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date: 19 September 2020

Bentley Boysfree

(act. 1919–1931)
  • Martin Pugh

Bentley Boys (act. 1919–1931)

by unknown photographer, 1929 [Bentley Boys (act. 1919–1931) [left to right]: André d'Erlanger, Woolf Barnato (1895-1948), Sir Henry Birkin (1896-1933), Jack Dunfee (1901-1975), Glen Kidston (1899-1931), Joseph Benjafield (1887-1957), Jean Chassagne, and Frank Clement (1886-1970)]

image provided by Bentley Motors Ltd.

Bentley Boys (act. 1919–1931), racing drivers, were a team of motoring enthusiasts who achieved remarkable fame as drivers on the racetrack and as playboys off the track during the 1920s. They attained the climax of their collective career between 1927 and 1930 when they won four consecutive victories in the 24 hour race at Le Mans; in 1929 they took the first, second, third, and fourth places in the race. While their success as drivers endowed Bentley motor cars with a high reputation for speed, performance, and reliability, their lives away from racing bestowed glamour and excitement on the struggling young company. Mostly wealthy men, the Bentley Boys epitomized the old-school amateurism of British sport. Obsessive motorists, they competed out of bravado and patriotism rather than for money or careers. As W. O. Bentley admitted: 'The public liked to imagine them living in expensive Mayfair flats with several mistresses and, of course, several very fast Bentleys, drinking champagne in nightclubs, playing the horses and the Stock Exchange, and beating furiously around racing tracks at the weekend … this was not such an inaccurate picture' (Bentley, 109).

Even at the racetrack the Bentley Boys maintained their hedonistic lifestyle. According to one of their mechanics 'the pit they used [at Le Mans] was just like a small hotel … they'd have all the wine, champagne, eats, chickens, and everything that went with it. They'd have the head chauffeurs, butlers, secretaries … hangers-on too, plenty of them, and the womenfolk—some beautiful women too' (Nagle, 134). One of the more sober drivers complained that the women 'were great fun but some of them could be a nuisance at times. Their girl-friends got in the way' (ibid., 128). However, for the British public this heady mixture of glamour, success, and recklessness proved immensely appealing. In the anti-climax of the post-war years they brought a vicarious element of excitement into thousands of ordinary lives.

The founding father was W. O. Bentley, who enjoyed extensive pre-war experience in improving the speed and performance of engines. After the war, during which he had developed faster and more powerful aero-engines in the technical department of the Royal Naval Air Service, W. O. decided to produce his own motor car. From the outset everything was personalized and eccentric. He launched the enterprise by means of a party at a restaurant in Regent Street where a handful of investors agreed to guarantee a mere £4000, taking shares at ten shillings each. W. O. drew on the skills of three acquaintances to get the project off the ground in 1919.

Clive Gallop [see below] was an old friend from wartime. After demobilization from the Royal Flying Corps in the summer of 1919 he accepted W. O.'s invitation to help design the new car and became works manager. Later that year, when the 3 litre Bentley had been assembled, Gallop could not resist taking it out for a test run with the mechanics. All went well until the tail of his dust-coat became wrapped around the cardan shaft and he began to disappear into the chassis; fortunately he stopped the car and was unwound.

A different but equally important role was played by Sammy Davis [see below]. Like Gallop, Davis was one of the Edwardian motoring enthusiasts, but was unusual in being a talented author and artist as well as a good driver. Davis came into contact with W. O. when the latter and his brother, H. M. Bentley, were making motorcycles. By the end of the war, when he had worked as an inspector of aero-engines, Davis had lost most of his friends and family; he suffered a breakdown but found a welcome escape in the world of motoring. As he and W. O. had kept in touch Davis was in on the original idea of the Bentley car and, as a journalist for Autocar in 1919, he was perfectly placed to publicize it. In January 1920 he gave the 3 litre model a test drive. The car, he wrote, 'had the air of a lithe, active, and speedy animal straining a little on the leash'. He loved its powers of acceleration: 'instantly the exhaust changed its note from a purr to a most menacing roar, the white ribbon of road streamed towards the car, while the back seats pressed hard on one's shoulder blades' (Foulkes, 31; Hillstead, 40).

