Formula One And Beyond: The Max Mosley Myth

In a departure from the usual style of asketchofthepast.com, I have decided to write a post not only in a far more personal tone, but also about someone who is still very much alive. This is a response to the rather churlish little piece in yesterday’s Daily Mail, and the hackneyed ‘revelation,’ that Max Mosley’s 2015 autobiography, Formula One and Beyond, describes events from half a century ago with ‘selective memory.’ I have yet to come across an autobiography that would not face a similar charge.

Max & OswaldThe passage in the book which struck me most was Mr Mosley’s description of a particular conversation with his father, in which he compared their struggles and achievements at the same age. Sir Oswald, whose political career was effectively finished at the age of 34, replied ‘Well, that just shows what a mistake it is to start too soon.’ For his son, one doubts the fight will ever be over.

I met Max Mosley in September 2015. He had kindly agreed to meet me, in order to speak about his family as well as his own remarkable life. I had heard that he was impossibly charming in the flesh, and he did nothing to dispel such assertions. With the gait and appearance of a man several decades younger, and impeccable manners straight from the pages of Debrett’s guide to etiquette, Mosley embodied the sort of genteel Englishman I had always secretly hoped still existed.

After ordering tea – a macchiato for Max, I enquired about his celebrated aunts, the Mitfords. Honest to a fault, he ventured up amusing personal recollections without hesitation. Having written my thesis on the Bloomsbury Group, the most self-aggrandising and cliquey set one could possibly imagine, I found Max’s own modesty and the complete candour with which he described his famous, and in some cases notorious, relatives, as simply being ‘ordinary people,’ incredibly refreshing. He seemed genuinely confounded by the continuing interest in them.

As an historian of the inter-war period, I thought I knew all about Oswald Mosley and his resignation from the Labour cabinet in 1930, following its rejection of the ‘Mosley Memorandum’ – a series of measures aimed at tackling the dire unemployment situation blighting the United Kingdom at that time.  It turned out, I didn’t. Max told me that he had often asked his father why he had resigned, when he was being touted as a future party leader. Apparently, he replied that he couldn’t stand back and not press for the reforms outlined within his memorandum, not when he saw so many small children in his country running around without shoes.

deboEven before our meeting, I knew that Max had been surrounded by misconceptions since birth – like the falsehood that he was born while his mother was interred in Holloway. His birth actually took place six weeks before her arrest. Max Mosley could have milked these myths and familial connections, both lustrous and tarnished, for all they were worth, but that would have been the easy thing to do. One gets the impression that taking the easy route is simply not his style. Adapting the congenital Mitford love for all things equestrian to the twentieth century, instead, he found his own niche and became a giant of Formula One. Of course, people will always be more interested in the glitz and glamour that has attached itself to him, and continue ignoring the radical automobile safety measures whose worldwide introduction he has successfully campaigned for, effectively saving countless lives.

Although an ardent believer in the complete freedom of the press, I would nevertheless like to see a return to the days when a person’s private life was not automatically considered a matter of public interest, just because an individual happens to be a public figure. Unless some gross hypocritical duplicity were being carried out against that same public. It may be a matter of personal taste, but I find the traducing of a lifetime filled with achievement, for no more reason than keeping a failing scandal sheet like the News of the World alive, for another tawdry week, to be a much more sordid business.

1969My overriding impression of Max Mosley is that he is a profoundly benevolent man who pours a significant amount of his own money into causes he feels passionately about. It may be holding a powerful press accountable for misdeeds, which as a rule affect people without the resources to defend themselves, or, the treatment of those suffering from acute clinical depression. In either case the ruin that can be wrought against the impacted individual, and their family, unless it happens to you personally, should not be underestimated.

A desire to perpetuate such a status quo, for profit, quite possibly has much more to do with recent articles than any genuine yearning to protect the press. Whether one agrees with him or not, Mosley is evidently someone who when faced with the odds needs a cause to champion, perhaps not in part, because of the history of his family, torn asunder by allegiances which then divided a world into war. It was this kind of indomitable spirit that triumphed in 1945 – God help us that it now elicits derision.

A Violent Life: The Prophecies of Pier Paolo Pasolini

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Pier Paolo Pasolini

In the early hours of 2nd November 1975, a mutilated body was discovered on the Lido di Ostia, a district of Rome by the Tyrrhenian Sea. Badly beaten, burnt and crushed, having been repeatedly run over by a car; it was a violent and ignoble end to the life of a man whose artistic and intellectual valour had made him an Italian cultural icon. Pier Paolo Pasolini was born in Bologna on 5th March 1922, his mother was a teacher and his father an Italian army lieutenant with Fascist sympathies, who was credited with identifying and capturing Anteo Zamboni, a 15 year-old anarchist who attempted to assassinate Mussolini during a March on Rome celebration parade in Bologna on 31st October 1926. The shot fired by Zamboni missed the Prime Minister, and the teenager was set upon and lynched by a Fascist squad. Today, the Mura Anteo Zamboni a street in Bologna, bears his name, and a plaque marks the spot where he was found.

