Archie Vicar

An Introduction from Driven to Write’s Editor.

Archie Vicar represents a different generation; people who came of age in an uncertain period where a World War followed a World Recession. Few of these men (and we cannot deny that they were all men) set their youthful sights on Motoring Journalism as a profession. They came into it through circuitous routes, bringing with them, for good and for bad, a worldliness that is, perhaps, missing today, where a childhood spent poring over EVO magazine, followed by a spell at journalism school, leads directly to employment on a national magazine. Where is the wisdom; where is the experience of a wider world?

Richard Herriott has spent several years transcribing what appear to be the best of Archie Vicar’s writings from the many magazines he worked for, all now sadly defunct. They evoke a past that is lost, a British Motor Industry ruled by men who were confident that they were the best and who knew that they were right, even if History has shown that they were frequently mediocre and generally wrong. I think that, of all the journalists I have known, Archie’s writings encapsulate that age most accurately.

4 thoughts on “Archie Vicar”

  1. In my view Archie Vicar captured what best about the idiosyncratic world of post-war automotive journalism. Two factors were at play, one quite banal. The first was that writers of this period had a broad hinterland of references upon which to draw. This gave to their work a certain richness which never strayed over into literary pretense. These people just happened to have a broad education and a deep well of personal experience. they just happened to know of some fact or detail from outside motor journalism that they felt shed light on the matter or provided a useful reference. They understood their readers to share these references. The other factor is banal. In the post-war period the editing process was rudimentary. Thus text was edited minimally and what appeared on the page more closely resembled the first thoughts of the writer, hence the more conversational, digressive tone. They also drank a lot.
    Finally, and this complaint is as old as motoring, the vehicles offered more for a writer to latch onto. It was a time of national markets, a comparative multitude of companies within each one and it was a time when individuals with various levels of peculiar talents and obsessions drove the conception of the cars. Thus the idiosyncratic aspects of the cars and those who wrote about them were compounded to make a period when interesting chaps wrote about interesting machines.

  2. I think that there was less emphasis on the purchase of the writer by the manufacturer. Sure, they bought them a meal and a drink and perhaps a hotel room … but it didn’t go much further. Magazines, today feel like they are owned by the manufacturers. Manufacturers use them to their own ends. This is reflected in the type of advertising. The concept of writing is now purely about targeting the audience for profit rather than being informative and interesting.
    Ironically I detect much of Jeremy Clarkson .. and wonder if JC took some pointers from the writing of AV.

  3. I discovered these Archie Vicar articles today and have read the lot. They are sheer comic genius. I first started reading Motor magazine in 1977 and a few years later progressed to Car. These articles really bring to the mind the writings of the late LJK Setright. I use to love reading the travelogues in Car magazine, usually involving driving some Italian supercar from its factory to the British importer’s HQ with details of the food, drink and hotels along the way. The closest thing these days is the occassional vlog of Harry Metcalfe, founder of Evo.
    Looking at current reviews on sites such as Car Buyer, there is an almost comical obsession with the number and location of cup holders and fake “official” MPG figures while there’s not much mention of road manners and feel; no wonder Citroen are giving up on the Hydractive suspension.

    1. Thanks very much indeed, Mark. I started “transcribing” Archie Vicar´s work as I was not able to read this kind of article any more. It is a terrible shame that his prodigious output is so little known and other writers such as Setright, Bishop and Barker get all the limelight.
      There is still a lot more work to be done to get Vicar´s great body of work out into the public realm and comments such as yours inspire me to get up into my attic and bring down some forgotten review or other. I only wish the photos were printable as all too often I need to use stock photos which do no justice to the images that were used to accompanying Vicar´s polished and confident prose. As you may have noticed many of Vicar´s articles were graced with photos by Doug Land-Windermere.
      I plan to produce a transcript of an exciting TVR very soon where I have been able to “scan” the original images.
      Taking off my ironic hat, I can only say the current crop of writers are a really colourless lots. I don´t know how they live and I don´t doubt they are nice people in person but nearly nothing of what they write shows any awareness of the world beyond testing cars. Characters like Setright and Co were rounded (and flawed) and it came across in very good and also very personal writing which, strangely, is easier to read and understand than today´s prose which seems incredibly hard-boiled.

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