As Davis saw immediately, the Bentley was designed for the big, straight continental roads where its speed and endurance were assets, but it was far from clear that it had a market in Britain, where few roads were suitable. 'We used a special bit of the Edgware Road for speed tests', recalled one driver. 'It wasn't used much then for anything else' (Nagle, 63). In effect Bentleys were offering the thrill of owning a racing car to the enthusiastic private motorist who shared their disregard for British rules and speed limits. But the car was expensive, selling at £750 initially and rising to well over £1000 at a time when most cars were becoming cheaper.

This made it imperative for Bentleys to demonstrate that their cars could compete with vehicles built for racing. Hence the need for a professional driver, a role that was brilliantly filled by Frank Clement [see below]. Unusually among the Bentley Boys he combined the talents of a professional driver and a first-rate mechanic. An experienced installation engineer, he had been a road-tester for Vauxhall before accepting W. O.'s invitation to join Bentley as development manager in 1920. 'There was nobody like Clement … he was always thinking something up—experimenting all the time' (Nagle, 56). Recognizing that the company's success would depend on the skill of their mechanics he created the team that was the basis of the company's reputation. It was the mechanics who first attracted the 'Bentley Boys' tag after their hard partying at the Isle of Man TT in 1922, but the press applied it to the drivers after their performances at Le Mans from the mid-1920s onwards. A very consistent driver, Clement never got flustered and was famed for the speed of his pit-work. In 1921 he drove the first Bentley to win at Brooklands, he led the first Bentley team in the Isle of Man TT in 1922, and drove in every 24 hour Le Mans race from 1923 to 1930, being placed in all of them.

In the early years Clement's co-driver was John Duff [see below], a tall, imposing figure always recognizable in his plus fours, roll-neck sweater, and tweed jacket. After service in the First World War he was in search of a new challenge and found it in fast cars, initially Fiats. But Duff wanted more power, moved to Bentleys, and emphatically demonstrated their endurance and his own stamina when he took the British double twelve record of 2082 miles at 86 m.p.h. at Brooklands in September 1922. He drove single-handed in a seat that was effectively a steel bucket; after twelve hours, with a raw back, he had to be lifted out of the car and carried off to the Hand and Spear in Weybridge, where he was helped into a bath; but he was fit to race the next day. In 1923 Duff insisted on entering the Le Mans 24 hour race for the first time. W. O. was sceptical, both because of the risk to the Bentley prestige and because of the expense. However, Duff's performance, followed by his victory in 1924 with Clement, proved that Bentleys could match the continental machines that had been designed as racing cars, thereby greatly boosting their reputation.

Duff's 1923 race brought Bentleys to the attention of an improbable member of the group, J. D. (Benjy) Benjafield [see below]. A thickset, balding individual, with a sunny disposition, Benjafield was a respected consultant bacteriologist, with a practice in Wimpole Street. He also possessed several of the attributes of a Bentley Boy, being a sportsman, bon vivant, and the husband of a rich wife who allowed him to indulge in expensive hobbies. In October 1923 he bought a Bentley and found its performance so impressive that 'I began to fancy myself' (Foulkes, 69). In this sense Dr Benjafield represented the Bentley dream made reality. On visiting the Bentley service department in 1924 he passed some jovial remarks about wanting a motor that would go faster and was promptly invited to Brooklands for a speed test. Benjafield confessed to being terrified by the run he was given, but as the experts thought he had what it took to become a Bentley Boy they offered him the services of a mechanic if he entered a small club race. By coming in fourth Benjafield passed the test and in 1925 was invited to race at Le Mans. Seen as the company's most reliable driver, he participated at Le Mans every year from 1926 to 1929; his most celebrated achievement was the 1927 24 hour race when, following a seven-car pile-up in the White House Corner crash, he and Sammy Davis, representing the third Bentley team, brought their car home to victory.

