Our Drunken Drive to Didsbury


The old pictures from the great days of the Daily Express Manchester office have brought back happy memories for many. And they have inspired ALAN FRAME to write this hair-raising story.

THE pictures from Ancoats past are particularly nostalgic and remind me of three very happy years there from ’66-69.

But the one from the Jolly John Knill archive, containing on the far left, Bob Spence, brought to mind one particularly hairy drive home from the Express in the middle of the night.

Bob, pictured below right, was Night News Editor and had a 1948 Mark IV Jaguar 2.5 litre Drophead which he was selling. I hadn’t seen it but, being brought up with my father’s vintage cars and the like, I knew exactly what to expect. 

bob spence

It wasn’t remotely pristine (aka a rust bucket) so after negotiations over a few pints in the Land o’ Cakes, Bob trousered my crisp fiver in return for the log book, original sales documents and leather-bound handbook. Bob was to drive to the office in the Jag the following day and hand me the keys, which he did with the warning that the brakes didn’t work. I assumed this meant that they needed a lot of prodding and eventually relining.

But Bob was a man of his literal word – as I discovered when after my shift in the subs’ room I set off, not to Didsbury where I shared a flat with other Express chums – the late great Rory Crilly, Dick Derwent and Ray Heath (also, sadly, the late great) – but to Salford where another of our number lived and who shall remain nameless, not to protect the innocent but because I’m having a bit of a senior moment.

It was about 1am and predictably damp as we headed out of Ancoats with my flatmates in various states of, er, tiredness, in the car. Nearing Piccadilly, the lights changed to red, which is precisely when I realised that if Bob says the brakes don’t work, he means exactly that. Fortunately traffic at that hour in those days was non-existent so we decided to push on very gingerly to Salford.

The trouble was, more drink was taken there and by the time we headed back to Didsbury, there was early morning traffic coming in the opposite direction, all of the drivers blissfully unaware that a 23-year-old drunken imbecile was driving towards them in a 21-year-old car that needed a week’s notice to stop. But it is amazing how useful a manual gearbox is as a means of braking and somehow we made our destination without killing anyone (including ourselves) or alerting the Greater Manchester Constabulary.  

The Jag, brakes never repaired, remained parked in the garden of our flat until I moved six months later to the old Daily Sketch in London and to the embrace of David English. 

I placed an advert in the Manchester Evening News and sold the car for, I think, marginally more than I paid Bob Spence. The buyer was an airline pilot based at Manchester Airport. So this lovely old car was at least going to a good home. Or so I thought until he explained that it would be placed in his garden to be used as an alternative to a tree house for his son and friends to play in. 

That car today, assuming it has been fully restored and with functioning brakes, would sell for £65-80,000.

HOW IT COULD LOOK TODAY: A saloon version of the Mark IV Jaguar owned by Roger Watkins’ half-brother who is seen here with his partner Julie, centre, and Roger’s wife Carol


© 2005-2022 Alastair McIntyre