This story continues from Quest to Turkey: Part 1
Admittedly it has been a while since the first part of the story was published, however, it has taken a long time to assemble all the pieces of the jigsaw.
To make full sense of this story, first read Quest to Turkey: Part 1 where Howard Hunt touches on the background and the preparation of the cars before they left for Turkey.
QUEST TO TURKEY: PART 2a
XJ40’s raise funds for the Zeebrugge ferry disaster
Coinciding with the launch of XJ40, Willie Baker, Mick Chew and Peter Halls were part of the senior management team at a police training centre which had been set up temporarily at Hutton Hall, Preston at the time when Maggie Thatcher had increased the number of police recruits to such an extent that the standard district police training centres around England and Wales couldn’t cope with the extra demand. This satellite college ran two courses over a period 30 weeks.
Winding down towards the end of the second of the two courses, the Senior Management Team began to wonder how they could celebrate successfully training their students and the fact that they had all got on so well together. It was therefore decided to go out with a bang and arrange some kind of charitable event. Originally it was going to be in favour of one of the mainstream charities, but it was suggested that if you wanted to win maximum support from the public you needed to go for something a little bit off beat that would capture the public spirit, and at the time that was the Zeebrugge ferry disaster. Occurring in March 1987, the capsizing of The Herald of Free Enterprise before it had even left the harbour, had caused the untimely deaths of 193 passengers and crew members and left 30 children orphaned. The shock of so many being tragically drowned in a routine ferry crossing before even leaving the harbour was still very fresh in the minds of the public. The most comprehensive accounts of the disaster are recorded in wikipedia under Herald of Free Enterprise and in the Daily Mail Online under Survivors relive Zeebrugge disaster 30 years later
Zeebrugge was also more relevant because the police training officers who had chosen to support this disaster fund had actually done quite a lot of work, research and teaching in relation to major disasters and how to respond to them. They were all professionally interested in the police response to the emergency and to major loss of life, particularly major loss of UK life in a foreign country.
The next question, of course, was ‘What do we do?’
Peter pointed out that one thing they did in Dover, where there were a lot of Turkish drivers killed in the ferry disaster, was to make contact with the Turkish authorities to try and support as many families as possible and Peter was very impressed with their efforts.
Mike affirmed that it was very much an international rescue effort, but the idea of driving to Turkey for charity was more coincidental.
A lot of options were discussed and whilst the seed for the original idea has been lost it seems to have been attributed to Peter’s suggestion of taking ‘Coals to Newcastle’ or in this case ‘Turkish Delight to Turkey!’
Having come up with the idea, it then needed proper planning, execution and accountancy.
Thirty years ago, before the internet and social media, raising sponsorship was a lot harder. It was mainly a matter of sitting down and writing out letter after letter and cold calling, because you could get away with it in those days.
Bernard Matthews, the turkey man, was an obvious choice to approach for sponsorship because of the ‘turkey’ theme but was impossible to get through to. He was very well protected and you couldn’t get anywhere near him even when Willie tried the ruse ‘it’s a police matter’ – he was the one person they couldn’t get through to!
However, using that same ruse they got through to Richard Branson who had recently had his unsuccessful attempt at reclaiming the Blue Riband with a speedboat right across the Atlantic. Richard’s response to the request for sponsorship for fuel was ‘I can give you plenty of fuel for nothing …… it’s at the bottom of the Atlantic!’ but despite this questionable humour he did send a cheque for £100 along with lots of Virgin merchandise which raised quite a bit of money through various raffles.
Raising money for fuel proved to be difficult but was eventually gained through UTA, a fuel credit card organisation, who finally agreed to issue fuel cards for the charity run, gratis. Other sponsors included haulage companies and Townsend Thoresen, the owner of the stricken ferry. Willie, Mick and Peter, along with their counterparts in the other car, contributed £300 each from their own personal means, which was a lot of money in those days!
The biggest coup, of course, was getting sponsorship from Jaguar, and actually securing the cars.
Rover were pretty close to offering two 820’s but Jaguar had also been approached. Things went a bit quiet for a while and they weren’t too sure if this was going to happen, then came the day of the Police College passing out parade. The icing on the cake that was already the celebration of the above was that on the same day, a phone call came through to Willie from Val West, Product Affairs Assistant at Jaguar Cars, saying that it was agreed they could have two cars to use for the fundraising trip. The actual words, as Willie remembers were “I’m very pleased to tell you that we’d be happy to let you have two cars.”
