22/10/1935 - 18/1/2008
Destined to be remembered as one of the most inventive television producers of his time, Richard Drewett was also a keen and tallented hillclimb driver. Quick and competitive, he was typical of the delightful characters you can still find in the hillclimb paddocks who belong to an era of motor sport which used to value good manners, good humour and a genuine love of the sport more perhaps than they are valued today. Richard Drewett died 13 years ago, he was 73 , He would have been 86.
Richard Drewett was born in Crowborough, East Sussex. He started out as a reporter on the Poole and Dorset Herald and then became a freelance radio scriptwriter before joining the presentation department of the BBC in 1964.
Richard had been hillclimbing since the late 1950s in a great variety of machinery, but with particular loyalty to the marques Frazer Nash and Lotus. His early mounts included Healey Silverstone, Frazer Nash Mille Miglia, AC Ace 2.6 and more than one Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica. He also unearthed the original Peter Bell/Ken Wharton single-seater Formula 2 Frazer Nash, which scored world championship points in the Swiss Grand Prix at Berne in 1952, and was dramatically crashed by Wharton in the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa the same year. It had been converted into a Le Mans Replica, but Richard had it painstakingly restored by Bill Roberts into its original single-seater form.
Another of his discoveries was the Lotus-Buick, the Lotus 15 into which Dizzy Addicott inserted an American V8 power unit in the early 1960s. Richard was at full chat during the Brighton Speed Trials when the nose section came adrift, flew high into the air, and landed on the beach. This gave him an appetite for hairy large-engined Lotuses, and he hillclimbed with great success a Lotus 30, then the ex-Dan Gurney Indianapolis Lotus 29, and finally a Lotus 70 Formula 5000 car. His favourite venues were Goodwood, where he was a regular at the Festival of Speed - always running timed, and more than once winning his class - and Shelsley Walsh, a place that he loved with a passion. In both the Lotus 30 and the 70 he set outright BTDs at Shelsley.
He was a multi-talented individual: an accomplished musician, a collector of first editions, hugely knowledgeable about the cinema, a dry but aimiably unsardonic wit and a brilliant raconteur. He had a long and highly successful career as a TV producer, making many award-winning documentaries down the years. He played a major role in the development of the chat show as it was in its best days, before the presenters started to think they were more interesting than the guests. From the start he was the producer of the original Michael Parkinson Show, and his persuasive charm lured many major stars, from Mohammed Ali to Orson Welles, to appear. He was responsible for the very first programme ever to appear on BBC2, and also came up with the "Evening With...." format showcasing show-business personalities like Dame Edna Everidge and Kenneth Williams. He went on to develop a very fruitful working relationship with Clive James, producing all his television work through the 1980s and 1990s. The driving force behind Clive's occasional TV flirtations with motor-racing subjects was always Richard. His life in show business meant that he had a story, frequently very funny and usually unpublishable, about almost every household name from the past half-century.
At 72 years old he would almost certainly have still been pounding up the hills he loved so much had it not been for the onset of Parkinson's Disease, which he bore with extraordinary good humour and philosophical patience, but which forced him to sell first his Lotus 70 and then his final Le Mans Rep. Although always a quick and competitive driver, in motor racing terms he may not have been a major player; but he was typical of the delightful characters you can still find in the hillclimb paddocks who belong to an era of motor sport which used to value good manners, good humour and a genuine love of the sport more perhaps than they are valued today. His younger brother Christopher, also a hillclimber of speed and flair, is nowadays a commentator at Shelsley Walsh and Goodwood.
With thanks to Simon Taylor