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Grand Prix Programmes – A Glimpse of the Past.

Grand Prix Programmes – A Glimpse of the Past.

Sometimes when I have a moment to spare I like to browse through my old Grand Prix programmes, particularly those from the 1970s and a time before Grands Prix became the pro-forma, pre-packaged, one-size-fits-all events they have since become. A time when entry lists would vary considerably from race to race, support races were usually rounds of national or regional championships and timetables were set to the organiser’s or host nation’s convenience. A programme was more than just a souvenir, to know who and what you were going to see and precisely when you were going to see them, it was essential.

As they were published individually by each circuit they could vary in quality and content as much as the events themselves ranging from flimsy A5 pamphlets stapled together that would hardly survive the rigours of the weekend to a more robust magazine style. In fact some were Grand Prix editions of motorsport magazines such as the Dutch ‘Autorensport’ of 1975. It is fair to say the British programmes were consistently the best in all aspects.

Due to production costs colour photography was used sparingly or not at all in many cases. Even black and white photographs could be few and far between with many of the illustrations being drawings or artists’ illustrations, including the ‘eye-catching’ front cover. They were also only printed in the language of the host nation so beyond my limited Italian or school-boy French many of the articles, such as they might be, were lost on me.

Probably every race driver who went on to make a name for themself in international motorsport appears in an entry list somewhere along with the vast majority who did not. Names that meant nothing to me at the time but would subsequently become familiar be it through triumph, tragedy or anything in between. Included in the ‘Liste des Engages’ for the Formula Renault support races for the 1976 French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard, alongside A. Prost and D. Pironi is Charles Cevert, brother of François. And at the same meeting a race for Simca Rallye 1000 saloon cars featured not only two-times Monaco Grand Prix winner Maurice Trintignant, who by then would have been 55 years old, but also his nephew, the famous French film star and accomplished part-time racer, Jean-Louis Trintignant.

My earliest programme, the 1973 British Grand Prix at Silverstone, contains an article by Marketing Director Jimmy Brown laying out ambitious plans for the future of the venue which included an autocross circuit, a hotel, trout fishing and an equestrian centre. Well, forty-seven years on and the hotel is complete.

Beyond racing, the programmes can also give an interesting reflection on life-style and attitudes of the time. The use of coupons to cut out and send off was a popular form of marketing in the day and the adverts in the British programmes are full of them. If you were to cut them all out you would be left with as many holes as actual programme and they would be printed without any consideration as to what you were defacing on the reverse side. ‘Wilson’s colour matched vinyl sunroofs from £55 (13 colours avaiiable)’ in the 1973 British Grand Prix programme would unfortunately also require cutting out and sending off your colour photographs of ‘World Champion Contenders’ Andrea de Adamich’s Brabham BT37 and Mike Hailwood’s/Carlos Paces’s Surtees TS14A. Whilst in 1974 the Yardley advert (sponsors of Mike Hailwood’s McLaren) included a voucher for a whopping 10p for selected products. That is 97p at today’s value, it must have seemed worth it at the time.

Meanwhile, A & M Records and Tapes saw fit to target petrolheads with a full page advert in the 1975 British Grand Prix programme for the latest Carpenters album ‘Horizon’. There was also a full page questionnaire form to tear or cut out and send to ‘Dateline’ for their computer to match you up with your ideal partner. Computer dating, whatever next?

And finally some advertisements that you would definitely not see today. The 1976 Brands Hatch Race of Champions programme offers ‘privilege season passes (including car parking) for £14 with a reduction to £13 for ‘accompanying ladies’ or as further described ‘the girl in your life’. Goodness knows how many sex/gender/equality/discrimination laws that would be in breach of today. Whilst back to the 1975 British Grand Prix edition where the bold stand-out heading for a full page advertisement for a London night club reads ‘Happiness is a Tight Pussy’. This was in relation to Astor Racing whose Formula Atlantic cars were adorned with an image of a cat, looking the worse for wear, holding a bottle lying on its back. Tight Pussy – get it?

Different times indeed.