from Monmouth – Rolls’s ancestral home – to London.

From early morning on 7 May, Home Park was a frenzy of activity as Chief Marshal Brian Bilton-Sanderson twirled his flag at the first arrivals. Other RREC marshals, augmented by Windsor Car Club, attempted to line-up the cars in parade order but were thwarted by the BBC who commandeered the most impressive models for TV. Sitting in “The Silver Ghost”, Barrass practised purple passages of Rolls-Royce lore on BBC’s Raymond Baxter, while Bill Meredith-Owens prepared to relate his experiences of hunting Rolls-Royces in India. His wife sat in his polished aluminium Phantom I and said, “The ride’s almost comfortable if you wear leather gloves and sit on your hands.”

The presence of TV cameras had its pitfalls. As the Club’s photographer, I had a press pass, but the BBC required periods with a clear view, which restricted photographers to occasional access. While other press photographers just needed to capture one good shot of the day, I knew that every member would want a picture of their car with Her Majesty. However, some passengers in the parade were so entranced by the TV cameras that they ultimately looked the wrong way at the moment of passing Her Majesty. The BBC captured a superb view of the Rolls-Royce Merlin-powered Spitfire flying low over the line of cars on the Long Walk.

A friend – Peter Marr, who helped to photograph the parade and the cars driving into the Long Walk – and I covered the event mainly in monochrome, as the RREC only used colour occasionally at the time. I was kept busy reloading one camera while looking out for shots for the other, and although unobscured views and images uncluttered by people were nigh-on impossible to capture, the photographs we took showed how much the crowds admired all the vehicles on show.

Inside the castle, Club notabilities and the organising committee were presented to Her Majesty. Three cars’ passengers were also received: Edward Harris, founder of the RREC, in his 1924 Barker cabriolet; John Welch in his 1901 Decauville, which was similar to the car Henry Royce owned; and Stanley Sears – the first person associated with early Rolls-Royce restorations – in his 1905 Light 20 hp. This trio led off the whole parade past residents from The Motor and Cycle Trades Benevolent Fund’s home, a charity dedicated to supporting the people of the automotive industry. The line of cars entering St George’s Gate by the Round Tower into the quadrangle moved almost continuously for three-quarters of an hour past Her Majesty, before leaving towards the Great Park. The Queen was given useful facts about the passing cars by Peter Baines, who, judging from his rapt expression may have even been quoting chassis numbers. Barrass joined them after the broadcast and Her Majesty told him, “It’s so interesting!”

It was something of a relief to see Schroder in his 20/25 hp drive out on to the Long Walk to round off the parade. Those who drove through the Great Park enjoyed the crowd-lined road – if you waved, they waved back. The three-mile drive to Ascot was itself a memorable experience, and the threatening rain held off until the bulk of the column had joined the post-World War Two cars at the racecourse: it poured, paused for lunch, and then let go again. A forest of umbrellas surrounded the afternoon cavalcade of cars and only the Light 20 enjoyed a double circuit of the Silver Ring, with Sears drifting around the grass impressively. The rain also forced tourers to erect hoods: RREC’s John Fasal was assisted in raising and lowering between showers by his passenger, Motor Sport magazine journalist Bill Boddy.

In his review of the event for Motor Sport, Boddy wrote: “Whether you are an R-R enthusiast or otherwise, the whole conception was fantastic, immense, impressive, or whatever term of this kind you care to apply, and its like will probably never be seen again. That The Queen, in the Jubilee Year of her Reign, permitted a cavalcade of some 500 pre-1940 Rolls-Royce motor cars to enter the Inner Quadrangle of Windsor Castle and be graciously reviewed by her can do nothing but good for the whole historic-car movement.”

The following day at Ascot was allocated to other enthusiasts’ cars, trucks, buses and steam power, with a good RREC turnout and the chance to relax and socialise. Altogether, the event raised over £20,000 for Her Majesty’s Jubilee Appeal, the Prince Philip Trust Fund, The Transport Trust, and the Motor and Cycle Trades Benevolent Fund.

