Those Were The Days - Stories and Anecdotes from the Golden Age of Motor Racing
Those Were The Days - Stories and Anecdotes from the Golden Age of Motor Racing

Monaco Nights

On location for the film FANGIO.

On location for the film FANGIO

As anyone will tell you - Monaco is the big one. Not because it is a brilliant circuit or because it tests the skill of the driver. The reason is it is where the rich and famous like to prove they are rich and famous. You could rent the Taj Mahal for a month on the sort of cash you need to spend on a weekend in hotels like l'Hermitage or the Hotel de Paris. And even that wouldn't be worth it unless you had a sizeable yacht tied up in the harbour. And by that I mean big. You won't see many 32 footers bobbing gently quayside during Grand Prix week. It has the added bonus that it is the weekend that the Cannes Film Festival ends a couple of dozen miles up the coast. Back in the seventies I was lucky enough to have a little flat on the sea front at Cannes. Not the noisy end where the Festival is. The other end near the Palm Beach. I was in a position to wheedle myself some decent credentials for both events and lolled around with the high rolling movers and shakers being enigmatic and pretending I had something to do with what was going on.

After a couple of weeks stuffing my face at any party I could worm my way into, I gravitated to Monaco. Actress Ingrid Pitt had been my means of access to the fun of the festival so I invited her to the Grand Prix. It wasn't her first by any means but she hadn't been to the race around Monte Carlo Casino before. The trick to enjoying the Grand Prix is knowing enough insiders to get invited to the hundreds of parties going on. I was all right on the team front but some of them were more pompous than others. Luckily we met up with Vogue model and pretty nifty race driver, Maureen Lynn, almost as soon as we got there. I had run a team for Maureen in saloon car racing and she had been able to upset a few drivers opinion of themselves by beating them. She was staying at Eden Roc with Alistair Cowan, the man who had started the craze for embroidered jeans. I had an invitation to a party on Lord Alex Hesketh's yacht that evening. Alex was the team boss of hard partying driver James Hunt. I suggested Maureen and Alistair came along. For some reason Alistair thought it would be a great idea if he dressed up as a chauffeur and took us there in his Roller. I'm still trying to work out why. So he dumped us at the end of the gangplank and drove off to find a place to park. As I went past the bouncer I told him to keep an eye on my chauffeur as he had a tendency to gate crash parties. Later we stood sipping champagne and watched Alistair in a furious argument with the gangplank minder. After a while Maureen felt sorry for him and went and explained the situation. For some reason Alistair refused to speak to me for the rest of the evening. I thought it was funny and just the sort of stunt he would have pulled if he had thought of it.

On location for the film FANGIO.

On location for the film FANGIO at Silverstone. Unseen, under the brolly is a damp and very pissed off Juan Manuel Fangio. The car, as I recall, is a Maserati 250F.

The following evening I took Ingrid to the Tip Top Bar. In those days it was the place that many of the drivers and crews gathered before the race. As we arrived a bunch of mechanics were busy lifting a Deux Cheveaux over the armco barriers. Inside the bar was crowded. I managed to find a bit of elbow room beside Derek Bell and his father-in-law, The Colonel. There was too much noise to talk so we just stood there smiling inanely and nodding. The Colonel, who was well oiled by this time, nodded to us and pushed his way through the throng. We watched as he found the corner of the bar and peed into it, blissfully unaware that he hadn't made his destination, the toilet. As we left the bar a couple were trying to get some help lifting their 2CV back over the barriers and onto the road. I pretended not to see them. Later we moved on to New Jimmy's, the waterside night club where Princess Grace was known to dance the night away.

