Alfred Edgar Frederick Higgs could always tell a good story. A motoring writer in the 1930s he affected a pseudonym, Barré Lyndon after the eponymous hero of William Makepeace Thackeray’s 1844 The Luck of Barry Lyndon. Maybe Barry was not imposing enough so he changed y to e acute and fitted Thackeray’s plot about breaking into the aristocracy in books Combat (1933) and Circuit Dust (1934). They brought MG into motoring aristocracy by slightly embellishing the myths and legends of motor racing, elevating it beyond anything so prosaic as a car. Circuit Dust savoured MG success in the 1934 Mille Miglia with a respectful caption and a picture of the team’s reception by Signor Mussolini. Now there is a new account of MG in MG Classics for the digital age, out today.
Lyndon was so accomplished that his first play, The Amazing Dr Clitterhouse, was made into a film with Edward G Robinson in 1939, so it was no surprise that he went to Hollywood for acclaim as a screenwriter. By the time Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon won four Oscars in 1975 however, the MG author was dead. He never saw the Ryan O’Neal epic with its candlelit settings of Hogarth paintings as background to Thackeray’s 18th century rogue.
Barré certainly had style. Here is his opening chapter of Combat: The Flag Falls:
Nearly seven centuries ago masons built a wall around Oxford. Where the rampart formed an angle above the River Cherwell they placed a great bastion, commanding the meadows which sloped down to the stream.
Four hundred years later Roundhead troopers skirmished across the fields and Royalist muskets thudded from the bastion’s loopholes, so that many a man died in the ditch outside the wall.
With the passing of time the ditch was filled in and buildings were erected under the ramparts. Two hundred and eighty years after the last Royalist musket had silenced, a fast-looking car stood where a workshop was set in the very shadow of the bastion.
The machine was the first that its designer had ever completely constructed. He had built it especially to take part in as strenuous a test as could well be devised, and the car was due to start in twenty-four hours—but it sagged forlornly, with a broken frame.
This was not very long ago, measured by actual time, but the years between April, 1925, and the present day must be computed as time is known in the world of motor-racing, where events crowd fast and men live the pace of the machines they drive.
Although the car was not a racing machine, it was the designer’s Number One. It hinted at his secret, unvoiced ambition to carry a challenge into the realm of speed. Imperfectly it represented an ideal, and behind it he could see the shadowy shapes of powerful and infinitely faster machines that he hoped some day to build.
No Royalist garrison, faced by a surprise assault on the bastion, could have been more dismayed than the man who gazed at the crippled car.
The broken frame made the stumpy, rounded tail droop sullenly towards one rear wheel, and the fracture offered a foretaste of the blows that motor-racing can bring.
The damage had been done during the car’s final tests, and the mishap came as an unfortunate climax to weeks of patient, careful work. The time in which to effect such a major repair was so short that the designer was faced with a clear-cut issue; he could abandon his plans, accepting defeat, or he could fight back by filling every available minute with furious work.
He chose to fight and, in the hours that followed, he laid the corner-stone of his career—a career which was to be filled with the peculiar triumphs known only to those who gain victory in the smoke and dust of road circuits and racing tracks.
The workshop was attached to one of a group of garages which supplied new cars and serviced old ones, and was engaged in all the normal business of a similar, big-city organization.
The designer acted as general manager, but he had never been content to give his attention solely to the ordinary detail work of his business. He possessed natural energy and some measure of creative ability, and it is these attributes which produce engineers and builders, as well as artists and writers.
The broken frame, or at any rate its repair, was still there when I drove Old Number One (above) at Gaydon’s British Motor Museum researching MG material for books and features that come together in MG Classics. Lyndon's hero designer was Cecil Kimber who features in the first of three books, published now, covering 1922 to 1939. It details MG’s foundation by Kimber and William Morris, Lord Nuffield, following the First World War to triumphs before the outbreak of the second. An offshoot of Morris Motors in Oxford, by the 1930s it was self-sufficient in rural Berkshire. MG gained success at Brooklands and in the Mille Miglia, creating a niche for a new kind of product, small sporting two-seaters. Forty-seven of them together with record-breakers are detailed model-by-model, illustrated and described along with the comprehensive specifications that have gained Dove Publishing motor books a reputation for accuracy and authenticity. Chronicles of speed records and motor sporting successes will make MG Classics 1, 2 and 3 unique sources of MG facts and figures. See other MG Blogs.
Alfred Edgar Frederick Higgs (12 August 1896 – 23 October 1972) Barré Lyndon playwright and screenwriter. Among his successes after writing MG books and short stories were The Lodger (1944), Hangover Square (1945) and The Man in Half Moon Street (1945), which was remade by Hammer Films as The Man Who Could Cheat Death. In 1952 Lyndon was naturalised in the United States District Court in Los Angeles as Alfred Edgar Barre Lyndon.