GTO 3987 on Mulholland

GTO 3987 on Mulholland

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Wilfred (WJD) Clarke: Of Bentleys, cricket and Lord's

I made my first trip to England at the age of 16 or so after making a few dollars on a movie. I had no idea what to expect, but it was my intention to buy some old Bentleys to resell in Los Angeles. The advertisements in the back of Motor Sport magazine had caught my eye and London was calling. After flooding the bathtub at the London Hilton on Park Lane--a ritual common to many American visitors, I was told--I set out to meet with an older, Old School Englishman in Bromley, Kent from whom I bought not one but two vintage Bentleys. He was selling them to pay for a Radford Countryman S1 of which he was rightfully proud.

He took me to his Bentley club in Surrey where the headquarters were an old coach house and stable from days past. A most remarkable collection of Bentleys were to be found in the barn there. By day's end, this proper Englishman offered me the hospitality of his manor saying, "We can't have you staying in a hotel!" I stayed with him a month getting to know his son, daughter and even his former wife in that time. I was his guest many times in the ensuing years, as was my sister and her husband and even a former girlfriend of mine. He was an extraordinary character right out of a P.G. Wodehouse story.

This nostalgia was brought on when, last night, my sister read aloud a letter from him she had saved. He referenced a photograph he'd taken with her in which he wore the same garish tie that was the only one he ever wore--his uniform, if you will. He referred to it as his MCC tie. I decided to satisfy an old curiosity by Googling MCC and discovered that it stood for the Marylebone Cricket Club. Not a cricket club--THE cricket club.

Now, recalling him taking me to Lord's Cricket Ground and arriving in that grand Bentley of his to watch matches suddenly takes on an entirely different significance--possibly one I wouldn't have appreciated at the time--one that, in any case, he was much too English to have pointed out to me.

What a marvelous and exceptional character he was. I miss him.

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