Another customer-turned-driver was Sir Henry (Tim) Birkin [see below], an iconic Bentley Boy on account of his wealth, charm, eccentricity, and reputation as a ladies' man. After serving as a pilot in the war Birkin found post-war Britain too dull and took up racing in 1921 to restore some excitement to his life. He bought his first Bentley in 1925, but did not race for the team until 1927 and remained a semi-detached member. He competed regularly at Brooklands, where he won the lap record at 135 m.p.h. in 1930. A striking figure dressed in a dark blue shirt, white overall trousers, and a spotted scarf that fluttered, dangerously, in the breeze, Birkin filled his cars with oranges that he sucked steadily during races. He suffered from a stutter that, along with his wealth, made him appealing to women. 'Life was never dull with Tim around', recalled W. O., 'if only because of the abundance and wide variety of his girlfriends' ( But his philandering resulted in divorce in 1928.

Birkin's impatience to win races often led him to take undue risks with his vehicles and throw away his chances of victory: 'he really was a car-wrecker—he'd do anything', complained Clement (Nagle, 128). As a result Bentleys used him in one of their three teams to set the pace so as to wear down and smash up the cars of rival teams. In 1928 Birkin hit on the idea of supercharging his 4.5 litre Bentley, thereby giving rise to the legendary 'Blower Bentley'. The car had terrific acceleration but was heavy, clumsy, and prone to overheating. Bentley's mechanics rightly saw it as a mistake because it undermined the company's reputation for reliability, but Birkin obtained funds from Bernard Rubin and the Hon. Dorothy Paget, a wealthy, eccentric racehorse owner, to sustain his own team. The Blower was the epitome of Bentleys: a car beloved by the fanatics that was a business failure.

Birkin betrayed all the characteristics of a male obsessive spiced by an angry patriotism. He elevated his hobby into a great national cause capable of solving Britain's ills, using his autobiography for a long rant about the lethargy of the British motor industry, the failure to develop British racing cars and to build adequate racing tracks, the ignorance and apathy of the public, and the victimization of drivers for exceeding speed limits on the roads (Birkin, 29–31, 113–15, 201–5). The political side of the Bentley Boys emerged most blatantly in 1926 when they formed the Brooklands Squad of crack drivers to help the authorities break the general strike.

Yet despite the publicity generated by their drivers' exploits on the racetrack, Bentleys failed to thrive as a business. Up to 1931 only 3037 motor cars were actually produced. As a result they were expensive, being virtually handmade, and in any case not suitable for the ordinary driver or chauffeur. 'What we badly wanted', admitted the chief salesman, A. F. C. Hillstead, 'was a bread-and-butter model that would appeal to the ordinary motorist of average means'. From time to time H. M. Bentley would instruct the sales staff: 'Nothing to pay the wages with next Friday. Go out and get some money' (Hillstead, 73, 111).

Eventually in 1925 W. O. decided to rectify the company's under-capitalization by recruiting a prominent Bentley owner who was a great lover of fast cars. Already a multi-millionaire, Woolf Barnato [see below], who had recently inherited an extra £1.5 million, was an obsessive sportsman and outstanding athlete who excelled at boxing, cricket, and golf as well as racing. Boyish but self-assured, he was attractive to women. He routinely spent £900 each week, bred horses, loved betting, and became a leading playboy of the post-war era. In 1925 Barnato was given a test drive in the new 6.5 litre Bentley with a view to buying the company. But though he was no businessman Barnato was shrewd and hated lending money. In May 1926 his accountants imposed tough terms, devaluing the original shares to one shilling. Barnato eventually lost about £90,000 on Bentley Motors but admitted, 'I can't grumble'. He gathered the Bentley Boys to his parties in Grosvenor Square and to his huge red-brick mansion, Ardenrun, on a 347 acre country estate at Lingfield in Surrey. Though not quite respectable, he made Bentleys even more fashionable by associating the motors with a range of celebrities from the prince of Wales to Tallulah Bankhead. But Barnato was also a talented and obsessive racing driver. In September 1925 he and Duff had smashed the world speed record over twenty-four hours at Montlhéry near Paris. He won at Le Mans in 1928, 1929, and 1930 and his determination to keep the company in the forefront of racing sustained the Bentley Boys legend in the later 1920s.

