Genevieve Rally July 2002

“The filming locations we will visit may not be in any logical order.”

- Mid Eastern Division Committee, ‘Genevieve 50 Years On’ Road Book (2002)



“It wasn't folly at all! It was simply glorious!”

- Mr. Toad, describing a motor-car experience in Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind In The Willows (1908)

: (top) Evert Louwman and Genevieve
(bottom) The Spyker


"The Genevieve 50 Years On Rally"
By Don Brockway
It started as Harold Pritchard’s idea: create a fiftieth anniversary rally in 2002… that toured the locations where “Genevieve” was filmed in 1952.

Harold Pritchard dressed as The Jolly Woodman's
devious inn-keeper

Turning the idea into reality involved well over a year’s worth of preparation. Doubtless, there were moments during this period of protracted planning, which came to involve many Mid East Division members, when identifying the rally as “Harold’s suggestion” served more to assign blame… than to give credit.


But the “Genevieve 50 Years On” rally did take place during the last weekend of July, 2002, and its ambitious goals were accomplished in nearly flawless fashion… in, I might add, nearly flawless weather.

This was no easy accomplishment. The rally was a meticulously planned, well-organized, thoroughly pleasant weekend… which had as its sole basis an unplanned, disorganized, and (according to those who were there) thoroughly unpleasant experience – filming “Genevieve.”

(Below) Filming "Genevieve"
in Hyde Park, 1952

Elizabeth Nagle described the filming of “Genevieve” in Veterans of The Road (1955) as “…turmoil and confusion; starting and stopping; endless waiting; driving to and fro; standing and looking; watching and wondering; orders, counter-orders and constant repetition.”

The cast grumbled, the weather was wet and cold, and most days began without a clue as to where the next scenes would be shot.

"We would set off each morning,” writes cinematographer Christopher Challis in his memoir, Are They Really So Awful? A Cameraman’s Chronicle (1995), “...and take advantage of whatever turned up, often stopping to ask an astonished local if he or she knew of a watersplash, a sharp left-hand bend or a small pub with a courtyard, depending on what requirements had been forced on us by the weather and the ever-changing schedule.”



In sharp contrast to the slapdash, haphazard, “seat-of-the pants” approach to the roads of Buckinghamshire employed by the film crew in ‘52, the 2002 rally crew had its routes mapped and specified to the tenth of a mile. Each road was carefully selected to take rally participants on a lovely drive that wound past a literal A through Z of identifiable “Genevieve” filming locations, all thoroughly researched and presented in “then and now” photos in a glossy limited-run ‘Road Book’ given to participants.



The ’50 Years On’ rally office opened at noon on Friday, fully-prepared and organized to handle registration and deliver important instruction for the competition.  The committee team, headed by Michael Edwards, Stephen Curry, Karen Moore, Harold Prichard, John Trett and Pat Jones mentally switched gears at noon from ‘planning mode’ to ‘execution mode.’ The weekend weather looked good and all seemed to be in order. But anticipation turned to puzzlement when the expected flood of entrants started out instead as a slow, steady trickle. Where was everybody? Had someone spread glue on the roads?



Someone had.

A crash involving a tanker truck had spread glue over a portion of the M25 near Heathrow, causing the motorway to be closed for more than twelve hours. Sitting amidst the thousands who experienced multi-hour delays were significant numbers of VCC members headed for the rally. Nothing like a monumental traffic jam to kick off a weekend devoted to the pleasures of the open road.



The Rally Team:
(left to right) Harold Pritchard, John Trett,
Stephen Curry, Michael Edwards, Karen Moore

The office remained open substantially past the 6:00 p.m. closing specified on the rally’s timetable, and many of the late-arrivers had chilling traffic stories to tell. Nearly all made it to dinner by 7:30, however, and by 9:00, dessert had been served and the opening program, “Memories of Genevieve,” began. As the rally’s keynote event, “Memories of Genevieve” included Carlton’s recently-produced “Profile of Genevieve,” an excellent ‘making-of’ documentary, as well as brief introductory ‘live’ presentations from the dais and selected members of the audience.



Stephen Curry had asked earlier in the day if I would be willing to say a few words and I pretended to reluctantly agree, having spent the entire flight from America writing a series of short remarks in anticipation of just such a request.



