Orwell (and others) and Rolls-Royces


‘ [about Lord Halifax] Back to the crazy pavement of Versailles, back to ‘democracy’, i.e. capitalism, back to dole queues and the Rolls-Royce cars, back to the grey top hats and the sponge-bag trousers,..’                                           (The Lion and the Unicorn)

‘It is goodbye to the Tatler and the Bystander, and farewell to the lady in the Rolls-Royce car.’          (The Lion and the Unicorn)                   (compare “elderly men are still to be seen through windows in Pall Mall asleep in leather chairs with The Times in their lap, powdery ladies wearing furs to be seen in large cars as they pass by, or airing small dogs in Hyde Park; the Tatler and Bystander continue to be available in dentists’ and doctors’ waiting-rooms, and to display the activities of the rich and fashionable mostly for the edification of the unfashionable;..” in The Thirties (p30)by Malcolm Muggeridge)

‘At some point or another you have got to deal with the man who says ‘I should be no worse off under Hitler.’ But what answer can you give him – that is, what answer that you can expect him to listen to – while common soldiers risk their lives for two and sixpence a day, and fat women ride about in Rolls-Royce cars, nursing pekineses?’ (The Lion and the Unicorn)

‘An army of unemployed led by millionaires quoting the Sermon on the Mount – that is our danger. But it cannot arise when we have once introduced a reasonable degree of social justice. The lady in the Rolls-Royce car is more damaging to morale than a fleet of Goering’s bombing planes.’                         (The Lion and the Unicorn)

‘No more stagnation punctuated by wars. No more Rolls-Royces gliding past dole queues, no return to the England of the Distressed Areas, the endlessly stewing teapot [?], the empty pram, and the Giant Panda [??]’                           (The English People)

and others:

“Late in 1949, a few weeks before his death, I visited him in his sickroom at University College Hospital. He complained that despite there being a Labour government there were far too many visible signs of wealth in London. There were all these Rolls Royces. I mentioned that I had been told by Hugh Gaitskell that a count was kept on the Rolls Royces and their owners in London, that most of these belonged to foreigners, or to embassies, and that getting rid of them would not markedly improve the condition of the country. ‘That may be so,’ he said, ‘but there shouldn’t be visible signs of one class being much better off than another. It is bad for morale.” One wonders what Orwell would have said had he lived to see the Fifties.”             (Stephen Spender, The Thirties and After)

“The sooner we accept the Dark Ages the faster they will be over. In the streets round this office, where the exposed green of fourth-floor bathrooms shines against the blue winter sky, an enormous Rolls-Royce often passes. Each time one sees this mammoth of luxury, one wonders to whom it belongs; some fatcat of Bloomsbury? A ground landlord? A member of the Corps Diplomatique? But as it glides past it becomes transparent, and reveals on well-oiled bearings its only passenger, a neat wooden coffin. The limousine belongs to the last people who can afford it; the luxurious dead.”                                                                                                       (Cyril Connolly, Writers and Society, 1940-45)

“Arnold Bennett turned up in his Rolls-Royce, commenting to Vi Sauter, ‘You know I never thought I would be seen dead in a thing like that: and here I am going about in a great Rolls.’”                              (quoted in Catherine Dupré’s John Galsworthy, p 269)

“Its [gangster literature’s] leading purveyor was Edgar Wallace, a genial, rather pathetic figure, frenziedly pouring out words into a Dictaphone, frenziedly making and getting rid of money, appearing at Blackpool in a yellow Rolls-Royce as a Liberal candidate in the 1931 General Election, and dying exhausted and in debt a year later, having written in all 150 novels, eighteen plays, and innumerable short stories and newspaper articles; of words, many millions.”              (Malcolm Muggeridge, in The Thirties, p 117)

“This was the real business of the Congress [Writers’ Congress in Madrid, Summer 1937], and providing it was carried out the delegates might be allowed their bread and circuses. They rode about in Rolls-Royces, ate well, made speeches, drank champagne, and in several cases became infected with a hysterical sense of self-importance.”                                                                                         (Julian Symons, in The Thirties, p 113)

“In his affidavit defending himself against the action [Sonia Orwell’s action against Orwell’s accountant shortly before she died in 1980], Harrison claims he and Orwell ‘got on extremely well’. It is hard to see what they had in common: Harrison, the dapper businessman with a penchant for Rolls-Royces, and Orwell, who had renounced his privileged past and whose only hankerings were for a good pot of tea and oxford marmalade.”                                                                         (A Writer Wronged, by Tim Carroll, Daily Telegraph magazine (?), September 2004)

“Later he [Denis Thatcher] showed some ingenuity in avoiding them [security men], sidling into the darkness in a black opera cape, or (his Rolls-Royce having been confiscated by Central Office on the grounds that it was too ostentatious) driving an old Cortina:… (Byron Rogers in review of The Goldfish Bowl, by Cherie Booth and Cate Haste, The Spectator, 2 October 2004)