In the process Barnato brought several acquaintances into the team including George Duller [see below], who was a regular guest at Ardenrun and nightclub companion, and had been Barnato's co-driver at Le Mans in 1925. Duller was a small, muscular man who enjoyed a brilliant career as a jockey; when driving a car he would periodically rise in his seat as though riding a horse and he claimed that driving kept him fit between horse races. Other regular drivers of Barnato's cars were Jack Dunfee [see below] and his brother Clive Dunfee [see below]. Jack, who enjoyed acting as court jester to the group, won the Brooklands six hour race in 1929 as co-driver to Barnato.

Another rich Bentley Boy who drove with Barnato in the 1920s was Glen Kidston [see below]. Quiet by Bentley Boy standards, Kidston was a born adventurer, completely fearless and notorious for refusing to obey orders when he came into the pits. From 1920 he took up motorcycle competitions, representing Britain as an amateur. In 1929 he came second in the international grand prix at Le Mans and second in the Irish grand prix; in 1930 he and Barnato won the 24 hours at Le Mans covering 1831 miles at an average speed of 76 m.p.h. In 1928 Barnato also persuaded Bentleys to include another friend, Bernard Rubin [see below], a wealthy Australian who lived in a Grosvenor Square house next door to Barnato. He first raced at Brooklands in 1928, and the same year, co-driving with Barnato, he won the 24 hour race at Le Mans.

By 1929 Bentleys had achieved fame on the racetrack and produced a 3 litre, 4.5 litre, 6 litre, and finally an 8 litre model capable of accelerating to 100 m.p.h. in fifty seconds. Yet they were still not selling enough and the onset of the depression undermined the market for luxury goods. As the annual cost of racing stood at anything between £2412 in 1925–6 and £3369 in 1927–8, substantial sums for a cash-strapped company, it was decided, after the sweeping success at Le Mans in 1930, to cut costs by withdrawing from racing to concentrate on production. Yet even this was insufficient and in June 1931 Barnato decided not to risk any more money. The company went into liquidation and was bought by Rolls-Royce.

The Bentley name lived on, but by 1932 all but Birkin had given up racing. The Bentley Boys numbers dwindled, often through untimely and violent deaths: Kidston in a flying accident in 1931, Dunfee in a crash at Brooklands in 1932, Birkin from an infection from burns sustained in the Tripoli grand prix in 1933, and Rubin following surgery in 1936. Frank Clement retired from racing after his marriage in 1930.

As Rolls-Royce had acquired the assets of Bentley Motors all the cups and trophies won by the drivers were carried off to Derby. Barnato, however, took his trophies and after a protracted argument Clement was allowed to keep one of his. It later transpired that the rest had simply been sold off for their value as silver. This mean-spirited act on the part of Rolls-Royce somehow encapsulated the story of the Bentley Boys, who had blazed brilliantly across the 1920s scene only to peter out amid the gathering gloom of the 1930s.

The Bentley team also included, at various times, Herbert (Bertie) Kensington Moir (1899–1961) and the French drivers Jean Chassagne and Baron André d'Erlanger, while those associated with them included their chronicler Arthur Finch Clitheroe Hillstead (1894–1975). The principal figures are listed below.

(Reginald) Clive Gallop (1892–1960), engineer, was born at Mena House, the Pyramids, Cairo, Egypt, on 4 February 1892, the son of Reginald George Gallop (d. 1911), of Wimbledon, a barrister, and his wife, Helen Marion, née Duffield (d. 1939). The diplomat and authority on Iberian folk culture Rodney Alexander Gallop (1901–1948) was his younger brother. After education at Harrow School (1905–10), he became a consulting engineer and pre-war racing driver. In the First World War he was commissioned in the Scottish rifles, gained a Royal Aero Club aviator's certificate at Hendon in October 1915, and went on to serve in the Royal Flying Corps. As well as designing cars for Bentley he built cars for Count Zborowski. He married on 29 September 1923 Barbara, daughter of Robert Dobb, with whom he had a daughter. Having divorced his first wife he married second, on 22 October 1932, Thora, daughter of Walter Waterhouse; they had two daughters and a son. In the Second World War he held the rank of lieutenant-colonel in the auxiliary military pioneer corps. Latterly resident in Leatherhead, Surrey, he was dead on arrival at Dorking General Hospital, on 7 September 1960, after sustaining a fractured cervical spine as a result of being thrown from a skidding motor car.