My lone qualification as a speaker was the creation and development of this website. When my turn came, I boldly stated my opinion that Genevieve is a “perfect film.” I said this with the same conviction and sincerity that Graham Robson summoned up when he introduced me to those present as “…the American nutter with the website.” Since I’ve been told that one must be mad, eccentric, or both to be a member of the VCC, I considered the introduction proof positive that I had been welcomed into the fold.



Other than the brief digression when the floor was given over to me, the Friday night program turned out to be the first of many rally highlights. “These are the little bits that are sometimes hard to communicate to people who weren’t there,” says Stephen Curry. “Everybody on the rally thought it was a wonderful evening. Even those of us who had put the program together would have been hard-pressed to imagine how wonderful it would turn out to be.”



Among the most moving moments that night were the remarks of Peter Tacon, who still owns and drives the 1903 Humber Forecar he owned and drove during the filming of “Genevieve” fifty years ago. Though his health has created some recent difficulties, Peter spoke eloquently and with great feeling about his “Genevieve” experiences. You could have heard a pin… or perhaps even a tear… drop as Mr. Tacon reminisced. The moment he concluded, the room erupted into tumultuous applause.



The next day, Mr. Tacon  became the only VCC member to drive the same car in the Genevieve rally, fifty years on… that he had driven in “Genevieve,” fifty years before.



Peter Venning, who bought the two Darracqs which were to merge to become Genevieve in the mid-1940’s (for £25!), now lives in Spain. Michael Edwards – whose dedication and contribution to the success of the weekend are beyond measure – somehow arranged for a videotaped interview with Peter, who responded to questions about Genevieve’s original restoration. I’m sure I was not the only member of the audience who occasionally found the intricate mechanical details of this process beyond my ability to comprehend, but the clarity of the recollection, the reverie it inspired in Mr. Venning, and the interview’s impact on the majority of the audience, who do know their way around a veteran motor, were simply a joy to behold.



Henry Cornelius's personal leather-bound
copy of the "Genevieve" script

Marjory Cornelius, the film’s costume designer and wife of director Henry Cornelius, was scheduled to be guest of honor at the Friday dinner, but sadly, she passed away mere days before the event. Mrs. Cornelius had been an enthusiastic supporter of the rally in its planning stages, making her personal and private archives available to the rally organizers.



The wonderful ‘Road Book,’ the pet project of Michael Edwards, reproduces pictures, storyboards, and original script pages from Mrs. Cornelius’s collection. The book’s first page acknowledges that without Mrs. Cornelius’s help, the book never would have been created. Mrs. Cornelius’s absence was a shock to all, especially to the members of the rally team who had worked with her so closely.

Providentially, Michael had videotaped an interview between Harold Pritchard and Mrs. Cornelius, and an edited version was created in time for presentation during the rally’s first evening. Warm, witty, and full of fond ‘backstage’ stories about “Genevieve,” Mrs. Cornelius’s video charmed and touched each member of the audience, serving as both a bittersweet farewell and loving tribute to an exceptional woman.



Ranking high among the many accomplishments of the rally team was the sight that greeted people in the car park on Saturday morning, when Genevieve herself, having spent the night parked behind velvet ropes in the lobby of the hotel, ventured out into daylight.



She was guided by owner Evert Louwman to a parking spot next to the other “car star” of Genevieve, the beautiful Spyker, which would be driven in the rally by Geerd van Helden. To see the two rivals together once again was a magic moment, but the participation of the two veterans in the “50 Years On” rally was by no means a certainty when plans for the rally were first formulated.
Credit for their appearance must go not only to their owners, who were willing to share these treasures, but to Bonham’s, which sponsored and shipped the cars… and to Tim Moore, whose persuasive and diplomatic efforts on behalf of the Mid Eastern Division ultimately succeeded in gaining commitment to bring the Spyker and Darracq into the rally and back to the places where they had been filmed fifty years before.

At 8:00, the marshals met; at 8:15, the rally office opened; and right on time, at 9:30 Saturday morning, the first veteran was sent on its way, making a left out of the hotel’s car park and beginning one of three Saturday routes: The Kendall (39.3 miles), The Gregson (65.5 miles), or the Claverhouse (84.6 miles). Drivers also had a choice of average speeds to maintain.



