During the 1970 season, Bell’s great friend David Purley sampled what would soon become Bell’s own arena by racing this Chevron B8 at Brands Hatch.
Photo: Peter Collins
I could talk about David Purley, or Dave as I’ve always known him, all day long, but for the sake of this piece I’ll restrict it to a few lines to give readers a glimpse into my view of a truly great character and a very good friend. As boys, we both lived in Bognor Regis, West Sussex, or “Bloody Bognor” as we called it—not too far from Goodwood. I lived on the west side at Pagham, in fact I still have a property there today, and Dave lived on the east side at Middleton. We knew each other probably from the age of 16 or 17, I think he was two, or three years younger than me. He was a real “lad about town” as his dad was very rich, owning the LEC Refrigeration factory, and provided employment for many of the local people. From our first meeting it was clear that Dave wasn’t going to follow the “normal” route anywhere. He was a man’s man… and a woman’s man too. He would always make his own decisions and do what he wanted to do. He would always turn up at the local disco on a smart ’bike, but not superly dressed, usually just T-shirt and jeans and the obligatory crash helmet—he was a “natural” on his machine. We became really close—indeed, he married my girlfriend!
A couple of years passed and then by degrees, especially when I got into racing, we’d not see each other for maybe months—of course he joined the Army, progressing to the Parachute Regiment and saw battle in Aden. I recall one particular incident when he came to visit my house on Boxing Day, we’d have a small party after the local festive “pram” race. He arrived in his father’s Mach 1 Mustang. We went for a drive on what would be fairly deserted village roads, given the time of year. I was at the wheel. I took a lovely sequence of sharp “S” bends a little too wide and fast, when out of the blue a motorcyclist appeared in the middle of the road heading straight for us—he obviously didn’t think there’d be any other traffic around either. Fortunately, with a great deal of opposite lock, I managed to miss the cyclist. A rather relieved Dave said, “That’s my dad’s car Derek; you can’t drive it like that. I’ll get you back for this one day.” Ultimately, he did. He landed his plane in a field just by the front door of my house—the single engine light aircraft owned by the family was called the “Reims Rocket.” He said, “Come on Derek, let’s go for a fly.” We flew to a place called Bembridge on the Isle of Wight, a two-hour trip by car and ferry, but just a few minutes by plane. We landed at a local airfield and had a couple of pints and a pie in the local pub. On the way back, Dave asked me to put some books lying on the floor under my seat, his request had no meaning until he said, “We’ll do a few acrobatics.” It was a beautiful day, clear skies. He did a couple of rolls and loop-the-loops, by that time I wasn’t feeling too good—the drink and pie wanted to revisit!! I asked him to land on the beach and I’d watch him. “Just getting you back for Boxing Day,” he said with a big grin on his face.
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