Sydney Charles Houghton [Sammy] Davis (1887–1981), journalist and racing driver, was born at 68 Philbeach Gardens, Brompton, London, on 7 January 1887, the son of Edwin Charles Davis, tea merchant, and his wife, Georgina Maud Fielding, née Houghton. After Westminster School he attended the Slade School of Art, and then served an apprenticeship at the Daimler Motor Works (1903–7). He became a journalist and illustrator on motoring journals, starting the periodical Automobile Engineer with A. Ludlow Clayden. During the First World War he was commissioned in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, where he served in the armoured car section. On 6 June 1917 he married Rosamund Sylvia Evelyn, daughter of Joseph Pollard, surgeon. After the war he became sports editor of Autocar, and went on to write a string of books on motor sport, notably Motor Racing (1932). He was also a significant driver in his own right, competing at Brooklands in a variety of marques in the 1920s, and participating in rallies, hill climbs, and veteran car events in the 1930s. In the Second World War he served in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers in north-west Europe, with the rank of major. His first marriage was dissolved and he married, second, on 5 January 1957, Susanna Aubrey-Hall (b. 1937/8), engineering tracer, daughter of John Leo Aubrey-Hall, foundry engineer. He died in a fire at his home, Sutton Lodge, Clandon Road, Guildford, Surrey, on 9 January 1981, and was buried at Brookwood cemetery, Woking.

Frank Charles Clement (1886–1970), engineer and racing driver, was born at 33 High Street, Tring, Hertfordshire, on 15 June 1886, the second son in the family of at least two sons and five daughters of John Tripp Clement (d. 1909), a jeweller and watchmaker, and his wife, Louisa, née Elliott (d. 1890). He trained as a mechanical engineer and served with the Royal Engineers during the First World War. As well as his successes at Le Mans, he competed at Brooklands where, in October 1929, he and Jack Barclay won the 500 mile race, and in May 1930 with Barnato he won the double twelve, covering 2080 miles in twenty-four hours at an average speed of 85.68 m.p.h. On 3 August 1930 he married Kathleen Irene, daughter of William Smith, contractor. Latterly resident at Linnell Dene, Hexham, Northumberland, he died at St Mary's Hospital, Stannington, on 15 February 1970.

John Francis Duff (1895–1958), racing driver, was born in Kiukiang, China, in January 1895, the son of John Lindlay Duff. His parents were missionaries, originally from Canada, where he was educated at Hamilton, Ontario. In March 1915 he was commissioned in the Royal Berkshires, where he became known for leading from the front. He married, on 14 March 1917, Clarissa, daughter of John Henry Lindsey, brewer. After the war he became a car dealer in London, with an agency for Bentley. He moved to Los Angeles in 1926, where he ran a fencing school, but returned to Britain, where he was a horse breeder. He died at Whipps Cross Hospital, Essex, on 9 January 1958, from a fracture of the spine and crushed spinal cord after falling from a horse which he was training for a showjumping event.

Joseph Dudley Benjafield (1887–1957), bacteriologist and racing driver, was born at Bletchenden, Church Street, Edmonton, on 6 August 1887, the son of William Barnett Benjafield (1856–1921), a general practitioner, and his wife, Miriam Alice, née Wilkinson. Educated at Marlborough College and London University, he qualified in medicine in 1909 and obtained the MD in 1912. Specializing in bacteriology and clinical pathology, he held appointments at the Western Skin Hospital, the Kensington General Hospital, and All Saints' Hospital for Genito-Urinary Diseases. He married on 28 July 1914 Elvera Helen (1886–1983), daughter of Gustave Caesar Edward Gelardi, director of companies. They had one son. In 1915 he was commissioned in the Royal Army Medical Corps. By the 1920s he had become a respected consultant bacteriologist at St George's Hospital in London with a practice in Wimpole Street. He died at 78 Harley Street, London, on 21 January 1957 and was cremated at Enfield crematorium.

