Tales of My Time


Raymond Baxter OBE and Tony Dron have put their heads – and pens – together to manufacture a great read. This was not evidently a difficult task. That a professional racing driver and motoring journalist of some repute (Dron) has collaborated with Baxter in this project is an indication of the breadth and eclectic interests of the latter’s career: Second World War fighter pilot, racing and rally driver, journalist and broadcaster, and doyen of the ‘little-ship’ brigade commemorating the 1940 Dunkirk armada.

 

Baxter, 83, still owns L’Orage, which took part in the 1940 rescue of British troops and in which he has returned to Dunkirk for regular commemorative events. His own wartime record is distinguished, and featured narrow escapes in his Spitfire over Sicily and Holland. On 18 March 1945, he participated in a successful daylight raid on the Shell-Mex building in The Hague, the headquarters for V1 and V2 rocket attacks. His squadron leader, Max Sutherland, received a bar to his Distinguished Flying Cross and the other four pilots, including Baxter, were mentioned in dispatches. Not surprisingly, this is a man who does not let small things stand in his way: He ‘invented’ rallycross, a sort of circuit-rallying that continues today, at Brands Hatch in 1963 to fill a dull spot in the BBC’s Saturday afternoon schedule.

 

Baxter, who was expelled from his school, is proof that, like an old wine, the older he gets, the better he becomes. Still actively commentating today, the book is a wealth of fascinating (and quite readable) vignettes, from commentating on fourteen consecutive Monte Carlo rallies and thirty Farnborough airshows (where he flew the Harrier on two occasions), Le Mans, F1 Grand Prix, the Coronation and Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral in addition to hosting Tomorrow’s World for the BBC.

 

Perhaps more importantly, as the Second World War generation slowly fades from view, the book offers a unique insight – a rearward glance – along the thread of a remarkable life, especially as to how the world of journalism has changed, if not altogether matured, over the last fifty years. The pressure of time on reporters has increased in a digital age, though it has also, judging from the focus on reportage by reporters such as Baxter, led to a blurring of the distinction between opinion and news.

 

Greg Mills
Director, The Brenthurst Foundation, Johannesburg, and Associate Fellow, RUSI




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