Saturday, August 13, 2005

Bluebird: They wouldn't let it lie

I was five years old when Sir Winston Churchill died. I was very impressed by his funeral procession and formed the notion that every time someone died their funeral was shown on television. (Cute - though in these days of cable TV there must be a channel somewhere trying to put my idea into practice.)

A couple of years later I was more worldly, but still shocked when Donald Campbell's death was shown on the news. I can remember the jerky black and white footage of his speedboat Bluebird somersaulting and then breaking up on Consiton Water as he tried to surpass his own water speed record.

And there she lay until March 2001 when divers raised the wreck of the Bluebird from the bed of the lake. A few days later Campbell's body was also recovered, and he was eventually buried at St Andrew's, Consiton.

Bluebird is in the news again because the Heritage Lottery Fund has declined to pay out the £600,000 needed to restore her. I am not sorry. Raising the boat and Campbell's body seemed to me an extraordinary lapse of taste. It would have been far more dignified to have allowed them both to rest beneath Consiton Water.

Interestingly, the BBC suggested at the time the wreck was located that there were disagreements within the Campbell family:

Mr Campbell's widow Tonia Bern-Campbell is adamant that it should never be raised. She wants it left as a memorial to him.

She added: "Donald always said: 'The craft stays with the skipper'. Therefore, as we never found him and he's somewhere in that lake. I don't want it up." ...

But his daughter Gina Campbell told the BBC: "I'm glad they found it. I never, ever really believed it until now. You see the film, the photographs and you think it has happened to somebody else, but it hasn't happened to somebody else."

The tensions within the Campbell family have long been the subject of public interest. Some people saw Donald as trying, and forever failing, to emerge from the shadow of his father Sir Malcolm Campbell. Sir Malcolm was a British hero of the 1920s and 30s, and the first man to drive a car at over 300mph.

The tensions between them are explored in this article by David Tremayne, and were also the subject of a television play (Speed King) in 1979, with Robert Hardy playing Sir Malcolm Campbell.

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