Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


BEING ENTHUSED about classic cars, vintage aircraft and English mystery stories, I recommend the BBC TV adventures of Father Brown. In a recent PBS presentation, this parish priest/amateur sleuth found himself piloting one of Britain’s iconic aircraft. In an earlier adventure, his sleuthing took him to a sports car hill climb, indeed at one of the world’s oldest auto racing venues.


Gilbert Keith Chesterton, 1874 – 1936, English polymath, creator of the Father Brown series of mysteries.

G.K. Chesterton, creator of Father Brown, was a writer, poet, dramatist, philosopher, literary and art critic, journalist and lay theologian. Father Brown first appeared in Chesterton’s 1910 short story originally titled “Valentin Follows a Curious Tale.” Published in the American Saturday Evening Post, this story later appeared as “The Blue Cross” in London’s Story Teller magazine.

Father Brown has been depicted over the years in radio, film and TV around the world, the current BBC TV series starting in 2013 and renewed through this year. The era is moved to the early 1950s, the setting a fictional village of Kembleford in the Cotswolds, a picturesque region 90 miles northwest of London. In fact, filming was done in Blockley, a Cotswold village in Gloucestershire. (And isn’t it amazing all the crime that occurs in such idyllic surroundings?)


Father Brown, played by Mark Williams. Image from BBC/Gary Moyes.

Father Brown is the parish priest for Kembleford’s Saint Mary Roman Catholic Church. Its TV stand-in is Blockley’s Saints Peter and Paul, a Church of England parish church dating from late Norman times, built around 1180.


1946 Auster J/1 Autocrat. Image by Adrian Pingstone.

Father Brown is not particularly enamored of flight. However, in “The Missing Man,” an episode in the U.S. PBS 2016 season, he unravels a family crisis that reaches its denouement when daughter Millie leaves him at the controls of an Auster Autocrat. The Autocrat is a high-wing three-passenger light plane that evolved from World War II observation duties to become Britain’s most popular private aircraft. More than 400 were built between 1945 and 1952.


Auster J/1 Autocrat of London Aero & Motor Services Ltd. Image from Private Aircraft, Business and General Purpose, Since 1946, by Kenneth Munson, Macmillan, 1967.

The Autocrat began as an American Taylorcraft Plus D built under license in Britain during the war. In 1946, an Autocrat gained fame as the first civilian aircraft to visit an aircraft carrier, HMS Illustrious in the English Channel. Like their American Piper Cub counterparts, many Autocrats continue with private owners around the world today.

“The Laws of Motion” was an appropriately titled Father Brown episode taking place at a sports car hill climb. Not just any studio back-lot venue, though, but the real thing: Shelsley Walsh, one of the oldest motorsports venues in the world, first run in 1905.

The Worcestershire village of Shelsley Walsh is about 150 miles northwest of London. The hill climb, standardized in 1907 at 1000 yds., has a steepest grade of 1 in 6.24, 16 percent. These days, Shelsley Walsh Speed Hill Climb events include modern race cars as well as those of various vintages classes.


A drivers’ meeting at Shelsley Walsh unlike most others. This and the following images from

Members of the Midland Automobile Club and their cars were invited to be extras in “The Laws of Motion” episode. Of course, everyone dressed in period garb.


Father Brown expresses his enthusiasm for the 24-liter Napier-Bentley.

Organizers report that Mark Williams, aka Father Brown, was much impressed by the unholy fury of the 24-liter Napier-Bentley leaving strips of rubber and clouds of smoke in its upward passage.


The Napier-Bentley on its way up Shelsley Walsh.

Having ever so briefly driven a similar car, the Napier-Railton, I share the good Father’s enthusiasm. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2016


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