While Pink Floyd was making its first albums I was watching films at Shell-Mex House in The Strand. Busy fitting words to moving pictures for BBC 2 Wheelbase and Thames TV’s long-running Drive-in programme, I wasn’t finding easy. Matching commentary to action was stopwatch stuff. Nothing electronic then. I was working with film on big reel-to-reel machines, or else providing words for “presenters” – witless actors often, on outside broadcasts. Yet it was exciting. It was, to me, new.
Drive-In may not have been great television but it was work and a diversion from plain writing on plain paper. It gave me a high regard for people who thought in words-and-pictures and did it well like Brian Robins ex-BBC newsroom, and the sonorous Maxwell Boyd. Another was Guild of Motoring Writers’ Roland Hill Berkeley Mason. Writing and directing the History of Motor Racing for Shell and a History of the Motor Car for BP occupied “Bill” Mason for some 20 years. Compiled from newsreels and commercially-produced company films they were aimed at car club and specialist cinemas. Snatches are repeated all the time on TV and continue to be available on all sorts of media. Back then I cribbed excerpts for a TV programme on the newly reopened Donington Park, even though they were a nightmare to work with - copyright ownership changed every few feet of film.
Mason (1915-2002) watched films of Mary Pickford as a child and organised a film club at Gresham's School, shooting with his own Pathescope baby camera at Shelsley Walsh and Donington. His family had a laboratory instrument and metal-pressing businesses and his grandfather was Lord Mayor of Birmingham.
Bill Mason worked for a City stockbroker then as a garage mechanic and Foreign Office courier before reading English and History at Cambridge. Trapped in France with friends when War broke out, they thought briefly about joining the French Army because the food might be better. Joining Shell's Film Unit in 1943 he worked on documentaries for the War Office. As a freelance for Shell his award-winning films included The Cornish Engine, How an Aeroplane Flies, Atomisation, Air Parade, British Aircraft Review, Le Mans, Mille Miglia, Dutch TT and Grand Prix 1949.
Mason raced his 1930 Bentley in Britain's earliest post-war motor sporting events at Elstree, Gransden Lodge, Goodwood and Silverstone. His 1949 film on the British Grand Prix was so well received that Shell agreed to filming Le Mans 1952 and the Mille Miglia the following year. Mason got on so well with Enzo Ferrari he was engaged to co-drive with Dr Alberico Cacciari in a V12 Ferrari, shooting film from inside the car. Cleverly editing on-track action with crowd reaction - or lack of it - was characteristic of Mason’s work. His scripts were keenly-observed, often funny and have become so ingrained in the sub-conscious of motoring historians ever since that they are quite literally definitive.
Mason spent six months filming in Australia in 1956-57 and, a keen yachtsman, was Commodore of Dell Quay Sailing Club on Chichester Harbour 1976 - 1978. When I met him getting on for 50 years ago he kindly helped an aspiring writer. Above all he was a thoroughgoing enthusiast who loved talking cars. I can’t actually remember if he mentioned his son Nick who had gone in to the music business. He certainly passed on his enthusiasm, as well as his Bentley, to his family. He would be delighted to know that Nick has done so well that he is now President of the Guild of Motoring Writers.