Monte Carlo Rally 1971
We had not been invited to cover the 1969 or 1970 Monte Carlo Rallies because, we were told, Nissan got involved in some feature film which took out their annual budgets for filming the documentaries.
Our crew for the 1971 Rally comprised Vittorio Della Valle, Paul Badin, Julian Botras and Jacques Hubinet with soundman Monsieur Corsi.
We covered the rally in the way we had done previously because Nissan liked the way we did it and I saw no reason to change a successful formula.
Ken Watanabe wanted us to change hotels, it appears that Ken Watanabe, whilst previously staying at the Forum, in 1968, with the rest of us, he was approached, in his room, by the patron’s wife who had offered to get into bed with him. Ken spoke no French, and she no English (or Japanese), so it took a while for the penny to drop. The fact that she was carrying a bottle of wine and a couple of glasses ought to have been a dead giveaway.
He ushered her out and locked the door. In the meanwhile, he had told Henri Brzoska in Paris not to book us back into the Forum. We found out that the Patron of the Forum had divorced his wife and the wandering lady was his second.
Eventually, it would be Watanabe that moved out to the Hotel Splendide, but the rest of us remained at the Forum.
We would always lunch and dine together.
It was normal for Badin and Della Valle to occupy places opposite each other at the table. This was to allow them to indulge in their habit of sampling each other’s choice of food. There was no conversation concerning this phenomenon, each would pick something off the other’s plate and eat it. They might congratulate one another on their choice of food but there would be no other comment.
One notable event, in the run up to the start of the rally, was a result of our newsroom asking me to provide them with a balanced story for them to use from the material we were shooting for Nissan. “Balanced” meant that I would need to shoot something on more than one make of car. Naturally, the first order of the day was to shoot something on the Datsuns. They were installed in a large garage some miles from Monte Carlo and we went there to shoot a story on their latest entries. Once again on display were their 600 tyres of various types to suit their three cars in a variety of weather conditions.
We got a good story and we then went back into Monte Carlo to shoot another on the Renault “Alpines” which were due to arrive at their garage in the early afternoon. They would be the other half of the balance. When we got there, there were no Alpines and we were told that they would arrive in half and hour. They did not.
I was in something of a hurry because we wanted to catch the evening flight to London from Nice with the film to enable the newsroom to get the story out to heir clients that night.
We waited and waited. Eventually we went back to the hotel awaiting a phone call from the Renault garage. By four-thirty in the afternoon, we had heard nothing, so I went back to the garage to be told that they cars would not now be arriving until late evening. That was too late for me, so we gave what film we had, all about the Datsuns, to Pierre Deus who, in turn, had obtained the services of a Monte Carlo Motor-Cycle policeman to rush the film to Nice and away.
I phoned the newsroom and explained why we could not give them a “balanced” story and they understood saying that they would have to go with what they were getting.
It is estimated that, in terms of Europe alone, there was a potential audience of one hundred million who could have watched that “commercial” for Datsun cars. I reckoned that Nissan Motors of Japan should have offered me a new car, every year, for life, as repayment for that boost to their sales. What would it have cost them to launch a television commercial, lasting two minutes, to such an audience ?
At the humble “Roxy” we talked about our new leader at UPITN, Kenneth Coyte. Hubinet had only heard of him when he, Coyte, worked in the Paris Bureau. He wasn’t impressed. Badin knew him for the same reason and said he was a great friend of Brzoska and did not know why. In future we would ask “what has Brzoska got on Coyte ?” We never found out.
Brzoska disliked Badin intensely, a feeling echoed by Coyte and explained by neither.
When Brzoska went on a month’s leave each year, Badin was placed in charge of the Paris Bureau. Brzoska would lock all the filing cabinets, and all but the empty top desk drawer, and leave Badin with an empty desk with a writing pad and a pen.
Della Valle surprised us all by saying that he knew him from his few visits to Rome. Vittorio knew that Dick Clark was leaving and, he said, he was asked to vote for his replacement. Among the names on the list shown him was Kenneth Coyte and he voted for him because he was the only name he knew. I never found out what other names were on that list.
The Nissan cars, they were called Datsuns then, arrived at their garage in Monte Carlo and we went to film them. I was quite surprised to see that the red cars had a big white disc already painted on their roofs. During the 1967 Monte Carlo Rally I suggested to Datsun to paint a white disc on their cars so we could spot them when filming from a helicopter, at the time this caused a great furore with the team as well as the rally officials.
This saved me from having to ask permission again of the team. When they were seen by the scrutineers, they made no comment.
As was our habit, we rode out in Hubinet’s car looking for some useful camera positions within striking distance of Monte Carlo. This took us well into the mountains and we found some ideal locations. Sometimes it was important to find a position that allowed the crew to withdraw onto roads other than those used by the Rally and, if possible, to re-appear along the rally route in time to catch the same cars that had been filmed at the first location. This would involve a mad dash across country, but less dangerous than trying to overtake a rally car.