Sir Henry Ralph Stanley [Tim] Birkin third baronet (1896–1933), racing driver, was born at Magdala Road, Basford, Nottingham, on 26 July 1896, the second son of Sir Thomas Stanley Birkin (1857–1931), second baronet, a lace manufacturer, and his wife, the Hon. Margaret Diana Hopetoun, née Chetwynd (d. 1927). He had been known as Tim since a perceptive sister dubbed him ‘Tiger Tim’. During the First World War he was commissioned in the Warwickshire regiment and later served in the Royal Air Force. He married on 12 July 1921 Audrey Clara Lilian, daughter of Sir Thomas Paul Latham, first baronet, textile manufacturer; they had two daughters. His wife divorced him in 1928. He succeeded to the baronetcy on the death of his father in 1931. He wrote Full Throttle (1932). He was injured in the Tripoli grand prix in 1933 when he burned his forearms when refuelling; this resulted in septicaemia which led to blood poisoning, from which he died in a London nursing home, at 7 Portland Place, on 22 June 1933. He was buried at Blakeney churchyard, Norfolk. His uncle succeeded him as fourth baronet.

(Joel) Woolf Barnato (1895–1948), racing driver, was born at 27 St James's Place, Westminster, on 27 September 1895, the son of the wealthy South African diamond merchant Barnett Isaacs (Barney) Barnato (1852–1897) and his wife, Fannie Christiana, née Bees. Educated at Charterhouse School, he was admitted to Trinity Hall, Cambridge, in 1913 to study for an ordinary BA degree, specializing in law. His university career was ended by the First World War, when he held the rank of acting captain in the Royal Field Artillery. He married at Marylebone register office on 7 December 1915 Dorothy Maitland (1892/3–1961), daughter of H. V. Falk of New York, with whom he had two surviving daughters, the younger of whom, Diana Barnato Walker, became a noted aviator. In May 1918, by deed poll, he renounced the Christian name Joel. He left his wife in 1921 and they subsequently divorced; she married Richard Butler Wainwright and, as Dorothy Maitland Wainwright, became a noted breeder of Guernsey cattle. As well as racing Bentley cars, he took part in motor boat racing, in 1925 winning the Duke of York's trophy on the Thames in his boat Ardenrun Manor. He married second, in 1932, Jacqueline, née Quealy, of San Francisco, with whom he had two sons. He was commissioned pilot officer in the RAF in September 1940 and held the rank of wing commander. In December 1947 he married Joan Isachsen. He died from a coronary thrombosis at 90 Devonshire Place, Marylebone, London, on 27 July 1948, following an operation for bowel cancer. After a funeral service at St Jude's, Englefield Green, Surrey, he was buried in the churchyard there.

George Edward Duller (1891–1962), racing driver and jockey, was born at 63 Edward Street, Plaistow, West Ham, on 26 January 1891, the son of George Henry Duller (1865–1930), a cab proprietor and later a trainer of racehorses at Epsom, and his wife, Nellie, née Green. He became a steeplechase jockey. During the First World War he was an air mechanic. On 17 September 1918 he married, at Epsom, Bessie Grace, the daughter of a racehorse trainer, George Godfrey Hyams. They had a daughter. Regarded as an 'outstanding hurdle race jockey' (The Times, 8 Aug 1962), he rode Trespasser to three consecutive imperial cup wins at Sandown Park between 1920 and 1922. After retiring from riding he became a trainer. He died at his home, 78 Hookfield, Epsom, on 6 August 1962.