Juan Manuel Fangio in the Maserati 250F

Fangio in the Maserati 250F for the film

Those were the days when the garages for the F1 race cars was located in an underground car park just off the Princess Grace Boulevard. It gave the punters a chance to get near the cars as they trundled down to the start line. We hung around in the garage for while then got bored and went and sat in the bar of the Hotel de Paris. It's a good place to hung out. During the day anyone without a job tends to hang around there. When practice started we went and sat in the Press box. It was a particularly warm day but the word on the track was that there might be rain over the next couple of days. There was a big dinner in the evening to which all the teams were invited to meet the fans. I found myself sitting with Ingrid on one side and Pat Surtees on the other. I introduced myself to the bloke sitting opposite with his wife. He turned out to be, Robin, an estate agent with offices in St. James. He told me he had a regular booking at the Hermitage with a balcony overlooking the track. My ears pricked up at that. He could watch a good deal of the race from his vantage point and the bits he couldn't would be on his television. The best of both worlds. He also professed to be a big fan of Juan Manuel Fangio. So, with his balcony eyrie in mind. I began to tell him about my close friendship with the maestro. I could see I was getting to him. I told him about my visit to Balcarce, Fangio's home town in Argentina, at the five times world champion's invitation, to see the area where the Circuito Juan Manuel was being constructed and give him advice on the best way to do it. I also told Robin about meeting Fangio's parents and how he sometimes telephoned me in the middle of the night when he wanted me to get something for him in London. I'm afraid I got rather carried away and gave the impression that Fangio and I, except for the accident of birth, would have been Siamese Twins. That's the trouble with having a captive audience.

I had just finished the story of how I had rescued Fangio from an embarrassing situation in Rome when the band struck up Don't Cry For Me Argentina. I froze! I knew what it meant. The Evita song had become the unofficial signature tune of Fangio. Everyone hauled themselves to their feet and started clapping. What could I do? What would I say if the great man passed me by without so much as a nod? Ingrid saved me. She and Juan Manuel had become firm friends over the years. She stepped out as he drew level and open her arms. "Ingreeed' he said and gave her a tight abrazo. I stood behind her, smiling unctiously. When they had finished snogging Fangio stretched out his hand, "Tonio. Que Tal?" I breathed a sigh of relief. Just to drive the point home I hastily introduce him to the bloke I had been bull-shitting all evening and they shook hands. Robin was so excited that the only thing he could think to say was to offer Fangio the use of his Rolls Royce whenever he was in London. The offer fell flat as Juan Manuel spoke no English.

Ingrid got another hug and then Fangio continued his circuit of the room. I looked across at Robin and smiled patronisingly. I knew my place on his balcony was secure whenever I needed it. He was still a little shaken at the enormity of meeting his hero. He looked at his hand and said. "I'll never wash it again." Sounded a little unhygenic but I was so relieved that I was in no mood to be critical.

BOUILLABAISSE

If you happen to find yourself in the Monaco area, take a trip a mile or so up the road to Villefranche. If you want to try the real stuff you wont get any better. The great thing about Bouillabaisse is that you can stick any fish in it you fancy and if will somehow metamorphose into something you will eat whenever you get a sniff of the sea. The recipe is for 4-6 people and there should be plenty. Make sure you have a thick bottom pot - over cooking or burning kills it. A little tip. If you have the facilities to cook it in the garden - do so. All that fish in the house takes a long time to clear. Naturally you will drink wine - but try it with water - it might surprise you.

INGREDIENTS

1 large red onion sliced
1 leeks thinly sliced length ways
3 plum tomatoes chopped
2 garlic cloves crushed
cup virgin olive oil
1 stalk celery sliced
fennel - to taste
thyme - to taste
bay leaf - taste
sprig of parsley
1/2 shredded orange peel
1 lb shell fish - whatever you favour
2 pts of boiling water
salt and pepper
3 lbs of fish - more of what you fancy
saffron to give it some colour
Loads of fresh French Bread

WHAT TO DO

The only secret to a perfect Bouillabaisse is not to over cook it. Or under-cook it for that matter. Timing is everything. Also, to take some of the work out of it, buy what you can at the super market ready prepared.

Stick the Virgin oil in your copper bottomed pot and add the onions, leeks, chopped tomatoes, celery and garlic.
Cook over a low heat until the onions and leeks are transparent and soft.
Add the fennel. thyme, bay leaf, parsley and orange peel and mix it all up together.
Pour in the boiling water and add the shell fish. Boil for about 3 minutes.
Reduce the heat, add the fish, simmer for 15 minutes. Fish should be tender and firm.
Season.
Add saffron, stir in and serve with French Bread.

If you can't manage a French accent after that lot you ain't trying. But be careful where you breathe.

Posted 24/7/2008

Those Were The Days - Motor Racing Stories, Tales and Anecdotes from the Golden Age of Motor Racing