More Malcolm

A while back I wrote a post about Sir Malcolm Campbell, devil-may-care driving fool, and his possible connection with the British Union of Fascists -- specifically, the claim that he adorned Blue Bird with BUF insignia. I was sceptical, based on his fairly negative attitude in 1937, but couldn't rule out that he'd had some earlier flirtation with them. Now Philip Coupland has kindly provided me with some contemporary evidence of the Blue Bird claim. It's an article from the BUF newspaper, Blackshirt, 26 April 1935, 1, the entire text of which reads:


On March 7, 1935, the Fascist pennant of the London Volunteer Transport Service was carried, at the suggestion of S.L. Vernon Pickering, by Captain Sir Malcolm Campbell, M.B.E., on his famous "Blue Bird." On that occasion this great British patriot created a new world's record for travelling on land. Prior to leaving England for Daytona, Sir Malcolm was offered the good wishes of the British Union of Fascists by S.L. Vernon Pickering, who himself has won over a hundred racing trophies.

So that would seem to confirm the Blue Bird story. It would be nice to have a statement from Campbell himself, or photographic evidence, or at least something not from the BUF. But it seems unlikely to have been made up, given the potential for a potentially punitive libel action. So I'm willing to take this as prima facie evidence for Campbell's interest in fascism, in 1935 if no later (or earlier).

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8 thoughts on “More Malcolm

  1. JDK

    Fascinating stuff, Brett. I'd just add a small vote for Campbell, as, while I don't think he was a very nice man, he was effective, and achieved great things - world records of any kind aren't easily obtained, or recaptured. Unlike most of his contemporaries, he was good enough at record breaking driving to die in his bed, so he also could beat the odds.

    As a historian (you, not me, I'm a mere student...) I think it's important to recognise that while a land speed record might seem utterly trivial to a modern observer (and worse - feminist comments about boys and cars called 'thrust' come to mind) it had a very different status in national or patriotic terms - and a real relationship with cutting edge technology, and all that implied.

    It's illuminating of today's values that while Campbells (father and son) were front page news, it's about page seven comment in the national papers of the UK that the country holds the LSR record, and is attempting to increase it.

    It would be interesting to find a photo of the BUF badge on the car.

    Just a couple of thoughts.

  2. Erik Lund

    So, is "S.L." here the BUFF's way of saying "Squadron Leader," or does Vernon Pickering just have more names than he needs?
    And, if so, what is up with the Edwardians and their names? There were children dying in Armenia, completely deprived of Anglo-Saxon names, while they gave themselves these endless monikers!

  3. George Shaner

    "The Fast Set" by Charles Jennings deals with a lot of these issues. However, even though I only read it a month ago, I don't recall much, if any, mention of Campbell's BUF flirtations.

  4. There are plenty of images of the March 1935 Blue Bird around, but so far I have only been able to discern the Union Flag and the Stars and Stripes on the car.

    Does anyone have any idea what the "Fascist pennant of the London Volunteer Transport Service" may look like?

  5. Post author


    Yes, world records were eagerly sought after then (though I've also come across criticism of the RAF's interest in chasing endurance records and the like, which seems misplaced). An upmarket toy shop near me has some (I think post-war?) wind up versions of Campbell's cars in the window at the moment, which suggests some of their significance. I'd think about buying one but, well, they're not aeroplanes, are they ...


    I wondered if it meant squadron leader too. I can't seem to find much about Vernon Pickering, despite his being such a famous racer.




    Yes, I had a bit of a look when I wrote the original post but couldn't see anything which looked BUF. The London Volunteer Transport Service is also pretty mysterious, but I took a photo of the pennant and badge of the Blackshirt Automobile Club at the IWM, which you can see here. Perhaps they are the same or similar? There's also the possibility that the pennant was carried inside the vehicle, rather than outside? Or if it was outside, maybe it fell off during the attempt.

  6. George Shaner

    The thing with Jennings is that he doesn't SEEM to gloss over anyone's politics, and has anecdotes to illustrate the conservative, man-of-action tendencies of the main British players (Campbell, Cobb and Segrave) in the LSR game that would suggest that these could be the sort of men who might find fascist politics interesting.

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