“In his Yorkshire days, the young James Hanson used to go round the West Riding looking at mills. If they had Rolls Royces outside them, he would bid for the mill, fire the directors, sell the Rollers, cash in, and move on. The technique served him well when he turned to bigger targets.”  (Christopher Fildes, The Spectator, 6 November 2004)

“The long drives across France were made more palatable by Kipling’s love affair with is Rolls-Royce, the Duchess. ‘We came back 173 miles yesterday; running time six hours flat, average 28 and some decimals mph. The old bus went like a dream.'”                      (Juliet Townsend, in review of The Letters of Rudyard Kipling, Volumes V and VI, in The Spectator, 18/25 December, 2004)

‘’The Cardinal [Spellman] said, ‘I’d love to meet him [John O’Hara]’. I told this to John, wondering how he’s react. He was delighted. He drove up in his brand new Rolls-Royce and parked it in the courtyard, where elaborate arrangements had been made to reserve a parking-space for him – a ritual that was repeated many times over the years.”                   (Bennett Cerf, in At Random, p 272)

“Rolls-Royce will hold the Asian introduction of its long-wheelbase Phantom here [Shanghai] on Thursday. The car will retail in China at close to $800,000 because of steep Chinese taxes that double the price tag of luxury cars. China has become the company’s fourth largest market, narrowly trailing Japan, but still well behind the United States and Britain, Mr. Robertson [chairman and chief executive of Rolls-Royce said.”     (NYT, April 21)

“Lees-Milne wrote in his memoirs that his passionate wish while at Eton had been that he might be the son of a divorced Earl with a house in Belgrave Square, a fleet of Rolls-Royces with footmen on the box and a private aeroplane.”          (Man of Letters, p 27, by Philip Ziegler)

“Once they went to stay with the enormously successful and prolific author Edgar Wallace at his Thames-side palace near Bourne End…….        Twenty-four hours later, Rupert [Hart-Davis] was returning to London in Wallace’s yellow Rolls-Royce with cylinders containing seven thousand words of the latest masterpiece.”                                                                                                           (Man Of Letters, p 66, by Philip Ziegler)

“When picked up by his next caretaker he [Louis Althusser] expressed an immediate interest in a Rolls-Royce (or maybe a Jaguar) from a car showroom in Mayfair which he insisted on visiting.’                             (Interesting Times, p 216, by Eric Hobsbawm)

“Once [Cyril] Connolly rebuked her [Princess Nika Yourevitch] for buying a new Rolls-Royce during the war, saying that it was not going to make her happy. She replied, ‘Yes, I do realize that, Cyril. But when I’m very unhappy, it will comfort me to go and look at my Rolls-Royce.”                       (reported by Andrew Sinclair in War Like a Wasp, p 81)

“Observing a Roman cardinal dashing down Fifth Avenue in his Rolls-Royce, with hands braying, drums rolling, and cops clearing his regal way, one forgets the Rule of St. Benedict, and the sisters in the hospital.” (H. L. Mencken, in Treatise on the Gods, p 126)

“Proof of the efficacy of this advice [for visitors to Bhagwan Sri Rajneesh’s ashram in Poona to part with all their material possessions] could be seen in the fleet of Rolls-Royce motorcars maintained by the Bhagwan and deemed to be the largest collection in the world.”                                          (Christopher Hitchens, in god is not Great, Chapter 14)

“Mr. Mugabe called price increases in stores ‘inexplicable’ and said he was determined to continue a program to force retailers to lower the prices of their goods. He also proposed legislation that would nationalize mines and require all companies to be Zimbabwean-controlled. Mr. Mugabe arrived for his speech in a Rolls-Royce convertible.” (NYT, July 25, 2007)

“In the show [In The News] we had much talk from [A.J.P.] Taylor about the West End restaurants of the rich and their Rolls-Royce cars and so on – the sort of stuff I have had from [Michael] Foot before. I couldn’t stand any more of it and said – ‘Taylor, you know this is the most disingenuous stuff. You and I have just come in from an expensive west End restaurant. We have come in a fine Rolls Royce car. Can’t we get away from this Socialism of envy, hatred, malice and all uncharitableness?’”   (W. J. Brown, April 2, 1951, as reported by David Kynaston in Austerity Britain, Smoke In The Valley, Part 3)

“Father Divine himself rode, the paper reported, in a blue Rolls-Royce Victoria, ‘a white policeman standing like a footman on the right running-board, and a negro policeman poised likewise on the other.’”          (from Chapter 8 of The Forgotten Man, by Amity Schlaes)

