1937 International Imperial Trophy Race (lost footage of motor race; 1937)

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BBC camera capturing footage of a Maserati 4CM and an Austin.

Status: Lost

On 9th October, 1937, the 1937 International Imperial Trophy Race commenced at the Crystal Palace. The race would decide not only who would win the Imperial Trophy Crystal Palace, but also decide the 1937 BRDC Gold Star winner between B Bira and Ray Mays. The event was ultimately won by Bira, thus allowing him to take both accolades. Additionally the event made history for being the first live televised motor race.


Heading into the race, B Bira and Raymond Mays, who both drove ERAs, were in contention for the BRDC Gold Star. This award dates back to 1929, and is given to the BRDC member who earned the most points from results in international races in a given year, irrespective of the specialisms and locations.[1] Bira had won the Campbell Trophy at Brooklands driving for Maserati, the RAC International Light Car Race on the Isle Of Man, and the 12 Hour Race at Donnington.[2] Meanwhile, Mays had achieved firsts in the Sheslsey Welsh Hill Climb, the Grand Prix of Picardy, Empire Trophy Race, Albi Grand Prix, and the J.C.C. International Trophy race,[3] all for ERA, for which he had a hand in developing ERA and later BRM in Formula One.[4]

Meanwhile, the BBC were looking to televise various sports for its new Television Service. Not much is known surrounding the circumstances concerning televising the race, but according to Issue 731 of Radio Times, it was by courtesy of the Road Racing Club.[5] Thus, BBC cameras are known to have been present at the Crystal Palace,[6] with expectations that they would capture footage throughout the day according to the issue.[7] Kolumbus claims that by televising the race, the BBC had achieved "the first ever live TV outside broadcast of motor sport".[8]

The Event

The prelude to the 1937 International Imperial Trophy race included two heats, and would be raced as a handicap event, whereby slower cars would be allowed to start earlier than the quickest machines. For the event, the competing Austins, MGs, and the MG-Riley would have a 50 second advantage over all other competitors. They would be followed by the 1.5 litre Maseratis and ERAs, who would have a 10 second advantage over the 3-litre Maserati. In the first heat, Percy Maclure won in his MG-Riley, ahead of Arthur Dobson's ERA. In the second heat, Count Piero Trossi's Maserati came home first, ahead of the ERAs of Charlie Martin and Bira.

Those present at the Crystal Palace were also treated to some demonstration laps by Dick Seaman in the Mercedes-Benz W125, which bridged the gap between the second heat and the final race. With times averaging in the 2:04 range, the laps were acclaimed by the spectators thanks to the speed and noise from the Mercedes. After the demonstration laps were complete, the final race would begin, consisting of 15 laps where the winner would receive £150, more than £10,400 in 2020. Mays ultimately proved an non-starter, giving Bira the chance to win both accolades. He ultimately did so, beating Dobson by half a a car length, although the latter did win the Jarvis Trophy thanks to posting the fastest lap. Bira won the BRDC Gold Star with 73 points, edging out Mays by three points.

Following his demonstration laps, Seaman was directed to go to the BBC television van's roof, where whoever won the final race would be directed there and be introduced by Seaman to the television viewers. This did not go according to plan however, as Bira was swamped by the Crystal Palace crowd, and Seaman was forced to make an impromptu motor racing speech. With Bira unable to attend, Seaman was informed that he would be taken back to the BBC studio, for which Seaman responded loudly "thank God for that!", which was heard by television viewers.[9]


Like all early BBC television programs, coverage of the 1937 International Imperial Trophy Race was broadcast live and was not directly recorded, as there were no means of achieving this prior to the end of the Second World War.[10] Thus, all televised footage of this motor race is now permanently missing. No newsreel footage is known to exist either, although some photos of the event survive to the present day.



See Also

Early BBC Sports Television

Early BBC Television

Early Sports Television Media