Jack Lawson Dunfee (1901–1975), racing driver, was born at Albury, Putney Hill, London, on 19 October 1901, the second of four sons of Vickers Dunfee (1861–1927), a wine merchant and prominent figure in the corporation of the City of London, and his wife, Caroline Elizabeth, née Froy (1870–1922). He gave up racing after his brother's death in 1932. On 15 November 1939 he married the film actress Sandra Storme (1914–1979), born Eileen Violet Needham, daughter of Percy Needham, company director, and former wife of Arthur Griffiths. Jack Dunfee and his first wife divorced and she married Richard Francis Yarde-Buller, fourth Baron Churston. Dunfee married, second, on 19 July 1953, Margaret Audrey, daughter of John Francis White, company director, and third, in 1975, Jennifer Helen Oliver. He died at his home, Wychwood Manor, Ascott-under-Wychwood, Oxfordshire, on 14 September 1975. His younger brother (Beresford) Clive Dunfee (1904–1932), racing driver, was born at 24 Gwendolen Avenue, Putney, on 18 June 1904. He became a member of the London stock exchange and married, on 11 December 1930, the actress Jane Baxter (1909–1996), who was born Féodora Kathleen Alice Forde, daughter of Henry Bligh Forde, civil engineer. During the 500 mile race at Brooklands on 26 September 1932, Clive Dunfee took over from his brother Jack driving Barnato's 8 litre Bentley. While overtaking another vehicle at a speed of 126 m.p.h. he went over the top of the high banking for which Brooklands was notorious, was thrown from the car, and was killed immediately. He was buried at Putney Vale cemetery.

(George Pearson) Glen Kidston (1899–1931), racing driver and aviator, was born at 54 Cromwell Road, Brompton, London, on 23 June 1899, the elder son in the family of two sons and three daughters of Archibald Glen Kidston (d. 1913), a captain in the 3rd Royal Highlanders, and his wife, Hélène Adeline Blanche, née Chapman. His family had established a firm of metal merchants in Glasgow. After his father's death, his mother married the naval officer and pioneer motorist and aviator Sir Walter Windham. Educated at Ludgrove School, Kidston passed through the Royal Naval College at Osborne (1912) and Dartmouth (1914). His life became a succession of dramatic escapes starting in September 1914 when, as a sixteen-year-old naval cadet, he survived two and a half hours in the sea when his cruiser, Hogue, sank after being torpedoed. Interned in Holland, he was repatriated and returned to naval service in the Orion until transferring to submarines late in 1917. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1920, serving in submarines, and in December 1926 was given command of submarine H48 at Portsmouth. He retired from the navy with the rank of lieutenant-commander in 1928. He married on 25 November 1925 Nancy Miriel Denise (1906–1997), daughter of Edward Rowland Soames. They had a son. Debts incurred by her, while still a minor, were the subject of a high court action brought in 1927 by the firm of court dressmakers who had supplied her wedding trousseau.

Kidston competed in motorcycle racing events from 1921, including the Ulster tourist trophy in 1928, when he crashed into a hedge at 95 m.p.h. In May 1927 he had survived an accident in the Solent when the motor boat he was racing split in two at 50 knots. He took up flying in 1928, gained his licence in April 1928, and became joint owner of a Fokker plane. Flying it on a big game expedition in east Africa he survived a landing in a swamp. In November 1929 he was the only survivor when a Junker airliner, on which he was a passenger from Croydon aerodrome to Amsterdam, crashed in dense fog near Caterham, Surrey. He was a keen promoter of commercial aviation and in April 1931 flew from Netheravon, Wiltshire, to Cape Town in six days to demonstrate the viability of a fast air postal service within the British empire. Kidston's luck finally ran out on a flight from Johannesburg to Durban, in connection with the affairs of Union Airways in South Africa, of which he was a financial backer. Crossing the Drakensberg mountains on 5 May 1931, the aeroplane disintegrated in a violent storm near Van Reenan, Natal, and Kidston and his co-pilot T. A. Gladstone were killed. It was later stated that Kidston had overloaded the plane with a heavy tea chest. Their bodies were returned to Britain, where Kidston was buried at Glasbury church, Breconshire.

Bernard Rubin (1896–1936), motorist and aviator, was born at Carlton, Melbourne, Australia, on 6 December 1896, the eldest son of Mark Rubin (1867?–1919), a pearl merchant, and his wife, Rebecca, née Davis. Educated at University College School, Hampstead, he served in the Royal Garrison Artillery in France where he was so severely wounded that he could not walk for three years. Subsequently he took up big game hunting, motor racing, and flying. On 22 March 1934 he set out from Lympne in a de Havilland Leopard Moth to fly to Australia, and starting the homeward flight from Darwin on 23 April 1934 reached Pevensey on 1 May. On 28 March 1935 he married, at the British consulate in Paris, Audrey Mary, eldest daughter of C. R. Simpson. He died at his home, the Old Cloth Hall, Cranbrook, Kent, on 27 June 1936, having contracted pulmonary tuberculosis following an operation for the collapse of a lung cavity.


