Monday, 24 December 2012
The National Motor Museum is 40. I first went to the rather ramshackle buildings of the former Montagu Motor Museum in the 1960s, and attended the opening of what seemed at the time a rather bizarre permanent home on 4 July 1972. (Although unaccountably missing from the picture of the Duke of Kent and Lord Montagu at the ceremony). Beaulieu has always had shortcomings. It has to pander to the cheap seats, with exhibitions of James Bond cars and “themes” that may not have much to do with motoring heritage. Yet you must allow for a certain commercial waywardness to ensure the turnstiles keep turning. There has to be sufficient income to sustain its exemplary research facilities and notable libraries. Beaulieu has a priceless collection of books and magazines, which it makes available equally to serious students and amateur researchers. It was also a favourite destination for small daughters who loved the rides and the model trains (below).
Notably Beaulieu works with exemplary grace. The library (pictured with the Duke now), under Caroline Johnson, is staffed with the politest and most patient people in the business. Stephen Vokins, the film and video archivist is a fund of knowledge, and public relations officer Margaret Rowles has the unique distinction among PROs of always seeming pleased to hear from you. I know similar libraries and collections who work on the principle that they are places for keeping things in, and not ever allowing anything out. Beaulieu, by contrast, is a triumph of communication. I have commented before on its Friends’ Newsletter, which is a modest publication, yet invariably has an enthusiastically written item containing something you didn’t know before. Happy Christmas Beaulieu, and double congratulations on being chosen as Museum or Collection of the Year, gaining a Lifetime Achievement Award for Lord Montagu.