The day was sunny and hot; the scenery beautiful, and there was no glue all over the roads. What more could one ask for?



The first major filming location visited was Moor Park Gate, with its dramatic, readily identifiable arch, looking nearly the same as it did in 1952.

Alan Trevennor, who did much of the initial location-finding, first published here on the website, has looked at the “coffee-spilling scene” at Moor Park quite carefully and identified a cluster of continuity errors in the scene, as Genevieve appears first on one side of the road, then the other, then in a totally different location altogether. This is what comes of picking shooting locations on the spur of the moment.

Carolyn Brockway ponders her self-heating coffee;
Jennifer Hinson and John Trett at Moor Park Gate

Rally participants were given self-heating cans of coffee (a marketing idea which Nestle has since abandoned) and while the rally instructions urged us to “partake of your coffee as they did” – i.e., spill it on yourself – most people were so intrigued and/or frightened by the mechanics of the self-heating can that if anything, the coffee was handled more carefully and gingerly than usual.



A second filming location on Saturday was a bit flooded – as well it should have been. This is the ford where Kay Kendall had to get out and push the Spyker.

“We were lucky there was water in it during the summer” says Stephen.



The ford proved an irresistible photo opportunity. I was lucky enough to be riding with Jennifer and Barrie Hinson on Saturday, who obligingly backed their 1912 Cadillac up for a second run through the ford, allowing me to jump out and snap pictures… and allowing my daughter Carolyn to join Jennifer for a mock pushing photo staged just at the edge of the ford so as to keep their feet dry.




Saturday’s lunch was at four pubs – two of which feature prominently in the film (The One Pin and The Jolly Woodman); one which can be seen in the background (Ye Olde Green Mann) and one which is not seen in the film, although much filming was done in its environs (The Yew Tree). In the film, a conspiratorial inn-keeper in league with the McKims sends the Spyker back-tracking from The Jolly Woodman toward the scene of a (non-existent) accident. Though the inn-keeper’s appearance is brief, it is memorable. Similarly memorable on the rally route was Harold Pritchard, who appeared at The Jolly Woodman dressed as the inn-keeper, doing such a spot-on impersonation of the character that it left me momentarily disoriented. Or maybe it was gasoline fumes.




Also seen on Saturday were other filming locations, including The Mill (in better shape today than it was in ’52) and The Pumping Station (also in good repair).

To reach these locations, we traveled down many beautiful, though narrow, country lanes. More than once I had to duck to avoid being hit by a branch full of leaves… and more than once, I forgot to duck and did get hit.

I saw areas of the countryside I never would have seen. As someone who has traveled the actual London-to-Brighton route, I noticed that the scenery did not at all match that encountered between London and Brighton.

As the filmmakers predicted, however, no one was paying the slightest bit of attention to the backgrounds… they were too busy following the story and the antics of the characters.

This was not the case, however, on Saturday night, when a lovely 16mm print of “Genevieve” was screened for rally participants back at The Bellhouse Hotel.



I have seen “Genevieve” with many audiences, but never with an audience comprised almost exclusively of VCC members who had spent the day at various locales seen in the movie. Each time a recognizable background would pop into view, an audible murmur would ripple through the room. “We decided to show the film after a day of location rallying for precisely that reason,” says Stephen Curry.



And it was not just the backgrounds that audience members identified.



Lay (non-VCC) audiences laugh at Genevieve due to the silliness of a particular situation or the reactions of the characters in those situations. It is the strangeness of both the behavior and the endeavor that is so funny.



The laughs from the VCC audience are quite different. It is the laughter of recognition. During certain scenes, I saw fingers point across the room to others who were known to act in precisely the same way… and I saw elbows gently but firmly nudging spouses as if to say, “That’s you up there.”



“The film does still strike a chord,” says Stephen Curry. “We’re thinking, ‘been there, acted like that, said that, done that,’” he chuckles.



