Thursday, 12 July 2018

Memories of The Bear - A Biography of Denny Hulme - Eoin Young

I recently read Memories Of The Bear, by Eoin Young, a biography of Denny Hulme, the 1967 World Formula 1 champion.

If one of the measures of a good biography is whether it imparts an enriched understanding and appreciation of its subject, then this particular effort generally succeeds, although I would not regard it as a definitive study.

The book contains many amusing anecdotes, and enough to evoke a strong sense of the nature of motor sport in the 1960s. Much use is made of material from Denny's own magazine columns, and this gives the tales a flavour of immediacy, and of how things were done back then. His laconic humour is rather endearing.

One of the things which shines through for me is Hulme's no-nonsense and pragmatic approach to his chosen profession. He has perhaps been seen as something of an enigma, when compared to some of his contemporaries, but upon closer inspection he comes across as a determined and highly capable racer, who has been rather underrated by history.  His achievements were impressive and numerous, and on reflection we do not need to rely solely on the statistics sheets to assess these.

In part due to the era in which he participated, Denny Hulme can be viewed as something of a transitional figure. Old school in some respects, but also very modern in his views on the increasing commercialisation of the sport and on matters of safety.

Highlights of the book include a look at the controversial 1966 Le Mans race, and Denny's mixed experiences at the Indianapolis 500. Not surprisingly, there is major emphasis on the Can-Am series, which provided Hulme with some of his most notable triumphs.

The care taken to examine Hulme's early life, and the values instilled by his upbringing, help us to understood how he turned out as a racing driver. Very much a hands-on figure at the races, and unpretentious in his lifestyle, rather uncomfortable at times with the plaudits and the media attention. I think that some of these traits obscured his genuine merits, and contributed to him being under-estimated.

One area where I think that this biography is slightly lacking is in putting flesh on the bones of his racing career.  What was the background and the motivation behind some of his important career decisions, such as switching teams?  I would have liked more material to join together the racing seasons, and to place them in context. In that sense, the accounts of the racing seasons are a touch dry.

An enjoyable read, but one which left me wanting a bit more.

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