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Britain's Best Drives: Journeys Back to the Golden Age of Motoring Hardcover – 22 Jan 2009
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In a bid to recreate the golden age of fifties motoring for BBC TV, Richard Wilson packs his picnic, flask and period guidebooks and pulls gently away from the kerb to retrace the routes of six classic UK road tours
About the Author
Richard Wilson is best known for his starring role as Victor Meldrew in BBC television's long-running sitcom One Foot in the Grave. Nigel Richardson is an award-winning travel writer and the former deputy travel editor of The Daily Telegraph. He has written four previous books and is also a radio dramatist.
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Britain's Best Drives [DVD] 
Britain's Best Drives: Journeys Back to the Golden Age of Motoring
The premise - several journeys around the British resorts popular in the 1950s but now less travelled, in classic cars - is splendid. I was certainly anticipating the joys forthcomming of that mixture but should perhaps have been wary of the bargain price in the local book discount store.
Be that as it may, the book seems not to be a great format for blending the classic car element, driving guide, a guide to 50s Great Britain and a history of the development of tourism more generally into a coherent whole. I can certainly imagine a TV series doing better justice to the cars and the roads - as it is, these always look like a forced addition in the book.
On the bright side, each of the journeys has a map to start off with, so it should in principle be possible to recreate the routes the author has taken. From then on the book looses coherence somewhat. Paragraphs about guiding the car through narrow lanes will follow generalisations about there being fewer cars in Britain in the 1950s, to be followed by what the various artists and early travel writers have had to say about the place in question, or interviews with some pre-selected inhabitants (most authors in their own right). The repetitive nature of many of the comments (something perhaps more necessary in a TV series, where not everyone watches all the episodes) begins to grate at some point, too, making you want to skip pages.
I felt like I hardly knew much more about 50s Britain road trips at the end of the book, and I certainly have no idea whether the routes are any good for a road trip, where driving pleasure is one of the requirements. To be honest I have not felt a particularly strong desire to check them out, on the strength of the book. Yet I have tried some of the routes described previously, with the help of AA Best Drives Britain and found them quite exciting (and the information much more easily accessible and helpful). On the other hand the author does a fair job of describing the development of early tourism in Great Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries, as an unexpected bonus.
The writing is also somewhat ponderous. While a learned style is attempted, it will flow much less well than something by say Stephen Fry, who is certainly at least this author's equal when it comes to eloquence but who makes it appear much more coherent, a natural feature rather than a tacked on afterthought. I also found it fairly awkward, when the author attempted to describe he more recent trends and the younger population. His description of goths was somewhat clunky - if, one has to admit, very positive - but his views of eating muesli and wearing sandals as being the cutting edge of risque behaviour today seems to reflect his age somewhat.
I imagine that if you were enticed by the TV series and need a book companion to take with you on those specific journeys, this will serve well enough but I found it did not inspire me to retrace the author's steps, and the things I got in terms of knowledge were definitely not what the title promised. If you are looking for a guide to good drives, this is most certainly not it.
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