The Golden Jubilee, 27 April 2002

Twenty-five years later, the Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts’ Club received another accolade: to be reviewed by the sovereign for a second time at a royal palace – an honour that no other car club could claim.

The opportunity arose late in 2000, when Club Vice-President Brian Bilton-Sanderson, a resident of the Royal Borough, was asked to explore the possibility of another Windsor event for The Queen’s Golden Jubilee. Gordon Mitchell, a Military Knight of Windsor Castle, felt that on this occasion it might be possible to involve both The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh. The planning effort by the six RREC representatives over some 47 meetings was enormous, and the Castle and the Palace were extremely impressed with their professionalism.

However, this occasion would provide a whole new set of challenges. Firstly, the sheer concept of driving hundreds of cars through, and parking in, the tourist town of Windsor on a Saturday would require some exceptional preparation. The Home Park was unavailable as it had already been earmarked for the Royal Windsor Horse Show. Fortunately, the borough offered its car parks for the collecting period. With the use of Windsor and Eton station car park we hoped to squeeze 550 cars into “normal-sized” spaces to achieve “500 cars for 50 Years”. But where to go after the parade? Ascot racecourse was unavailable, and the Royal Parks no longer allowed cars on the Long Walk grass. Frogmore, or the more distant Smith’s Lawn were suggested and the RREC reached a compromise: Frogmore’s car park could take the first 200 cars and be open for public visits, while the remaining cars could have Smith’s Lawn for a quiet afternoon picnic. The station wine bar would provide morning coffee before the event and a mobile refreshment unit was arranged for Smith’s Lawn.

By mid-2001, we knew only that the event was pencilled in Her Majesty’s diary. Then came the shocking events of 9/11, which heightened security levels and reduced the length of notice given prior to Royal appearances. In December, the official letter finally arrived: both Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh would be pleased to attend on 27 April.

However, we were not out of the woods yet. The Scots Guards’ colours rededication ceremony was using both the quadrangle and Frogmore the day before our event. The guests were using local hotels, so Suzanne and Nicholas Finch had to find hotels further afield for the Club’s members. Fortunately, the RREC’s committee included Major Munro Davidson, Castle Superintendent, who had formerly belonged to that regiment and gave his word that “the scaffolding and tentage will have been removed” – of course, they were. Then, tragically, Her Royal Highness The Princess Margaret’s death in February, followed by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother’s on 30 March, triggered a 28-day Court mourning period. But two weeks later we received notification that the event would go ahead as planned.

Just days before, our allocated car park next to Home Park was cluttered with items for the horse show; we were assured it would be clear by Saturday. It was not. As our cars arrived, an articulated truck left the horse show site against the traffic flow. It was a great credit to Jane Pedler and her dedicated team of RREC and Rotary Club marshals that the cars were still organised in time for the parade.

As with the previous event, I was given a press pass, but this time I was using colour film and my previous experience meant I was able to predict the gaps in the flow of cars that would allow me to change the film. My friend John Clifton set up in the grounds just outside the quadrangle exit to capture images of the vehicles leaving. I parked my 20/25 to photograph cars gathering, but by the time I was finished the car park exit had been closed and I was forced to reverse its length to depart towards the Castle – no small feat considering the car’s small rear window.

From there, the cars moved through to Castle Hill and onwards. Two of the Queen’s cars led the parade, followed by the 10 hp SU13 and “The Silver Ghost” AX201. They were then arranged in all-age groups of 25, which gave visual variety to the drive-past, and presented a challenge for Peter Baines, who again described them for The Queen and Prince Philip. Meanwhile, Brian Bilton-Sanderson did the same for Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Johns, Constable and Governor of the Castle.

Her Majesty stepped out with His Royal Highness and met our now President Eric Barrass and his wife Grace, with several of the organising committee. Although The Queen was due to leave shortly after, Bilton-Sanderson mentioned to Sir Richard that we had hoped she could review the first 200 cars. She obliged, until Prince Philip took over, and lastly Sir Richard, who took the salute until the end.