The driving force behind this was from the late David Boole, Director of Communications and Public Affairs at Jaguar Cars. David was an avid supporter of the NSPCC and did a tremendous amount of work for the charity, including fund raising jazz concerts at Browns Lane. In recognition of his work with the charity Boole House in Coventry was named after him. The charity works with the most vulnerable children in the city and their families. With his interest in children’s charities his concerns about the Zeebrugge tragedy were raised by the fact that a large number of children were orphaned or lost a parent.
Howard Hunt was responsible for Jaguar Cars Press Fleet at the time and remembered Val West phoning him and saying that they wanted two more cars prepared for loan. Howard’s staff were stretched to the limit at the time and his initial response was ‘No way, we can’t squeeze any more work in!’ But David Boole was particularly keen to support this cause so as soon as Val explained what the two cars were required for and mentioned the Zeebrugge Disaster Howard said ok and they worked through the whole weekend to get them ready on time!
Having promised two cars, Jaguar then invited the team members to Brown’s Lane for the presentation of the cars, where they were entertained magnificently, ‘ like royalty’ as Willie recalls. Lunch was served at Jaguar, in the Sir William Lyons Dining Room, on the table that was made by Jaguar’s own craftsmen and women, and David Boole was there to welcome them.
The six team members divided themselves into the two crews, pictured here with Howard Hunt and NUB120 at Brown’s Lane
Left to right:
- Steve Huntback, a Police Inspector (D44 BRW)
- Frazer, a Cumbrian Superintendent who was the Commandant, the top ranking officer at the police training centre (D44 BRW)
- Bob Bromilow, a Sergent with Greater Manchester Police (D44 BRW)
Howard Hunt, Jaguar Special Vehicle Preparation
- Mick Chew, an Inspector with Greater Manchester Police (D38 BRW)
- Peter Halls, an Inspector with Merseyside Police (D38 BRW)
- (Kneeling in front) Willie Baker, an Inspector with the British Transport Police (D38 BRW)
Another precious memory was the tour that followed of the Special Vehicle Preparation Department, something Willie assured us he would never, ever forget, and an experience that he’s spoken about on a number of occasions to other people. There were some particularly special cars there at the time, which included one of Mrs Thatcher’s high security vehicles and Princess Diana’s XJ-S Cabriolet, with two extra seats in the rear for the Princes.
Following this, Val West and Howard Hunt, accompanied by John Parsons (one of Howard’s mechanics) delivered the two XJ40’s and an XJ40 Police Demonstrator to Bruche Police Training Centre, Warrington.
D38BRW, D44BRW and D803CDU
I have included two pictures because although the first is sharper, the bear is obscuring the registration number of the pre-production police demonstrator. If you are an XJ40 enthusiast, make a note of the that number for future reference in Xclusively Jaguar News!
One of the XJ40’s was an XJ6 (D44BRW) and the other a Sovereign (D38BRW). Willie wanted the Sovereign, but in order to try and play fair, he put it to Steve Huntback, the main driver in the other car, thus, ‘Do you want the Silver one or the sort of awful goose shit green one?’ Willie rejoices in the fact that his ploy won him the Sovereign!
It is interesting to note from the ‘Travel Details’ below that originally D26 and D38 were the two intended cars. Like its sister D44, D26 was also a manual XJ6, not a Sovereign, so the change was not merely a specification upgrade. D26 was Bordeaux Red, so Willie would easily have sold that one to his colleague!
Howard Hunt explains why D44 BRW replaced D26 BRW?
There were a limited number of manuals in the fleet and D26 was Bordeaux Red, a popular colour with all the motoring magazines. The car had been performance tested by us and produced satisfactory figures for technical tests by Performance Car in November 86, so if a request came in from a magazine for a 3.6 manual this car would have been the choice. I’m pretty sure that’s what would have happened, it certainly wasn’t a last minute change as both the final cars were in preparation for some time.
The physiotherapist at Bruche Police Training Centre provided some tuition on exercises that could be performed whilst driving and the doctor who served there said that he would administer all the necessary inoculations free of charge, and as some of them were very expensive, this was considered extremely generous of him.
