Tuesday, 9 October 2012
School for Chauffeurs
If only Mellors had been Lord Chatterley's chauffeur, and trained last century by Rolls-Royce, the vexing business with her ladyship might have been avoided. Gardeners were under no obligation to avoid eye contact with the master's family. It was forbidden for chauffeurs. They could proffer an arm to assist elderly or infirm passengers, with the hand clenched to look reassuring, never outstretched. That would have been too familiar. Well-bred chauffeurs did not swivel round when reversing. They sat upright, turned slightly, or kept their hands on the wheel and used the mirrors. Sticking a head out of the window looked bad and they would never put an arm round the back of a passenger’s seat. The chauffeur’s handbook advised on how to address nobility, diplomats, and people in holy orders including, if he happened along, the Pope. (Above) Back seat chauffeur. 2007 chairman and CEO of Rolls-Royce Ian Robertson, with the owner of the 3000th Phantom.
Caps were doffed for royal personages, and replaced when back behind the wheel. Mellors would have been in no doubt about his place. Rolls-Royce’s handbook said firmly, “Avert your eyes from lady passengers wearing revealing clothing.” Advances from Lady Chatterley would have been rejected and, with his eyes steadfastly downcast, the relationship would never have flourished. Chauffeurs, a French term for firemen or stokers looking after the boilers of steam locomotives, would sometimes get airs, regarding themselves as analogous to the skipper of a gentleman's yacht. They were among the best-paid liveried staff, often selected from coachmen accustomed to looking after carriages and were crucial to a well-ordered household. When an Edwardian car was put away for the night, the fuel tank had to be de-pressurised, the clutch braced so that it would not seize, the radiator drained and sundry items greased or oiled. Drive chains were removed and boiled in tallow, the brass burnished, and the coach varnish needed constant attention.
In the 1920s the Duke of Bedford employed 16 chauffeurs, but motor servants got a bad name and the press was full of grumbles about their bossiness, dishonesty and bad driving. “Much of the horror of motoring is centred on the chauffeur,” ran a complainant in 1906. “It is his convenience that must be consulted, it is he who gives the word to stop and to go on, he who decides that you must sleep in Coventry when you intended to go on to Shrewsbury. You may not make plans without consulting him; he is ruthless in his discouragements; he spends your money with a fine liberality.”
With its customary solemnity, Rolls-Royce set up a school for chauffeurs in 1907 which, by the 1980s had developed into a week-long course costing £1,400. It included maintenance, car care, security, first-aid, etiquette, and driving on the road and on the skid-pan. A maintenance lecture included advice on checking fluid levels, changing light bulbs and keeping records. There was a technical briefing, and car care started with washing and polishing - Rolls-Royce advised lots of water, a hose and sponge, and working downwards from the roof. Polishing was encouraged even though its new automated paint plant provided a high-quality gloss. “We take account of the chauffeurs of older cars as well,” said a principal. “There are good practical reasons for keeping a car polished. You can tell if it has been tampered with. Car washes were not recommended and only one newspaper seemed to have the right consistency for cleaning windows, - The Financial Times.”
Security was a separate course and included defensive driving. Rolls-Royce would have preferred owners to be unlikely to get involved in that sort of thing, but discreet armour and bullet-proof glass could be provided. Driving standards were strict. Nothing short of Institute of Advanced Motorists or ROSPA Grade 1 was expected, while safety and smoothness were taken for granted. Rolls-Royce chauffeurs were expected to avoid bumping over catseyes, and to know the owner's favourite radio station or CD. Procedures were laid down with care. A well-bred chauffeur knew how to alight, pocket the keys, walk round the back of the car - a relic of coaching - and open the door. He (it usually was a “he”) knew how to wait, not to eat in the car and never smoke. Only suitable material could be read while waiting, such as the car handbook or highway code and certainly not a tabloid newspaper. “Owners do not expect to pay a person to waste time.” There was not much to show at the end of the course except a certificate, a cap badge, a log book and the famous manual. The certificate could be a passport to a job and the course paid for in upper-class wages.