Brian recalled that after the parade an umbrella was discovered – The Queen’s. A window opened and The Queen called down asking for her brolly back. She came down to collect it and said that she’d watched the rest of the drive-past from a window and was most impressed with the trouble people had gone to in dressing for the occasion. She had enjoyed the morning very much.

The drive to Frogmore and subsequent picnic allowed the public to view our cars. Andrew Wood (of P & A Wood) had brought along his team and a van load of spares, a bicycle, and a small motor bike, so any problems could be easily addressed, with only one awkward stop on Castle Hill.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s Equerry wrote to Barrass: “The Duke of Edinburgh has asked me to write and thank you for the Rolls-Royce and Bentley Enthusiasts Club Rally last Saturday. The Rally was a spectacular display of engineering beauty and the fruits of your labour were clearly evident in the enormous success of the day. Even the weather behaved itself relatively well. His Royal Highness is delighted with the significant contribution to the Prince Philip Trust Fund resulting from the Rally, which, in turn, will be warmly welcomed by the beneficiaries of the Trust (about £50,000). On my own behalf, and that of Inspector Fuller, may I say how much I enjoyed watching the Rally, which will remain a treasured memory. I hope that all the cars made it home safely and that their owners enjoyed the occasion.”

Baines received many letters, too – “my guests were enchanted”; “a marvellous occasion”; “I was proud and grateful to be a small part of the celebration”; “one of the most memorable days of my life” – and even The Royal Park staff reported that we had left no litter and asked that we please come back again.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s 90th Birthday, 15 April 2011

The Club’s third celebration in April 2011 – now well and truly a tradition – was held to mark the 90th birthday of His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh and raise funds, once again, for the Prince Philip Trust Fund for the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead.

As before, the RREC’s team, led by Jane Pedler, worked alongside the Windsor and Eton Rotary Clubs to ensure a great success and a splendid occasion. However, security concerns limited the notice of the event, which reduced the number of cars to around 100, although this included several European entrants and the model range reflected the high-profile nature of the event.

On 15 April, many members attended a celebratory reception in St George’s Hall, Windsor Castle, and The Duke of Edinburgh circulated among them. It was a great personal privilege for the RREC Chairman Jim Fleming to present Prince Philip with a replica of the Spirit of Ecstasy mascot designed in 1911, 100 years earlier.

The parade route was more compact on this occasion: our cars arrived up the Long Walk to gather in the Frogmore car park, and from there the parade left along an internal road through the Home Park, entered the quadrangle where the previous parades had left, and then circuited anticlockwise past Prince Philip and other groups representing the Trust charities. It continued through St George’s Gate, down Castle Hill, along High Street through to the Long Walk to return to Frogmore for a picnic and for the public to view the cars.

Now armed with digital cameras, after taking some photographs of cars on the Long Walk, I left for the castle in the 20/25. On arrival, I came up against an armoured guard with an assault rifle, who said, “You must be really lost!” I explained that I was an accredited photographer with equipment to unload; my wife Mermie Karger was driving the car back to Frogmore for the parade. I showed my pass, walked through a metal detector while my equipment was X-rayed, then out to the quadrangle again.

With Royal punctuality, Prince Philip appeared, accompanied by the Constable and Governor of Windsor Castle, Air Marshal Sir Ian Macfadyen. He was introduced to the Mayor and Mayoress of the Royal Borough, local Rotary Clubs’ representatives, and from the RREC, Chairman Jim Fleming and his wife Pat, Chief Executive Julian Spencer, and Jane Pedler. The cars appeared in a virtually random order, which challenged Spencer’s knowledge when it came to describing the cars for The Duke.

The flow of cars around the quadrangle continued for 30 minutes, after which Prince Philip chatted with others present. The cars returned to the parking area at Frogmore, the sun shone, and picnics and bubbly were consumed. The AA breakdown vans had not been needed – a great day, all told.

Now, what royal event can we celebrate next?