While still at school in the later 1940s, I began to read books about pre-war motor racing, especially those about the Siamese racing driver Prince Bira written by his cousin Prince Chula. Around the same time, I acquired my first simple camera and began to learn about photography. It seemed natural, as motor sport started up again following the second world war, that these two keen interests should be combined, and I went along to early sprint and hill-climb meetings, and then my first circuit race, which also happened to be the first Goodwood event in September 1948.
I was hooked! From then until 1956, I went to many of the main meetings at Goodwood, Crystal Palace, Silverstone and Brands Hatch, with some interruptions in the two years 1951 and 1952, when National Service intervened. Even then, I was lucky to serve in the photographic branch of the RAF, working on aerial survey photography, so developing my photographic skills, and occasionally skiving off to hitch-hike to Silverstone for the Grand Prix and International Trophy meetings.
Standing behind '52 and '53 champion Alberto Ascari, with my Leica at the ready, preparing to go out to the grid for the 1953 British GP at Silverstone. Photograph by Alan R Smith, reproduced by kind permission of The Klemantaski Collection.
Along the way, that first basic camera was traded up via a Kodak Retina to a Leica 111c, with which the majority of the pictures in this collection were shot. After the RAF, a career in professional photography quickly evolved, but time was always found for some shooting at the circuits until in 1956, I was recruited by Mobil Oil as their new Staff Photographer. My first assignment - at the end of my first week (!) - was to join Donald Campbell's Bluebird team at Coniston when Campbell raised his own World Water Speed Record, an exercise repeated in 1957. At this time, my life moved in other directions, not only my career, but marriage, house building and the arrival of a young family all certainly changed my priorities and I had little time, money or opportunity to exercise my camera at the tracks.
It was not until 1964 that I made a return, this time to Brands Hatch for the first Grand Prix on the newly extended full GP circuit, a race which had no less than five drivers who all either had achieved F1 World Champion status or, in John Surtee's case, would by the end of the year. Occasionally, my work at Mobil would take me back to the tracks, as in 1959 when I went to Dundrod in Northern Ireland to photograph John Surtees in his last year on two wheels and winning his seventh championship with the MV Agusta team. Another time was in 1981-1982 when Mobil sponsored the Williams team - the Alan Jones and Keke Rosberg years. But, for me, the period I covered as an enthusiast rather than as part of my work was INDEED a golden era.
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(Fellow of the British Institute of Professional Photography)
(Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society)