The start of the rally was routine. I stayed with Della Valle outside the Casino from where the cars would move off. While we were waiting, we heard the sound of a large military band approaching. They were coming up the hill from the harbour and we waiting in anticipation. What actually arrived was a surprise and a little absurd. A group of six men dressed in bandsmen’s uniform of royal blue with gold buttons and trimmings were walking along in line ahead. Each carried a pole on the top of which was a loudspeaker. They were all connected by wire with the leading man who also carried the tape recorder which was responsible for the great sound. I had never seen anything like it.
On the start of the second circuit of the rally, Monaco-Chambery-Monaco, we left Badin to film the start, he would not be required to film from the helicopter until the next morning when the cars were returning to Monaco, while Della Valle and I went in to Menton where the cars coming from Monte Carlo would turn to their left and drive up into the mountains and the north.
We filmed the leading cars and the Datsuns leaving us. With nothing more to do for the day, the cars being away from Monaco overnight, we decided to look for somewhere to have lunch. By now, we had decided that we would always eat in the best available restaurants. Della Valle hailed a taxi and he asked him to take us to the best restaurant in town. We got in the taxi, he did a left turn onto the seafront, La Promenade du Soleil, and dropped us outside a restaurant only a hundred yards away from where he picked us up. It was worth the ride.
We went inside and found a table for two deep inside. The man who came to our table was short, a little overweight with a big moustache. He was Italian, the restaurant was “Le Golfe de Naples”.
Della Valle knew, immediately, he was Italian and he spoke to him. We were treated royally and had a first class lunch. We had Brodo di Pollo or Chicken broth and “Abacchio al Forno” or Roast lamb with Rosemary. It was just right for a cold day in January.
Della Valle told the “Patron”, for that is who our waiter was, that we were a large crew working on the rally and that we liked to eat well in the evenings. Patron said “you will be very welcome” and he showed us a long table partly closed off from the rest of the restaurant. We booked it for that evening.
When the whole crew were, once again, reassembled back in Monte Carlo, we told them that we had found the ideal restaurant, heaps better than those in Monte Carlo.
Our party consisted of Vittorio Della Valle, Paul Badin, Jacques Hubinet, Monsieur Corsi (I worked with him for five years and never knew his first name), Ken Watanabe, myself and two news cameramen who were friends of Hubinet Messieurs Bianci and Gaudin..
We sat at the long table and had an aperitif, mine was Scotch and Soda. The Patron came to the table with a pad, with him came two waiters already holding plates of food. One waiter lay down on the able three large piping hot pizzas while the other lay down three plates of chipped potatoes. These were no ordinary chips. They were the size of fish fingers and were fried in oil laced with garlic. So, we had a mini feast before we started.
Patron asked us whether we wanted meat or fish. A quick discussion led to the verdict that we would eat fish, knowing this would be favourite with Watanabe and the four men from Marseilles.
The fish was, at least, two feet long and had been cooked in one piece. It was placed on the table and the waiter produced a thin knife from his belt. He looked round at us all, just to ensure that each and every one of us was looking.
Holding the knife handle between his thumb, on one side, and all his fingers on the other he proceeded, with one swipe, to removed the skin from head to tail and from the middle to the side. He then laid the skin back to reveal the white flesh. He then took another look around to see if he still had our attention and then he reversed the blade so that it was now pointing towards himself, then he removed the bottom half of the skin and he laid it back. At this point we all applauded.
He then doled out large chunks of succulent Dorade. (I have never seen a Dorade that size before or since)
We had a wonderful meal and when we had finished eating, a guitarist started to play. As his piece reached a crescendo, waiters all around the restaurant came into the aisles and spun two plates each on the tiled floor. They were in perfect synchronisation with the guitarist and the plates all collapsed at the same time. Such showmanship.
Patron appeared at the end of the table with a bottle of Cognac under his arm and a small brandy glass held on each of his fingers. He poured us a glass and left the bottle on the table.
The table cloths were of parchment. It resembled high class watercolour paper. Patron sat down at the end of our table and proceeded to write up the bill on the table cloth. When he finished, he tore it off and presented it to me. I paid the bill and we left, but, you can imagine, over the next few nights, whenever we could we were there. We would also be there for some years to come.
The bill was about eighteen inches long and about nine inches wide. To me it would have been a treasured memento, but the miserable people in ITN accounts insisted on keeping it and would not let me have it.
Back to the Rally.
We still had the final circuit to shoot and this would take the crews up to the Col de Turini once again.
The scene is always memorable and forms an exciting conclusion to the rally. Unfortunately when the particular roll of film was sent to the laboratories in London, someone took off the lid of the film can in white light and ruined the roll.
I had the film insured, but, as we could not go back and do it again, I was told that we could not claim unless I could prove that our client was deducting payment as a result of the loss.
Fortunately, I was able to obtain some material from the B.B.C. “Wheelbase” crew.
Once again, the Datsuns did not perform as well as the Japanese hoped, the pairing of Rauno Aaltonen and Paul Easter finished 5th overall in the Datsun Sports 240Z. The rally was won by Renault-Alpine A110s who took first three places.
The winner was Ove Anderson with co-driver David Stone, second was Jean-Lic Therier and M. Callewaert and third, John Pierre Nicolas and C. Roure.
When it was all over, Deus took me to the flower gardens to pick up my, now, traditional bunch of Carnations. I still got strange looks when I walked through Heathrow arrival lounge with them in the depths of winter.
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