FOR the United Kingdom, the 1960s were strange and interesting times.
As a nation, we had finally regained some national confidence after the devastation and long-term rationing of the Second World War (the rationing, after all, had only ceased for Britain in 1954). To add to this, there had been the political embarrassment of the Suez crisis, and the population was rapidly rising.
From the midst of all this turmoil emerged many notable things. Primarily, these included hippies, the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, and a ‘New Town’ called Milton Keynes.
If we discount the hippies for the moment, there is more similarity between the latter two than one might at first imagine.
In order to relieve pressure on housing in London in light of the population increase, it was decided by Parliament that several waves of ‘New Towns’ were to be built in the southeast of the country. Milton-Keynes was to be by far the largest and most ambitious of the scheme.
Consequently, on the 23rd January 1967, Milton Keynes was officially designated a ‘New Town’. What was fascinating about Milton Keynes was the forward thinking, modernist approach to town design and planning of founding architect, Derek Walker.
Walker took his inspiration from the Californian urban theorist Melvin Webber, and this inspiration is plain to see if one looks at Milton Keynes from above.
Unlike the majority of towns and cities in the UK, which have grown from little village centres over hundreds of years, the ‘clean sheet’ approach taken by the town planners allowed complete freedom to use any layout they chose.
Thus, Milton Keynes’ roads followed the American style grid and road naming system much preferred by Webber, rather than the somewhat higgledy-piggledy nature of roads in most British cities.
By now, you might well be wondering why on earth a piece on a 1960s British ‘New Town’ has appeared on a luxury car website. Indeed, that would be a very fair question.
The fact is, the similarities between one of the World’s best known luxury cars, the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow and Milton Keynes are pretty strong.
You see, as with Milton Keynes, the Silver Shadow followed a modernist approach towards design. The head of the styling team, John Blatchley, was charged with shaking off Rolls-Royces’ hitherto old-fashioned image.
To his credit, Blatchley managed this feat without losing all the elements of character that allowed Rolls-Royce the undoubted success it had enjoyed until then.
Like Milton Keynes, the design of the Silver Shadow employed all the new fangled technical expertise available at the time, though this author would suggest that the lines of some of the more concrete ridden 1960s buildings of Milton Keynes have not mellowed with age quite so well as those of the Silver Shadow.
I must confess that I really warmed to Milton Keynes, much as I did to the Silver Shadow. Both are obvious contrasts to the accepted wisdom of what went before, yet both manage to retain an element of their predecessors charm and character.
Perhaps it is for this reason that both designs succeeded in their aim of subtle modernisation in such a big way.
THE day started at a motel at Baldock, north of Stevenage.
Our journey headed west along the A507 towards Milton Keynes, then took the A5 northwest towards Towcester.
Our first port of call was to be the headquarters of the Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts’ Club at Paulerspury.
The weather was quite unpredictable for most of the day. Consequently, some of the shots came out looking rather moody.
From Paulerspury, we headed back southeast along the A5, otherwise known as the London road, towards Milton Keynes again. For most of its length, the A5 runs as straight as an arrow. Like many similar roads in the UK, this is because it follows the course of an old Roman road.
The next stop was for lunch, at a Little Chef on the A5, just off the Old Stratford roundabout.
After lunch, we continued southeast along the A5, towards Milton Keynes.
We rejoined the A5 for just long enough for us to skirt around Bletchley, home to Bletchley Park, the famous headquarters of the UK’s decryption facility during the Second World War.
After driving along the A421 for a short hike, we rejoined the A507 we had last travelled that morning in the opposite direction. We were heading east, back towards the motel, and the day was drawing to a close.
However, we still had time for one more stop, at The Black Horse, a lovely little pub at Ireland, near Shefford.
It was a perfect setting.
The late afternoon breeze that rustled through the wheat provided a fitting ending to a jolly fine day.
The Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow
By John Sweeney | IMG from TV series The Sweeney via IMCDB
IT might sound rather melodramatic, and just a trifle mawkish, but ever since I was a child, I have admired the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow.
To this author, even then, it was such a wonderful design – graceful lines, lots of chrome, wood and leather. And, to a small boy, such a size!
That fondness for the Silver Shadow has not dimmed over the years. So, when I was asked to review one by the esteemed Editor of this website, I rather too quickly launched into a flurry of great excitement. Little did I realise that things were not going to be as simple as I had foolishly assumed.
First, there was the question of the car itself.
One was quickly found, a stunning 1975 breed, in a very pretty Caribbean blue. The car belonged to a Rolls-Royce Enthusiast’s Club member, who proved to be kindness personified when it came to suggestions on the day. Paradoxically, as it turned out, what I assumed to be the most difficult element proved the simplest of the entire venture.
Then there was the question of the insurance.
This proved to be a particular problem. Insurance companies in the UK are traditionally rather inflexible. Perhaps this is so the world over, but what was needed was a means to be insured just for a day, and my mainstream insurance company would not play ball.
Thankfully, classic car insurance companies are (moderately) more flexible in their outlook towards, let’s be honest, a twenty-four year old student who just fancies driving a Rolls-Royce for the day, and whose own car is a twenty-four year old, very beige Honda Accord. In fact, when looked at in this way, it’s a miracle in itself that permission to drive the car was given at all.
Finally, it looked as if all was set. Could one perhaps entertain the notion of relaxing a little?
Complacency can be a dangerous state of mind, and one last, unexpected obstacle cropped up rather late in the day. In what one might regard as a fit of jealousy, this author’s car, previously so reliable, had to be taken off the road for some rather unexpected attention, which rather scuppered the carefully planned transport arrangements. Oh dear!
Back to square one, then?
Well, surprisingly, no. An exceedingly kind friend volunteered to drive, even though she knew the Shadow was down at the other end of the country. For this most generous gesture, this author shall be eternally grateful!
Then, all of a sudden, we were there. In rather a daze, I found myself sitting at the wheel of a car I rather suspected I would not be driving for many years to come.
Then came the moment to which three weeks of hard work on so many fronts had been leading. The time had come for us to ‘proceed’, as the Shadow handbook might have put it, and it proved, in an instant, to be worth all the preparation necessary to make it so.