After the film, there was a session of prize giving for those who had done well on the day’s rally… and those who had done well on the fifty-question “Genevieve 50 Years On Trivia Quiz.” And while I am tempted to say that I take a back seat to no one when it comes to “Genevieve,” the truth is, I have been lucky enough to take a back seat on numerous occasions, specifically the back seat of a veteran, a highly prized commodity in events such as the one under discussion. In any case, I would not have done well on the quiz, with its impossibly difficult questions (According to Big Ben, at what time did Ambrose first drive over Westminster Bridge?)



Another Rally Team Shot:
(left to right) Pat Jones, Harold Pritchard,
Stephen Curry, Michael Edwards, John Trett

The quiz was won by the Tunnicliffe family who answered 46 of the fifty questions correctly. Sarah had entered her Leon Bollée, but it was out of order and she couldn't bring it, so there was some sort of cosmic justice in her stunning victory. On the evening Harold reported that the worst score was 10, achieved by Richard and Pat Jones. “Since they both sit on various club committees and Pat helped organize things - the picnics were down to Pat - they should have known better!”



Never mind. On Sunday morning, as Pat handed out the picnic bags, she achieved her measure of fame, because the zippered bags themselves were lovely souvenirs, with the rally logo prominently displayed, and the lunches these contained… to be consumed later in the day at a picnic next to the Palace of Westminster… set new standards for lavishness which future picnics may have a hard time equaling.



Bill and Mary Ellam's 1903 Darracq
Clive and Maureen Hawley in the back;
Bill and Mary up front

On Sunday, my daughter Carolyn and I traveled with old friends, Bill and Mary Ellam, in whose lovely ’03 Darracq I have had the privilege to travel from London to Brighton twice. Like Jennifer Hinson (and unlike myself, the first, last, and only time I tried it), Mary is a first-rate navigator. It was great fun and highly educational to see both husbands, Barrie and Bill, do precisely what their wives told them to do, for hour upon hour. 



The Sunday route into London incorporated over a dozen additional “Genevieve” filming locations, but the first of  the stops, lettered “M” as in “McKim,” may well have provided the rally’s finest moment.



(Top) Lining up at Pinewood Studios
(Middle) Bill and Mary and Carolyn outside Pinewood
(Bottom) Driving past the soundstages

The veterans – all seventy of them - lined up outside the gate of Pinewood Studios, where the final days of shooting on “Genevieve” had taken place, both on outside sets created to match location shots already completed (Hyde Park, Exterior of the McKim’s flat, the DeBurgh Arms, et al) as well as on soundstages (The Brighton club, the lobby and “loud” hotel room at The Grand Palace Marine Hotel, the interiors of the McKim’s flat, et al). The very last days of shooting at Pinewood during November 1952 were used to created the few “process” or back projection shots seen in “Genevieve,” which are easy to spot because they look almost too beautiful to be real, even in this “perfect film.”



As the cars rolled up to a section of the Pinewood lot which houses offices and the studio’s “Hall of Fame,” all eyes were drawn to the woman standing on the steps. She was wearing a silk chiffon outfit in brilliant robin’s egg blue. And she was easy to spot because she looked almost too beautiful to be real… Dinah Sheridan.



It was a heart-stopping moment. When Dinah smiled and looked round, you could see that, yes, that’s unquestionably the same woman who starred in the film, she still has that wonderful face.



Quirina Louwman and Dinah Sheridan

Dinah’s official assignment was to present two commemorative plaques – one to Genevieve, one to the Spyker. Each plaque read: “The British Comedy Society  - Genevieve 50th Anniversary – Sheridan, More, Gregson, and Kendall.”



Those who found a moment to look just beyond Dinah noticed a strikingly handsome gentleman holding in his right hand a replica of the hat Dinah discovers and wears early in “Genevieve” – and then again, most tellingly, near the film’s conclusion. While “Genevieve” is hardly fraught with symbolism, there is no gesture more symbolic than the film’s penultimate moment, when Wendy McKim, fighting back tears, dons the hat to show her husband that she does love him. How appropriate it was that Dinah’s husband, Aubrey Ison, stood holding her hat.



And how fitting it was, in light of the love and admiration expressed by the gathering crowd which surrounded her, when Dinah again donned the hat just before assuming her rightful place in Genevieve’s passenger seat.



