South East Memories

Gordon and Elsie Cobban were key figures in the South Eastern Centre

For the 80th anniversary of MG we asked some of our long-standing members to cast their minds back and recall their early days with the South East Centre:-

Piers Hubbard

“When I joined the Club in 1961 the first natter I visited was at the Sugar Bowl at Burgh Heath, now The Heathside Hotel. One of the first evenings there was a Scalextric session put on by the makers and organised by Gordon Cobban. Needless to say it was packed; we did not manage many visits to the track. Gordon Cobban was the Centre Secretary at that time and, with Elsie, used to visit every monthly natter every month. The Centre was a little larger as we covered everything roughly south east of a line from the Wash to Southampton Water. Centre membership was about the same as now from a much smaller total.

The Centre ran many more events with the help of Gordon’s building business as he used his office staff to do a lot of administration. It was he who “invited” me to be Treasurer in 1965. At that time we were responsible for the Silverstone meeting, it was on a much smaller scale than now, also a race meeting at Brands Hatch with probably a couple of sprints there as well. I remember one sprint in February when we had to ask the marshals to drive round the course for some time in order to clear it from a heavy frost before we could let the sprinters have a go. Another time I was photographing for Safety Fast on the bottom straight when a big Healey burst an oil pipe which deposited all the oil onto the exhaust pipe and the grandstand disappeared. Goodwood was another venue for sprints for us. Once we had to stop the event when they started to drop parachutists over the track; “oh, we didn’t think of that” they said.

We ran a hill climb at Firle in the early 60s. We paid a farmer jointly with the Bentley and Jaguar clubs for its upkeep. The paddock was in a chalk quarry and one year it rained. Geoff Coles had his red J4 there which, like every other car, became covered in white sludge. He won a concours with it the following day. We lost the venue when there was a serious accident at a Jaguar meeting and it was found that we were closing a public road; the farmer didn’t own it.

Beaulieu was another event that we ran for some years, I first went there in 1963 but in later years we took the children and stayed overnight in a local hotel we had the Y-type or Magnette then. Lord Montagu was known to present the prizes.” 

Doug Bush

“I have several early editions of the ‘SE Centre Bulletin’

According to the Jan 67 SE centre Bulletin, Tony Bugbird was the ‘Hautboy’ Ripley Natter co-ordinator (now the Fairmile) and Dave Griffiths also started the ‘George & Dragon Natter at Shipley, Sussex in June 67 (now The Black Horse, Horsham).

In July 67 you could purchase ‘How to run a Motor race’ from the Centre for 3/6d.

The August 68 bulletin shows natters at, Ipswich, Gt Raveley Hunts, High Wycombe, Chelmsford, Newbury, Norwich, Lowestoft, Hampstead, London EC3. Fen Drayton Cambridge, Hartley Witney (I went there in 1972 and swapped the wire wheels on my TD in the car park with George Ward’s steel wheels and a pint of bitter) Halstead Essex, Frilford Heath near Abingdon &  Farringdon Berks. Thus the SE centre covered a very large area in 67/68.

I remember going to the ‘Bull & Butcher’ Natter in 1966 and from 69 onwards when I was working at Heathrow. It was run by John Perrin who had a MG workshop & spares place in Maidenhead.

On Fri 29 Nov 68 a Midnight Matinee of Motoring Films was held at The Odeon , Brentwood, costing 7/6d Circle, 7/6d Back stalls and 5/-d Front stalls,  in aid of a charity. The Oct 68 bulletin also advertises a Charter Flight to see the 1969 Indianapolis 500. The cost of chartering the Boeing 707 was to be £57-00 per person with 185 seats, cost of accommodation and transport around Indy was to be £60-00 for 4 days!”

Doug Bush on a Trial in 2005

Martyn Phillis

“I used to attend a lot of the SE events in the 50s as a youngster – my uncle, Norman Dunton, was Chief Paddock Marshal for the Club. (My job was painting the numbers on all the cars at races, sprints and hill climbs, and generally helping out – though later, I took over the job of Paddock Marshal when my uncle was posted abroad).

We used to have two sprints at Brands each year – spring and autumn, at least one hill climb at Firle in the summer, a Silverstone sprint, and of course, the Silverstone race meeting, which was always the last Saturday in May. There were quite a few Centre driving test events, too, and the California Cup attracted a huge entry, with several teams from each Centre. My uncle Norman, Ron Randall and  John Calton won the cup for the SE Centre five times in the late 50s and early 60s – initially in a selection of MGs, but later with a team of three identical dark blue Midgets, built specially for them by Abingdon.

SE Centre seemed pretty well synonymous with the Club at the time, as Gordon and Elsie Cobban ran Silverstone and nearly everything else very competently – including attending every SE natter, apparently! Gordon, of course, took over the administration of the Club, when the factory ended its involvement, and thus saved us from extinction.

And then there was our annual dinner dance – a huge affair with a massive attendance at the Hyde Park Hotel. Hyde Park and the streets around were clogged with parked MGs of all ages as we flooded in, dressed up in our DJs.

By the early 70s, I’d relocated to the SW (and to Escorts!), so don’t have anything to report between then and the early 90s, when I bought my V8 and rejoined the MGCC and South East Centre.”

Martyn Phillis in his P Type

Tony Bugbird

“I remember starting the Hautboy Natter at Ockham, Surrey.     We always had a guest speaker each month and after only a few months about 50 to 80 members regularly used to turn up.     

S.C.H. (Sammy) Davis was one who came several times and just chatted.  

 I remember when Mike Allison, yes, Mike Allison! came to talk to us one November 5th and I had been experimenting with firing a little rocket from the starting handle hole in my TD’s front bumper.  Mike was very impressed as was the lorry driver on the A3 when I drove home to Hampstead that night!

Another memory of the Hautboy was meeting two charming young lady members, Misses Burbridge, one of whom I eventually married!     Both are very much still Club members.

At that time I had been persuaded to join the South East Centre Committee and I remember the night the Chairman,  Gordon Cobban,  came in late to the meeting waving a letter from a Mr Bentley proposing the MG car Club combine with an MG Owner’s Club to sell insurance and spare parts.     Gordon would have none of it. “ It will not last long “!

I was taking lots of photographs for the Club and remember taking a great picture of the last time the Club had a Le Mans type start at Silverstone.,  in the foreground is Wilson McComb driving Gordon Cobban’s very fast MGA.

My Photography got me a lot of work from Abingdon and I remember especially a photograph of red, white and blue MGAs for the Motor Show stand one year.  There was also a car launch article I provided with photographs, of various celebrities in an MGC GT.    I was just out of hospital and had to be loaded into the back seat, (!), as I was in a plaster cast from the hips up !”