“I have here the most wonderful invitations to tour in Rolls-Royces, very funny and amusing offer, you will be amused, but I would prefer to write my Casanova than to live it.”            (Stefan Zweig in 1928 letter to Friderike Zweig, quoted in European of Yesterday, Chapter V, by D. A. Prater)

“Mr. [Robert] Abbott [founder of The Defender], who rode in a chauffeured Rolls-Royce, was known to flaunt his wealth, serving as a vivid example that a black man could be an aristocrat with all the swagger of the white titans.” (from NYT, May 27, 2009)

“’One day,’ Dikran [Kouyoumdjian, aka Michael Arlen] grumbled, ‘he [the manager] will be only too glad to get me to lunch at Ciros, and I shall have a Rolls-Royce bigger and better than any of these.’ (from The Myth of Mayfair Society, by Alexander Frere, p 24) Later, when The Green Hat had made him rich, he bought a canary-yellow Rolls Royce that really was longer than anyone else’s, and he had it registered in Manchester so that the license plate bore the initials M. A.”           (from Harry Kirshinian’s Michael Arlen, Chapter 1)

“Punctually at 5 o’clock on May 26 the silver Ilyushin-14 touched down and taxied across the airfield to where Tito, in marshal’s uniform, was sitting waiting in his big open Rolls-Royce.”             (from Fitzroy Maclean’s The Heretic, Chapter 16)

“Occasional errors of judgment were made [at the Duke of York’s camp at Southwold] as, for example, when one of the most prominent public school participants, later a Lord Mayor of London, was fetched away on his last day, before the eyes of all, by his parents’ chauffeur, in a large open touring Rolls Royce.”           (Denis Greenhill, in More By Accident, Chapter 2)

“This gave us the weekly treat of watching Bernard Shaw and his wife en route for their country house, at Ayot St. Lawrence, being tucked up with a heavy travelling rug in the back seats of a brown Rolls Royce whose chauffeur wore a matching uniform. So much for the practice of his political views.” (Denis Greenhill, in More By Accident, Chapter 4)

“Lady Groves, who already knew from me a little of our patient’s [Raymond Chandler’s] history and present plight, persuaded him to join us, and after dinner he was helped, almost carried, by the conductor Stanford Robinson to the waiting car – a very upright and ancient Rolls Royce the floor of which was covered with silver ice buckets full of champagne and carnations, a sight reminiscent of a scene from one of his novels.”             (Natasha Spender, in His Own Long Goodbye, from The World of Raymond Chandler, edited by Miriam Gross)

“It was a role he clearly relished and he drove around Leipzig in a Rolls-Royce flying the Union Jack. Whether or not he intended it, the delegation’s presence provided a valuable propaganda coup for a regime craving international recognition and acutely embarrassed the British government.”        (from the Dictionary of National Biography entry on Rudy Sternberg, Harold Wilson’s dodgy friend, written by Ian Waller)

“When [Harry] Kissin comes to [a brothel] on pleasure bent – always two girls at a time – he invariably uses the telephone in his Rolls Royce … to establish that the talent at his disposal has already arrived.”                          (from a Security Service report on Harold Wilson’s confidant, quoted by Christopher Andrew in Defending the Realm, p 631)

“His [Admiral Cunningham’s} favourite expression, when things seemed to be going too well, was ‘It’s too velvety-arsed and Rolls Royce for me.”                 (from Ben Macintyre’s Operation Mincemeat, p 123)

“In the UK, a Rolls Royce is a symbol of success – a sign that “I have done a proper job in my life and this is how I will reward myself.’”                                                (Torsten Müller-Ötvös, chief executive of RR Motor Cars, quoted in the Times, June 7, 2010)

“I know there are beautiful open drives                                                                                                                                                               Where leisurely cars are waiting:                                                                                                                                                                                   O, why out of all these fortunate lives                                                                                                                                                                  Should I be found wanting?

Will the Rolls draw up at my careless door?                                                                                                                                                           Will the neighbours stand and admire?                                                                                                                                                                      Shall we speed away to a foreign shore,                                                                                                                                                                Shall I have my desire?”                                                                  (from H. B. Mallalieu’s Lament for a Lost Life, 1939)

“In America, she [Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswasser] became a close friend of his [Thelonius Monk’s] and his family’s, drove him around in her Rolls from gig to gig, and paid for his expensive stays in psychiatric hospitals.”  (Patrick Skene Catling in the Spectator, June 26, 2010)

“For all her ambition, Ms. Beckham is not ready to slough off the last remnants of her working-class past. In the 1980s, her father, an electrical distributor, celebrated his own success by trading up from a van to a shiny Rolls-Royce and dropping her off at school in it. Ms. Beckham was mortified. ‘Daddy,’ she remembered begging him, ‘can we please go in the van?’”                            (from article in NYT, September 5, 2010)