As Quirina Louwman drove off in Genevieve with Dinah for a quick joyride, she gave the car’s whistle a few quick blasts which echoed through Pinewood and sent a chill down the spine of many an on-looker.



It wasn’t folly at all, it was simply glorious.



Believing that she was there to present awards, not receive them, Dinah was taken by surprise when a plaque identical to the ones she had given to the drivers of the Darracq and the Spyker was awarded to her.



“I was in such a daze all day,” Dinah comments. “The cars going past, the requests for autographs, the people who simply wanted to shake my hand… it was all lovely and thrilling. One of the best moments for me was when one of my grandsons – a tall, lanky teenager – turned to me after it was all over and said, absolutely wide-eyed, ‘I didn’t know you were so famous!’”



The next two stops on the “Sheridan” Sunday morning route to London underscored the theme of Genevieve, as valid today as it was fifty years ago: that grown men spend a great deal of their time acting like little boys.



(Above) The People's Snack Bar
(To see script excerpt, click for large picture)
(Below) The DeBurgh Arms

After a particularly petulant and child-like argument between Alan and Ambrose (when Wendy accuses the two of “hauling like brooligans”) the four principals patch up their differences and celebrate with ice cream cones on the steps of The DeBurgh Arms on Tavistock Road. Rallyists were pleased to see that the De Burgh has changed very little in fifty years, and many stopped for ice cream before moving on to the next location, the Uxbridge Road, where a scene was shot for use a bit later in the film, In this scene, two actual children (one of them Henry Cornelius’s daughter) stop the entire race dead in its tracks because – odd coincidence! – an ice cream cone is dropped in front of the cars.



Many of the London filming sites are quite familiar… Hyde Park Corner, the Law Courts, the flurry of scenes shot for the dénouement that were filmed on and around Westminster bridge. The one well-hidden location is the exterior of the McKim’s flat on Rutland Mews South.

(Above) A Guide to Rutland Mews
(Click for Large picture)
(Below) "It's not locked, you know."

Of necessity, we did not stop, but I returned on my own the next day in order to walk to the end of the cul-de-sac, where the camera had been positioned. Though I have pictures of the location on my web site, I noticed something that no one had ever pointed out to me: the upstairs windows, out of which Alan McKim leans to let Wendy know that the front door’s unlocked, are precisely the same today as they were fifty years ago – though I suspect John Gregson’s close-up was filmed at Pinewood where a recreation of the upper story must have been constructed. Nonetheless, I felt as if I had made one tiny discovery on my own during a weekend when so much “Genevieve” history unfolded seamlessly and continually, thanks to the work of all the Mid Eastern Division members who contributed to the rally.

Stephen Curry offers an example of how important a single contribution could be: Maurice Greenberg had managed to obtain permission, through Lord Weatherall from Black Rod, for the veterans to use the Parliament car park at the rally’s end. Stephen reports that many members, through contributions of time and energy both small and large were responsible for creating the rally as we experienced it.






The generosity of the group may well be best represented by an off-the-cuff remark made by Maureen Hawley to her son, Clive Jr. I should mention that Maureen’s husband Clive was the ringleader of a bunch of London-Brighton Runners, nearly three years ago now, that I happened to meet in the bar of my London hotel. So pleased were they when I told them that I had come over from America just to see the Run that they invited me to the opening reception, introduced me to the Ellams… and incredibly and highly improbably… I was off and Running.



Back to the picnic: Maureen noticed that Clive had wandered away from the group and was involved in animated conversation with someone over in the portion of the park that overlooks the Thames.



“That Clive,” Maureen said, with a shake of her head, “…He’ll talk to anyone!”



To which I replied, “And thank God for that!”



Speaking in my official capacity as American Nutter, thanks to all the members of the Mid East Section of The Veteran Car Club  for providing a weekend I never could have imagined… and never will forget.

This report on the "Genevieve 50 Years On" Rally appears in slightly modified form in
Veteran Car, The Gazette of the Veteran Car Club of Great Britain Number 286, October 2002

Michael Edwards produced a brilliant two-hour video of the "Genevieve 50 Years On" Rally.
Contact me if you'd like to purchase a copy, and I'll forward your request to Michael.

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