  • A. F. C. Hillstead, Those Bentley days (1953)
  • W. O. Bentley, My life and my cars (1976)
  • N. Foulkes, The Bentley era (2006)
  • E. Nagle, The other Bentley boys (1964)
  • H. Birkin, Full throttle (1932)
  • D. Venables, Brooklands: the official centenary history (2007)
  • S. C. H. Davis, A racing motorist: his adventures at the wheel in peace and war (1949)
  • G. N. Georgano, ed., The encyclopaedia of motor sport (1971)
  • Hexham Courant (15 Feb 1970) [Clement]
  • J. Playford, ‘Rubin, Mark (1867–1919)’, AusDB
  • J. W. Moir, ed., The Harrow School register, 1885–1949, 5th edn (1951)
  • private information (2013) [C. Carney, Cambridge University Archives]
  • b. cert. [Barnato]
  • d. cert. [Barnato]
  • b. cert. [Benjafield]
  • m. certs. [Birkin]
  • b. cert. [Clement]
  • m. cert. [Clement]
  • d. cert. [Clement]
  • b. cert. [Davis]
  • m. certs. [Davis]
  • m. cert. [Duff]
  • d. cert. [Duff]
  • b. cert. [C. Dunfee]
  • m. cert. [C. Dunfee]
  • b. cert. [J. L. Dunfee]
  • m. certs. [J. L. Dunfee]
  • d. cert. [J. L. Dunfee]
  • b. cert. [Duller]
  • m. cert. [Duller]
  • d. cert. [Duller]
  • m. certs. [Gallop]
  • d. cert. [Gallop]
  • b. cert. [Kidston]
  • m. cert. [Kidston]
  • d. cert. [Rubin]


  • group portrait, photograph, 1928–1930 (Left to right: Frank Clement, Sir Henry Birkin and Woolf Barnato), Heritage Images, London
  • group portrait, photograph, 1929 (left to right: André d'Erlanger, Barnato, Birkin, Jack Dunfee, Kidston, Benjafield, Jean Chassagne, and Clement.), Bentley Motors Ltd. [see illus.]
  • group portrait, photograph, 1929, Mirrorpix
  • group portraits, photographs, 1929, Hugo Kidston archive; repro. in Foulkes, The Bentley era (2006)
  • group portrait, photograph, 1930, Mary Evans Picture Library, London
  • photograph (Jack Barclay), Heritage Images, London

Wealth at Death

£811,775 12s. 10d.—Woolf Barnato: probate, 10 Feb 1949, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

£17,666 6s. 1d.—Joseph Dudley Benjafield: probate, 22 June 1933, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

£6439 9s. 4d.—Sir Henry Ralph Stanley Birkin: probate (except settled land), 7 Oct 1933, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

£9874—Frank Charles Clement: probate, 30 Sept 1970, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

£2148—Sydney Charles Houghton Davis: probate, 23 April 1981, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

£7481 13s. 2d.—John Francis Duff: administration, 30 June 1958, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

£5592 1s. 6d.—George Duller: probate, 4 Sept 1962, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

£1602 10s. 1d.—Clive Dunfee: administration, 22 Nov 1932, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

£343,375—Jack Lawson Dunfee: probate, 29 Sept 1975, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

£26,281 15s. 7d.—Reginald Clive Gallop: probate, 20 Oct 1960, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

£6595 8s. 4d.—Bernard Rubin: administration with will (except settled land)

D. Pike & others, eds., , 16 vols. (1966–2002)
, 1–2, ed. G. F. R. Barker & A. H. Stenning (1928); suppl. 1, ed. J. B. Whitmore & G. R. Y. Radcliffe [1938]; 3, ed. J. B. Whitmore, G. R. Y. Radcliffe, & D. C. Simpson (1963); suppl. 2, ed. F. E. Pagan (1978); 4, ed. F. E. Pagan & H. E. Pagan (1992)