WMRAC 50th Anniversary

50 Years in the Doghouse

Grand Prix royalty from the 50s, 60s and 70s bearing the names of Brooks, Hill, McLaren and Stewart were joined by sixty members and friends of the Women’s Motor Racing Associates Club for an exclusive lunch at The Ivy, in the heart of London’s West End, to celebrate the WMRAC’s 50th Anniversary.

Most celebrated Grand Prix legend, Sir Stirling Moss admitted: “For the first time in my life, I can sincerely say that I regret not being in ‘The Doghouse’! Wishing you all a fabulous time at The Ivy.”

This unique club, universally known as ‘The Doghouse Owners’ Club’ was founded on 7 February 1962 by a group of highly influential ladies. Under the chairmanship of Sheila Van Damm, the committee comprised Mrs Colin Chapman, Mrs John Cooper, Mrs Gregor Grant, Mrs Graham Hill and Mrs John Webb; the acting secretary was Miss Peggy Sandberg (Mrs Peggy Rowe). Bette Hill, who was present at the inaugural committee meeting, was clearly delighted with the Club’s 50th Anniversary celebrations on Tuesday 7 February 2012 in London.

“It’s brilliant! Absolutely marvellous to see so many here today,” Bette effused as she greeted members keen to talk to the Club’s Founding President and former Doghouse cabaret star.

“We’ve shared such marvellous times together over the years,” Bette recalled as she chatted to Pina Brooks, Patty McLaren-Brickett, Doreen Leston, Helen Stewart, President Shirley Procter, Chairman Leonora Hill and – the only gentleman present – guest speaker, former BRM and Williams Grand Prix driver and BRDC Vice President, Howden Ganley.

Following her welcome speech, Doghouse Chairman, Leonora Hill read out a message from the Club’s new Patron, Jodie Kidd: “I am so sorry I couldn’t join you for your lunch today. I would have loved to have been there for my first Doghouse event. Sending my best wishes to everyone, I am absolutely thrilled to be joining as the new Patron, especially on the 50th anniversary – what an achievement!”

After a delicious lunch, Howden managed to calm the high-octane atmosphere by captivating everyone’s attention with hilarious anecdotes about his intimate knowledge of the Doghouse, thanks to his late wife Judy’s love and lifetime commitment to the Club.

“The cabarets were absolute show-stoppers!” Howden enthused.

“They were a great mix of professional dance routines, very funny sketches to very racy numbers with our respectable ladies, scantily clad and singing outrageous things about us drivers, often with news that was news to us!

“I’m sure Eba (Grant) and some of the driver’s wives gave Sylvia (Davis) and Loti (Irwin) the tip-off. But we loved those sketches, especially when the odd mishap occurred, which just added to the charm of the show. Without doubt, the Doghouse Balls were ‘the’ event on the social calendar.

“As the BRDC is the ‘Who’s Who’ of British Motorsport, so the Doghouse Club is the equivalent on the other side of the gender fence, with many famous names still involved and with many of you so well connected within motorsport circles. Of course, the motorsport scene is very different now compared to those early days, when many of the British Grand Prix driver’s wives were members. I’m sure you had a lot more fun, but it was also a more dangerous sport and the Doghouse provided a vital role of support and camaraderie for the wives, especially when tragedy struck.

“Fortunately the sport is far safer now and I have to praise the work of Sir Jackie Stewart, who pioneered safety improvements, often with little support from any drivers like myself, but he stoically continued to champion a safety campaign. So we have much to praise him for today.”

Howden concluded by toasting the Doghouse Club, “to the next 50 years!” to rapturous applause.

Doghouse President, Shirley Procter thanked Howden for such an enjoyable talk, presented him with an exclusive pair of silver Doghouse Kennel cuff-links and announced that he was now an Honorary Member of The Doghouse Owners’ Club, the only man ever to hold that distinction!

Founding Vice-President, Patty McLaren-Brickett said: ‘It’s been a fantastic turn-out. Absolutely terrific and a great way to celebrate our 50th Anniversary!”

As dusk fell on the capital, the Doghouse ladies reluctantly departed, promising to meet at the Club’s next memorable event, the 50th Anniversary Celebration Dinner later in the Autumn.

18 February 2019
Article by James Elliott, Classic & Sports Car