The London Motor Boat Racing Club was formed in 1956 with the aim to organise and promote the sport of circuit powerboat racing. It's first venue was at Chertsey in Surrey, which has long since disappeared under the M3 on its way to Southampton. In 1959 the Club moved to Iver Heath in Buckinghamshire. In 1984, the Club's races were halted and the existing buldings were demolished to make way for the new London Orbital Road (commonly known as the M25). By the time it was completed the circuit found itself surrounded by the M25 with major junctions on either side. This meant that the Club had to rebuild itself from scratch.
The sketch of the course is taken from the book Powerboat Racing by Bill Shakespeare.
The following article was first published in Powerboat International Magazine, 1983. Author credit needed.
When you see Len Britnell, Commodore of the London Motor Boat Racing Club, you know that not very far away will be his wife, Edie, (usually clutching a handful of entry forms or some other official looking document) and Jamie, their 6 year old terrier, trying to tell the whole of the pits area that he needs some attention! Here is the couple who are totally committed to the powerboat world and are dedicated to the sport. But, their love goes far beyond this as all the active members of the London Club are Len & Edie’s children and Edie always refers to “our drivers” or “my driver” as though she is putting a protective arm around them. The last 18 months have not been easy for them as three members of their “family” have been tragically killed in powerboat accidents. I refer of course, to, Dave Mason, Mick Chick and Peter Inward. The fellowship of the powerboat racing fraternity have helped to pull them through but I know that Mick in particular was very close to the Britnells and his loss affected them both very deeply.
Len loves the club’s family atmosphere and cannot bear to go and see his beloved lake being bulldozed and cleared in preparation for the new M25 Motorway, but when the road is completed in 1985 and the new layout of the Iver venue is seen, Len is sure that this will attract a lot of new members to the club. ‘Let’s face it, there will be a junction virtually a mile either way of the club and whilst travelling along the motorway you will actually be able to see the lake underneath, that’s got to be a good bit of publicity.’ But, let’s turn the clock back to the past, before we look into the future.
In the early 1950s, whilst on holiday (no, not at Southend) but at Oulton Broad, Len & Edie first saw hydroplane racing. The London Motor Boat Racing Club was formed in 1956 and first raced hydroplanes at Lavenders Lake, Chertsey, which is somewhere under the M3. The club moved to its present home in 1958 and when Len & Edie joined in 1959 there were about 50 active members racing and skiing. Racing membership today only stands at 60, but of course we have a lot more social members now. In the olden days, Len says ‘We didn’t have the luxury of the workers and the drivers, we all had to muck in. we had Peter Benstead racing and then fixing the handicaps!! Tony Needel, Chief Scrutineer and working in timing as well.’ To highlight the solid family feel of the club, there has only been 4 commodores in the club’s 27 years existence. Cyril Benstead was the first Commodore from inception until his death in 1963, when his son took over until 1969. Jimmy Baird, (Len reckons was the best commentator we ever had) was Commodore for just one year and had to retire due to ill health. Len has now been Commodore for 12 years. In those 12 years, he has seen many changes in the sport, but is not one for looking back, but looks forward to the future and feels that his dreams will be fulfilled when the Harp UK Powerboat Grand Prix is staged in the Royal Victoria Dock, London at the end of August.
Len himself, raced from 1959-
However, if we went on our own, the costs would be prohibitive and in the end the drivers would have to pay. We are part of the RYA set up and considering how small we are in comparison with other sections of boating, we are very lucky to get what we do out of them. If we do not attract new young drivers into the sport of circuit powerboating and get back to our heyday of the late 1960s when we had 500 drivers or thereabouts, our sport will not be in existence in 10 years time.
There are a lot of drivers still running, who were racing in the 60s and at present we have nothing like the quantity of drivers to take their places in years to come. To attract new people into the sport, we must try and involve the spectators. Some of the Clubs seem a little aloof towards the public. Oulton Broad is a good club, PR wise, as so many people go and watch the racing whilst on holiday and the local press cover all their events and are aware of what powerboating is and who the local powerboating personalities are!
Each major course offers something different. Fairford is a good spectator course, but for the “worker”, Holme Pierrepont has all the facilities an organiser could want. Windermere is a beautiful circuit, but really cannot offer very much to a major prospective sponsor because of its facilities. Of course, because of the ever increasing speeds, certain courses have got to be limited and barriers are a must.
But to the future:-
Len and Edie’s dream is the London Docks Race and they feel that they have learned a lot from the errors that were made when they held the other two Thames Races. ‘I think the whole sport must treat the Docks as a catalyst for future powerboating – TV exposure is very important in the development of powerboat racing. A major event sponsorship can in his opinion, lead to individual sponsorship and vice versa and it is very important that we do attract new sponsors into our sport, large and small, and London is an ideal place to attract them. It is Len’s personal ambition to see powerboat racing on an equal footing to motor racing and to do this we need people like Gideon Lloyd of Sports Sponsorship International. As a promoter he can use an awful lot of his time and expertise in attracting large sponsors into our sport. To run a large meeting today, has now gone far beyond the capabilities of any club. The clubs should concentrate on running the races and let promoters run the event! The idea of London is to take attractions to the people rather than people to the attractions. The public can be wooed into this large arena of spectacle and only promoters like Gideon know how to do this. They are professional people and lets face it, this is a massive PR exercise for the sport and the sponsors. The advertising for the Harp UK Powerboat Grand Prix is colossal – buses, underground trains, trains, plus TV advertising. Capitol radio is literally saturating the London area and this is what it needs, because people are just not aware of it as a thrilling sport. Let’s just hope that it all works for the future of the sport.
Len, who is an Insurance Motor Claims Assessor by profession, has been in the motor trade all his life. He is very interested in creative audio tape work and used to enter competitions in his younger days. He is also very interested in fairground organs and steam rallies.
Here is a couple, who first met on holiday at Ramsgate in 1948, got married 4 years later, and are now looking forward to retirement away from work and to living to a ripe old age so that they can devote even more time to powerboat racing.
The following news cuttings and programmes were taken from the SMBC scrapbook, kindly loaned by Roy Clarke.
The three below are from 1965
Left from 1968
Followed by 1966 Yardley Trophy programme
The following page is from Raceboat Magazine, June/July 1993.