‘Do you remember the inoculations?’ Willie asks Mick and Peter, as they reminisce over the whole adventure, and then goes on to explain that they had to have lots of inoculations before they went and as a joke Frazer, the Commandant, who was a very good leader, offered to take the first jab. The doctor had his own joke, and produced a syringe that you would lay a horse out with! Clearly it left an impression on Mike, who comments at this point ‘It was huge, massive!’ Frazer, who was poised in readiness for the jab then must have thought to himself ‘Not sure I really want to be the leader after all!’ at which point the doctor admitted ‘That’s just a little bit of a joke, its for syringing the ears of a water buffalo!’
Despite the jollity, there were nasty reactions to some of the inoculations, which were for cholera and tetanus amongst other things.
The obligatory mascot, a teddy bear, came from Thomas Cook – it sat in the rear passenger seat of D38BRW all the way to Turkey and back before being auctioned to raise yet more funds. Strange to think that it may yet still be out there, somewhere!
|Val West with the mascot|
|Not wanting to spend the money the sponsorship was raising on hotel accommodation, the two teams opted to camp in tents, which is where the XJ40’s capacious boot would have come into its own!|
Television coverage on ‘Nationwide’ was promised but ditched at the last minute when Margaret Thatcher called a snap General Election.
The day that the convoy set off was the last day of secondment from the Home Office to the Police Training Centre and the six colleagues were all supposed to be going back to work on the Monday following, so negotiations took place with each respective force to get time off! Annual leave was booked for the two week period, so it was legitimately an alternative holiday and instead of taking the wives and kids to the beach the two crews set off on an adventure!
Willie, Mick and Peter remember well what they described as ‘those horrendous shell suits’ – seen above in the picture with NUB120, neither the colour nor the static-ridden nylon material pleased our boys in blue, who were expected to wear these for the duration of the tour but, in practice, wore them to set off and removed them in a layby in Leicester, not yet a day into the journey!
The removal of the shell suits was swiftly followed by the magnetic signage on the bonnet flying off on the way down the M1 at high speed, with Willie saying ‘Well, that didn’t last long did it?’ The remaining signage was then secured with masking tape!
The first overnight stop was Ashford Police Training Centre in Kent, and being closest to the disaster, they treated their Warrington colleagues with courtesy and due respect for their not inconsiderable efforts.
The following morning, heading for Dover, the mood was buoyant, when they got to Dover the local authority received them and the Chief Executive of Dover Council gave them a send off and wished them well. One of the stories he told them, relating to the Zeebrugge Disaster Fund, was that the biggest single donation came from the Ideal Homes Exhibition where there was a fountain and visitors threw coins into it. G4 had offered to count the money for free, and then two weeks in realised that handling wet coins is a really difficult job! That was the largest single cheque that was handed over, it was about £20,000. At just over £10,000, ‘Quest to Turkey’ was the third largest single donation – a very significant achievement in 1987!
The Pride of Free Enterprise was one of the sister ships of the Herald of Free Enterprise, and therefore quite poignant bearing in mind this journey was taking place only 4 months or so after the disaster, and in aid of the victims. There was still shock and disbelief that such a loss of life and injury could occur before the ferry had even left the port.
The next stage of the journey
|Disembarking in France the two cars drove in convoy across Northern Europe.|
|Notice also the second rear view mirror, standard practice in UK Police cars and a useful addition when driving distances at speed in convoy.|
Gathering round the table to share the photos of the trip, a lapse of 30 years seemed to be causing a bit of a debate about whether Switzerland was entered or circumvented. A quick glimpse at the original journal soon settled that!
One thing that was agreed upon was the weather – in general it was not good, considering it was June!
Before they reached Rome the differential in D44BRW began to grumble noisily. Howard Hunt explained that it is one of the things Press Cars suffer from because they are continually being put through performance tests. He remembers the phonecall coming through, and speaking to someone in Italy. They were terribly short of spares for the XJ40 but through his contacts with Main Agents in Europe, Howard was able to source a replacement differential in France which was then sent to Rome, where D44’s crew were grounded for two days while their car was being repaired.
When in Rome ….. D44 in Rome, with her crew looking suitably cool, relaxed and Italian!
Meanwhile, in true Top Gear tradition, D38’s crew had gone ahead without them!
|This may sound cavalier, but unlike the Top Gear team, these guys were on a tight schedule and didn’t have camera men and a back up team waiting in the background ready to help!
A brave decision and not one that was taken lightly!
The journey continues in Quest to Turkey: Part 2b