Like many scholars and poets before him, such as René Daumal and Roger Gilbert-Lecomte, Pasolini idolised Arthur Rimbaud and began writing poetry as a way of coping with the family’s frequent relocations. Returning to the city of his birth to enrol at the Literature College of the University of Bologna in 1939, Pasolini developed a passion for the cinema as well as poetry after attending a film club. Failing to establish his own poetry magazine with his friend and fellow poet Roberto Roversi, Pasolini self-published a volume of his own works in 1941, entitled Versi a CasarsaWritten mostly in Friulian, a language spoken in the Friuli area of North-East Italy, where his family were then living in the commune of Casarsa, Pasolini developed a lifelong affinity with the unique identity and culture of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region.

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Pasolini in Casarsa

A trip to Nazi Germany in 1941 gave Pasolini further cause to question the political regime in Italy, and he concluded that his own outlook was best represented by Communism. In September 1943, Pasolini was drafted and taken as a prisoner of war by the Germans. However, he soon escaped and made his way back to Casarsa. To make ends meet, he began tutoring students whose educations had been disrupted by the war, and it was with one of these students that he engaged in his first love affair, having previously suppressed his homosexuality. Continue reading

Sacrifice: The Sacred Voice of Belkis Ayón

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Belkis Ayón

On 12th September 1999, the Cuban art world was left reeling reeling by the news that one of its brightest stars had fatally shot herself at the age of 32. No note was found, and she had been considered in good spirits by her family and friends. To this day, as her sister Katia has sadly remarked, the reason for Belkis Ayón’s suicide remains a secret that she took with her ‘to the grave.’ Her legacy is a collection of images that are at once terrifying, tragic and haunting, yet exuberant, invigorating and exhilarating. As a visual manifestation of Ayón’s perceptions of her native Cuba, her art is both powerful and valuable; furthermore it speaks not only of her feelings about life, but also her attitude towards death.

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Belkis Ayón in her studio

Born in Havana on 23rd January 1967, Belkis Ayón Manso was one of two daughters from a relatively affluent Afro-Cuban family. At the age of 6, she began to show an interest in painting, leading her parents to enter her into a school competition, which she won. In 1979, she enrolled at the School of Plastic Arts, and two years later, she entered the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes “San Alejandro” – Cuba’s most prestigious art school, graduating in 1986 before starting a degree in printmaking at the Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA). As she studied for her degree, her work was displayed in over thirty exhibitions across Cuba and Latin America. Continue reading

Inside Out: The Secret Games Of Catya Sassoon

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Catya Sassoon with her parents (1969)

Catya Sassoon was born in New York on 3rd September 1968. As the daughter of the world-famous hairdresser, Vidal Sassoon and his actress wife Beverly Adams, she was thrust into the limelight from an early age, destined to follow in the footsteps of her celebrity parents. Their divorce in 1980 was a traumatic experience for Catya, and as a result, she began to rebel against the strong, yet understated hairstyles that were her father’s signature, instead cutting her own hair into a eye-catching multi-coloured mohawk. Abandoning her studies, she instead spent most of her time partying with her older friends, on one occasion causing mayhem at her father’s Hollywood mansion by filling the swimming pool with his own-brand shampoo. But as Catya would always claim, ‘I never listen to what people say. I mean, I don`t care what they say. I’m not living for my dad, I’m not living for my mother. I’m living for me. Me!`

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Catya Sassoon

At 14, she moved to Manhatten from California, leaving the prestigious Beverly Hills High School to become a model. With her willowy figure, luxuriant auburn hair and piercing gray eyes, Catya was immediately signed by one of the city’s top agencies, and was soon gracing the covers of magazines like Seventeen and Cosmopolitan. Appearing in Rolling Stone in 1985, the caption beside her photograph declared, ‘Catya Sassoon defines the word nubile.’

Yet as she recalled, in many respects, it was a far from glamorous existence and at times ‘was sheer hell living there with 12 girls fighting for one of the two available showers every morning at 6.’ After hearing his daughter’s complaints about the daily clamour for the bathroom, Vidal Sassoon bought her a penthouse apartment. Continue reading