In 1909 Lord Northcliffe offered a prize to the first aviator to fly across the English Channel. At that time nobody thought that such a feat was possible. French Aviator Louis Blériot was to meet the challenge and claim the prize.
Fifty years later, in July 1959, the Daily Mail newspaper sponsored a celebratory Air Race as a tribute to Louis Blériot and offered a prize of £10,000.
Two of the people involved in the Race had connections with the original event: Mdm. Blériot, wife of the aviator, was the guest of honour at the prize giving ceremony and Viscount Rothermere, who was Chairman of Associated Newspapers, was the nephew of Lord Northcliffe.
Viscount Rothermere told spectators and entrants at the prize giving ceremony in Marble Arch, London that in demonstrating that a person could get from Paris to London in around forty minutes they were seeing what would become normal in a few years time. In that respect he was wrong – city centre to city centre is almost impossible in that time today!
There were an enormous number of entries to the race – from individuals to well organized teams. In eleven days just over 200 attempts were made to achieve the fastest time between the two capitals. It was reported that one entrant walked, cycled, motor cycled, motor railed, flew, used a speedboat and finally arrived in Paris in a horse drawn Victoria coach – clearly a fast time was not a priority by this entrant.
Part of the celebrations included a display over the cliffs near Dover by RAF Hunters trailing using coloured smoke – a tribute to Blériot.
Significantly, with regard to Comet history, also involved was Lord Brabazon of Tara – President of the Royal Aero Club – the event organizers.
Initially there was concern within the Air Ministry over the Daily mail sponsored race, but the organisation proved to be excellent and drew praise from the Minister of Transport, Harold Watkinson.
Twelve special prizes were awarded for inventiveness and ingenuity.
Declared first was Sqn. Leader Charles Maughan for a time of 40 min. and 44 sec. Prize £5000
Second was Eric Rylands who received £2500 and the RAF took third prize – £1500 – with a team led by Group Captain Norman Ryder.
BEA entered a team known as the BEAline syndicate and were awarded a special prize of £1000 for ‘originality and ingenuity’ by using existing transport facilities to get from London to Paris.
They succeeded in cutting the normal 3hr 15min scheduled airline time to 1hr 10 min.
de Havilland’s involvement came about because BEAline wished to use the new Comet 4B for the race.
G APMA, the first production 4B, had only made its maiden flight only the month before (27th June 1959). BEA crews had not accumulated sufficient hours to operate the 4B. de Havilland provided pilot Peter Buggé and L.E.F. Young – Flight Engineer. They were joined by BEA pilots.
de Havilland sent a good luck telegram:
De Havilland hope you’ll prove your case,
Although on frantic feature chase,
Frustrated, fraught and flushed of face,
At least you were part of the race,
You may relax in ease and in grace,
As if poised motionless in space by Comet
The team started out on a double deck bus, then took a train from Paddington to Ruslip Gardens. From there a car took them to Northolt Aerodrome.
Eleven minutes after take off the 4B crossed the French coast and the touch down was achieved at Le Bourget airport after just 28 minutes!
Certificate for taking part
Invitation from Lord and Lady Douglas
In that short time the guests drunk champagne, ate caviar, smoked salmon and ham salad.
From Le Bourget a 13 minute dash by Taxi took the team to the finish point. Peter Brooks was the first member of the team to get to the Arc de Triomphe – so his was the time – 1hr 10 min. 16 sec.
After the event all participating members of the BEAline team and flight crew were presented with a certificate commemorating the event and all were invited to attend a reception given by the BEA Chairman Lord Kirtleside.
The reception took place on the evening of the 23rd September.