“Characteristically, the Burgess reaction to Moscow Centre’s suggestion about buying a car was sublimely different from Cairncross’s response. No Vauxhall for Burgess: ‘I made my painful way to Acton, where I had only to wait a few seconds on the pavement before Burgess made his appearance – it was a Rolls-Royce.’”  (from David Leitch’s Introduction to Yuri Modin’s My 5 Cambridge Friends)

“I thought England was broke but the whole damn city is crawling with Rolls Royces, Bentleys, Daimlers and expensive blondes.”    (Raymond Chandler in a letter home, quoted by David Kynaston in  Family Britain, The Certainties of Place, Part 1, Chapter 5)

“In Bombay I saw the great Gandhi himself come to visit his British dentist in a green Rolls-Royce on which was mounted a sign in five languages saying ‘Boycott British Goods.’”   (David Downes, in The Scarlet Thread, quoted by Christopher Hitchens in Blood, Class and Empire, Chapter 12)

“While he [Dzershinsky] drove around Moscow in an appropriated Rolls-Royce car, he was driven by a zealous belief in the necessity of preserving the ‘quasi religious’ purity of the  Marxist revolution, ascribing it to his determination to ‘embrace all mankind with my love, warm it and to cleanse it of the dirt of human life.’”                                                                                   (John Costello and Oleg Tsarev, in Deadly Illusions, Chapter 2)

“We had meals both ways in the restaurant cars of the trains, and in the afternoons, while he attended his meeting, I, judged too young to cross busy streets, walked round and round St. James’s Park, identifying all the buildings visible from it and counting the number of Rolls-Royces which passed. In 1934 there were a surprisingly large number, forty-seven, I think.”                                    (Roy Jenkins, in A Life At The Center, Chapter 1)

“In the mid-1950s John Milner drove the St Antony’s cricket team to matches in country villages in his fine old Rolls-Royce. On one occasion, the car burst into flames on the return journey.”      (from The History of St Antony’s College, by C. S. Nicholls, p 24)

“There is a rollicking account of Kipling’s motor tours through France in his Rolls-Royce, which quotes his confidential reports to the RAC and AA on restaurant lavatories, hotel letter-boxes and garage mechanics – a glorious catalogue of pleasure, frustration and complaint -…”                                       (from Richard Davenport-Hines’s review of Julian Barnes’s Through the Window, in the Spectator, November 17, 2012)

“He [Rudi Sternberg] drove around Leipzig in his own Rolls-Royce, flying a Union Jack to give the impression that he was an official envoy of Britain.”                                                                                      (Richard Deacon, in The British Connection, Chapter 18)

“In July [1937], Spender made another trip to Spain, this time as a member of the British delegation to the International Conference in Madrid, where he underwent the incongruous experience of being driven around in a Rolls-Royce and supplied with champagne while farm workers were being machine-gunned by Franco’s planes several miles away.”                (James Smith, in British Writers and MI5 Surveillance, 1930-1960)

“His [Harold Laski’s] simple funeral took place four days later at the Golders Green crematorium. Krishna Menon made available the Indian embassy’s Rolls-Royce.” (from Isaac Kramnick’s and Barry Sheerman’s Harold Laski: a Life on the Left, p 577)

“This circle of intellectuals, treated like princes or ministers, carried for hundreds of miles through beautiful scenery and war-torn towns, to the sound of cheering voices, amid broken hearts, riding in Rolls-Royces, banqueted, fêted, sung and danced to, photographed and drawn, had something grotesque about it.” [Writers’ Congress in Madrid, summer 1937]             (from Stephen Spender’s World Within World, p 241)

“When my father was Head Master [at Eton] and later Provost the house was invaded by members of the clergy, most of them coming to preach on Sunday. One of them, a fashionable London parson called, I remember, Eliot, turned up in a Rolls-Royce and when my father went to see him off asked for a fee of fifteen bob.”                                                                                                         (Nicholas Elliott, in With My Little Eye, p 63)

“A small anecdote about one of Churchill’s least favoured parliamentarians, Aneurin Bevan. That man of the people, venerated by the left for inventing the National Health Service despite its Liberal/Conservative antecedents, used to drive down to Wales in a Rolls Royce and then, just short of his constituency, change over to a Morris Minor which he kept secretly in a garage. I was told this by a friend who for many years was Chairman of Lookers plc which owned the garage.” (from correspondence of Nigel Platts, September 17, 2020)

“She [the US Ambassador to Swaziland, Lisa Peterson] had the poor taste to criticise our absolute monarch, King Mswati III, for buying enough brand-new customized Rolls-Royces last year to keep one for himself, give one to the Queen Mother, and distribute the rest to his 15 wives at an estimated cost of $25m.” (from ‘Postcard from Mbabane’, in Private Eye, 11-24 September, 2020)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *