LUNCH WITH … BILL GAVIN, “THE MAN WITH THE IN­TER­EST­ING LIFE” — PART TWO

“THE MAN WITH THE IN­TER­EST­ING LIFE” MOVES ON TO TEAM MAN­AGE­MENT, BAND MAN­AGE­MENT, AND TO MOVIE MOGUL

New Zealand Classic Car - - CONTENTS - Words: Michael Clark Photos: New Zealand Clas­sic Car and Bill Gavin Col­lec­tion

Non-cham­pi­onship For­mula 1 (F1) races were com­mon­place in the 1960s. In­deed, in 1960, the year Bill ar­rived from New Zealand, there were five in Eng­land alone. That year, 10 races counted to the world cham­pi­onship and some en­trants only oc­ca­sion­ally at­tempted to get a car into a Grand Prix (GP). One such pa­tron was Amer­i­can Louise Bry­den-brown. Her fam­ily was a ma­jor share­holder in the Alu­minium Com­pany of Amer­ica (Al­coa). She was a so­ci­ety fig­ure with a mag­nif­i­cent house in Mont­pe­lier Square in cen­tral Lon­don, where young artists and sculp­tors con­gre­gated. She also had a fond­ness for mo­tor rac­ing and ran a Lo­tus 18 for Dan Gur­ney in 1961, at which time he was a works Porsche driver, and also Tony Maggs. In 1966 it be­came Lon­don’s head­quar­ters for Play­boy, and it was where Bill met his first wife, in 1964.

“Louise wasn’t up to run­ning a Grand Prix car any longer, but she of­fered me a room on the fifth floor while I edited Au­to­course,” re­calls Bill. “Robert Car­rier, one of the orig­i­nal celebrity chefs, of­ten vis­ited, so the din­ner par­ties were fairly spec­tac­u­lar. Louise now owned Au­to­course. I changed the di­rec­tion of it to make it more of a glossy pub­li­ca­tion. She threw a party for ad­ver­tis­ers and there were also mod­els there. I no­ticed this beau­ti­ful girl and asked her who she worked for. She said, ‘Au­to­course’, and then she no­ticed my badge that said I was the ed­i­tor. She re­sponded with, ‘Oh, well that’s not go­ing to work’. Her name was Jane Daw­son

and she mod­elled for Mary Quant, Pierre Cardin, and Worth, among oth­ers — she was right up there.”

Bill and Jane mar­ried two months later, three weeks af­ter their first date.

Mo­tor noter to fea­ture writer

By 1964, Bill was cov­er­ing mo­tor rac­ing for Au­toweek, and then, late in 1965, he was ap­proached by Amer­i­can mag­a­zine

Car and Driver to be its Euro­pean ed­i­tor, but these ti­tles fade into the back­ground com­pared with the in­vi­ta­tion to be­come a fea­ture writer for the Sun­day Times: “I got a phone call from Max Boyd some­time in 1964 — he was their mo­tor­ing correspond­ent — and he told me they were look­ing for some­one ‘to do stuff’ and that ‘I’ve given them your name’.” Bill’s col­umns typ­i­cally had a mo­tor­ing bent, in­clud­ing a story on of­froad ve­hi­cles and an­other en­ti­tled ‘A Mug’s Guide to Park­ing’. “It was when park­ing me­ters were first in­tro­duced,” he says.

It was at the US GP at Watkins Glen in Oc­to­ber 1964 that Bill first met

John Franken­heimer who was plan­ning a movie based on F1.

“We met up again at Mex­ico and he in­vited me to work on the film right from day one. He was a lovely man, very bright,” Bill says.

By now Bill was mar­ried and ex­tremely busy: “As the film was be­ing made dur­ing 1966, I was writ­ing the [Jim] Clark book and was still Euro­pean ed­i­tor for Car and Driver. I flew out to Los An­ge­les to in­ter­view Franken­heimer and he showed me seg­ments of the film.”

Bill no­ticed some anom­alies. “I told him, but if the hero doesn’t win there and there, then he won’t win the cham­pi­onship … He said, ‘We need you here’. Ini­tially, I’d had been en­gaged to write the nar­ra­tion that ran over the rac­ing se­quences but even­tu­ally my role be­came much more sig­nif­i­cant.”

Fea­ture writer to screen­writer

Did Bill ex­pect the movie to be a suc­cess? “I think we did. It was one of the big­gest bud­gets ever, not far off the Cleopa­tra film — not that that means it will be suc­cess­ful. I al­ways hoped it would be suc­cess­ful sim­ply be­cause every­one was work­ing so hard.”

Bill’s role was work­ing with the ed­i­tors, in­clud­ing en­sur­ing the sound was ac­cu­rate. “Two of those ed­i­tors I worked with got Os­cars, as did the sound ed­i­tor,” he says.

Franken­heimer must have been im­pressed be­cause an­other of­fer came Bill’s way.

“He wanted me to work as a screen­writer. I tried, but hon­estly, what did I know about screen­writ­ing?”

Af­ter so many years of work­ing all hours, Bill took 1967 off. “For the first time in my life, I was fi­nan­cially ahead of the game. Jane had left me, tem­po­rar­ily, and so I went to Tu­nisia where the sun shone and liv­ing was cheap. I was try­ing to write treat­ments for Franken­heimer, which es­sen­tially meant break­ing down a novel to es­tab­lish if it had po­ten­tial for mak­ing it into a film. I found it all very dif­fi­cult and even­tu­ally de­cided that it wasn’t some­thing I re­ally wanted to do,” he tells me.

This meant that, af­ter at­tend­ing ev­ery F1 race since the start of his writ­ing ca­reer, Bill only went to one GP in 1967: “Af­ter trav­el­ling so much with Denny [Hulme] in 1960, it was a shame that I saw so lit­tle of his cham­pi­onship sea­son, but I was so chuffed

“He wanted me to work as a screen­writer. I tried, but hon­estly, what did I know about screen­writ­ing?”

when he won the ti­tle and I phoned him at the end of the sea­son.”

Af­ter re­unit­ing with Jane, Bill started mak­ing plans for 1968. “I re­ally was miss­ing mo­tor rac­ing. We had Innes [Ire­land, the Scot who had given Team Lo­tus its first F1 win in 1961] around for din­ner one night. He was sports ed­i­tor for Au­to­car at the time, and asked if I could cover the For­mula 2 race at Hock­en­heim for him,” says Bill.

It was the fate­ful meet­ing that claimed the life of Jim Clark. “Of all my driver friends who were killed, Jimmy’s was the only funeral I went to. I sup­pose that might say some­thing about me, but gosh it was a tough time.”

Shortly af­ter­wards Bill was a fea­ture writer for a new weekly called Speed­world In­ter­na­tional.

In ad­di­tion to his punchy ‘Bill­board’ col­umn in each is­sue, Bill also started a se­ries en­ti­tled ‘A New Look at Old Faces’: “I re­viewed the ca­reers of the ex­ist­ing driv­ers and I sup­pose there were times when what I wrote wasn’t all that com­pli­men­tary. There was cer­tainly a bit of ici­ness from Chris [Amon] af­ter­wards. Although he never said any­thing, I was pretty sure he’d read my col­umn.”

Screen­writer to team man­ager

But any con­cern that Bill might have had of an is­sue be­tween the two of them van­ished when Chris ap­proached Bill at the 1969 Span­ish GP with an ex­tra­or­di­nary of­fer. “Out of the blue, Chris asked me, ‘Are you do­ing the Can-am se­ries?’ fol­lowed by, ‘Would you like to be team man­ager?’” It is im­por­tant at this point to high­light that the team in ques­tion hap­pened to be Fer­rari. “What a mess. There was no money and, for most of the sea­son, I was fi­nanc­ing the team off my Din­ers card.” So how did Bill end up run­ning a rac­ing cam­paign — for Scud­e­ria Fer­rari, no less — with­out any pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence of team man­age­ment? “I as­sume Chris needed some­one he could trust,” Bill re­sponds. “Fer­rari had very lit­tle to do with it, re­ally. They built the car and sent it to Amer­ica, but that was re­ally about where their in­ter­est ended, although they did con­tinue to ser­vice their un­re­li­able en­gines. We didn’t even have cars for us all to get around. I had to pull in some favours with some old friends at Ford.”

The team didn’t even have a base. “We moved to Pine Lake, about 20 min­utes north

of Detroit and set up home with Jane and one-year-old Gavin. Part of the rea­son we chose Detroit was be­cause that was where the Mclaren Can-am team were based. They were mates and they would be able point us in the right di­rec­tion for a num­ber of things,” he says.

Bill nods in agree­ment when I re­lay what Chris told me about the 1969 Can-am Fer­rari: fan­tas­tic chas­sis, over­weight, and no power. “Ab­so­lutely,” he says, “and Chris was driv­ing beau­ti­fully. He re­ally was one of those driv­ers who shone with lots of horse­power. With a Chev in the back, it would have been great.”

Mclaren won all eleven rounds of the Can-am cham­pi­onship in 1969. The ti­tle went to Bruce on 165 points from Denny on 160. The other Kiwi, the one in the red car, had a sec­ond and two thirds. Chris even man­aged to lead the Mclarens oc­ca­sion­ally but in Bill’s view, “that had prob­a­bly more to do with Bruce and Denny than any­thing else”.

Too high a price

“Out of the blue, Chris asked me, ‘Are you do­ing the Can-am se­ries?’ fol­lowed by, ‘Would you like to be team man­ager?’” It is im­por­tant at this point to high­light that the team in ques­tion hap­pened to be Fer­rari

At the end of 1969, the Gavins re­turned to Lon­don and Bill was now writ­ing for Au­tosport when the bomb­shell hit, on 2 June, that Bruce Mclaren had been killed. Bill had first met Bruce in New Zealand be­fore he’d left for Eng­land in early 1960 and had trav­elled to races with him.

“I can still re­mem­ber his me­chan­ics Cary Tay­lor and Jimmy Stone were board­ing a plane with us in Michi­gan only a few weeks later and it was still al­most im­pos­si­ble to even speak about, it was so un­be­liev­able. I was in and out of Mclaren all the time, and we’d ar­ranged that Cary and Jimmy would board with us. Bruce, like Jimmy, was some­one you never thought would die rac­ing; he was just so ac­cu­rate and al­ways seem to drive within him­self. I have to ac­knowl­edge that I might not have had a ca­reer in rac­ing ex­cept that first year he re­ally was so kind. He in­tro­duced me to driv­ers, team man­agers; he made a point of do­ing it,” he says.

Bruce’s death caused Bill to se­ri­ously ques­tion his friend­ships with driv­ers: “By then I was re­ally get­ting dis­af­fected with rac­ing re­la­tion­ships, given the num­ber of close friends who had died.” A new ris­ing star on the F1 scene in 1970 was the Swede Ron­nie Peterson. “I re­ally liked Ron­nie, and he so wanted to be my friend — so I be­gan ques­tion­ing if mo­tor rac­ing was now dic­tat­ing how I be­haved.” In delv­ing a lit­tle deeper, he ex­plains: “I had a feel­ing that Ron­nie would die in a rac­ing car. I’d left mo­tor rac­ing well be­hind me when Ron­nie was killed in 1978 and, although it was a freak ac­ci­dent, it was an­other body blow.”

In 1970, Amon had left Fer­rari for March and, with the ex­pe­ri­ence of the 1969 cam­paign, Bill was en­gaged to run the

March Can-am team, “but the Amon– March re­la­tion­ship was al­ready strained,” he says, “so I wrote a let­ter to Chris re­sign­ing.”

By the end of 1970, Bill had found him­self start­ing to fall out of love with mo­tor rac­ing. “I sup­pose I’d be­come burnt out and so I be­gan to won­der what I’d do next. I had a young fam­ily to sup­port, so I was writ­ing for Car and Driver again cov­er­ing all the Canam races right through to the end of 1971.”

By 1972, Bill was so broke that he started driv­ing a mini-cab. “My last story would have been in 1972 for Au­to­course on Emerson Fit­ti­paldi.”

Not so sweet

Bill ended up with a reg­u­lar gig col­lect­ing one Lau­rence My­ers from his home and de­liv­er­ing him to his of­fice. “Lau­rence was an ac­coun­tant who rep­re­sented The Rolling Stones and The Bea­tles amongst other big names of the time. He ended up as an en­ter­tain­ment im­pre­sario and record­ing ex­ec­u­tive. He sug­gested I should work for him but what did I know about the mu­sic in­dus­try?”

My­ers as­signed Bill to be The New Seek­ers’ tour man­ager: “They were huge — 26 dates in the month of May; it made run­ning a rac­ing team look easy.”

Hav­ing proven him­self at the pop/folk end of the mu­sic world, My­ers then in­tro­duced Bill to The Sweet — “The four most un­like­able peo­ple I’ve ever had the mis­for­tune to meet”. The Sweet evolved into a mid-’70s glam-rock band. They had 13 Top 20 hits in the UK charts dur­ing the ’70s but, de­spite the suc­cess and a few good sto­ries, Bill has lit­tle in the way of pos­i­tive rec­ol­lec­tions.

He’d done his best to dis­tance him­self from mo­tor rac­ing but the pain of the sport at that time re­turned in June 1972. “I was at home and news came through that Jo Bon­nier had been killed at Le Mans. Jane turned to me and said, ‘Do you re­al­ize that every­one who has ever stayed with us has gone?’ This list in­cluded Jimmy [Clark], Pe­dro Ro­dríguez, Carel de Beau­fort and now Bon­nier. “Jo was such a lovely man — so in­tel­li­gent and such a care­ful driver,” says Bill.

My­ers soon had other plans for him: “Lau­rence planned a se­ries of movies to pro­mote the com­pany’s glam-rock acts.” There was im­me­di­ate suc­cess. “In 1974 we launched a Gary Glitter doc­u­men­tary called Re­mem­ber Me This Way. He had three num­ber-one hits while we were mak­ing the movie. Soon af­ter­wards, we moved into dis­tri­bu­tion, in­clud­ing the Bri­tish re­lease of Peter Weir’s Pic­nic at Hang­ing Rock and the orig­i­nal ver­sion of Swept Away.”

Hav­ing proven him­self at the pop/folk end of the mu­sic world, My­ers then in­tro­duced Bill to The Sweet — “The four most un­like­able peo­ple I’ve ever had the mis­for­tune to meet”

Mo­tor­ing writer to movie mogul

In 1978, Bill was lured to Aus­tralia by 20th Cen­tury Fox, to be­come gen­eral man­ager of its Aus­tralian sub­sidiary, Hoyts The­atres. “I headed their en­try into dis­tri­bu­tion, and we also fi­nanced the oc­ca­sional lo­cal film, start­ing with nu­clear thriller Chain Re­ac­tion.” Among the ti­tles were Apocalypse Now, The Boys from Brazil and a movie ver­sion of Don Gio­vanni, fea­tur­ing Kiri Te Kanawa. Bill’s suc­cess in dis­tribut­ing the first Mup­pet Movie caught the eye of le­gendary mogul Lew Grade, who in­vited him to join the sales team at ITC Films back in Lon­don: “Lew’s name opened a lot of doors, and I be­gan sell­ing a range of films to distrib­u­tors across the globe, in the process learn­ing much about the ‘dark art’ of pre­sales.”

Bill be­gan sell­ing movies through his com­pany Gavin Film. “One of the ti­tles we rep­re­sented was fi­nanced by Gold­crest Films, founded by Cana­dian Jake Eberts, who in­vited me to be head of sales — of­fi­cially ‘di­rec­tor of dis­tri­bu­tion and mar­ket­ing’. They gave me a seat on the board, and I trav­elled the world sell­ing Gold­crest’s cat­a­logue, which quickly grew to more than 20 ti­tles, in­clud­ing pre-sell­ing a sub­stan­tial part of the bud­get of The Killing Fields.” Bill is too mod­est to men­tion this was an ac­claimed BAFTA Best Film win­ner.

In 1984, Bill re­turned to his own com­pany and set about pre-sell­ing and fi­nanc­ing mostly Bri­tish in­de­pen­dent movies. Along the way he worked with stars such as Sigour­ney Weaver, Michael Caine, and Den­nis Hop­per. In the early 1990s, Bill came home — three-plus decades af­ter head­ing off in pur­suit of a dream to earn a liv­ing writ­ing about rac­ing cars. Here, he ini­tially “se­cured fund­ing and cast mem­bers for The Last Tat­too and co-pro­duced it. Then I spent a cou­ple of years on the de­vel­op­ment com­mit­tee of the New Zealand Film Com­mis­sion.”

In 1999 he pro­duced and helped de­velop New Zealand’s first film se­quel, What Be­comes of the Bro­ken Hearted?, the fol­low-up to Once Were War­riors.

Bill then had a two-year stint as head of fea­tures at South Pa­cific Pic­tures and in­vited di­rec­tor Niki Caro to write an adap­tion of Whale Rider, and won $4M’ worth of Euro­pean fi­nanc­ing and pre­sales on the strength of her script.

“Yes, the mu­sic and film stuff is what I ended up do­ing, but mo­tor rac­ing will al­ways be where my pas­sion is.”

So af­ter ca­reers in mo­tor rac­ing, the mu­sic busi­ness, and both film dis­tri­bu­tion and pro­duc­tion, what about a book?

Love, Life and Death in For­mula 1 is pro­moted on some web­sites but re­mains in­com­plete. “I re­ally must fin­ish it. Yes, the mu­sic and film stuff is what I ended up do­ing, but mo­tor rac­ing will al­ways be where my pas­sion is,” he says.

Left: Mod­els Jenny Boyd, Sandy Moss, and Jane Daw­son back­stage be­fore a fash­ion show Be­low: The book that will one day be a good read

Left: Orig­i­nal Grand Prix movie poster

Be­low: Bill’s weekly col­umn from Speed­world In­ter­na­tional mag­a­zine

Be­low: Chris Amon’s 6.3 litres of over­weight and un­der-pow­ered V12 Fer­rari was sadly no match for the Mclarens of Bruce and Denny

Bill tried to teach the world to sing with these groups. All he got was a Ball­room Blitz

Above: A tragic story of tragic times in Cam­bo­dia was a vic­tory for Bill Left: Back in Auck­land where it all started Be­low: Far from the world of rac­ing en­gines this tale of a young girl’s am­bi­tions was an­other of Bill’s projects

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