Village bells in Chirnside will toll again for Jim Clark

There is a question fewer and fewer people are able to answer: Where were you when you heard the news Jim Clark had died?
Jim Clark, in his Lotus 25 Climax V8, makes a pit stop during the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 1963. Picture: Victor Blackman/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesJim Clark, in his Lotus 25 Climax V8, makes a pit stop during the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 1963. Picture: Victor Blackman/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Jim Clark, in his Lotus 25 Climax V8, makes a pit stop during the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 1963. Picture: Victor Blackman/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

There was a vast outpouring of public grief of course. How could it be any other way? Clark was a two-time Formula 1 champion and winner of countless others titles besides. He had been on the cover of Time magazine. He was a genuine world star. His death was headline news across the world.

Back in Britain a news flash interrupted television coverage of the BOAC 500 world championship at Brands Hatch to relay the shocking information filtering through from Germany. The world of sport was bereft, not just motor sport.

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But there was also intense local, private grief. The bell tolled at the church in the Berwickshire village of Chirnside, as it will again before a service of remembrance tomorrow, to mark 50 years since Clark’s death, at the age of only 32.

So it’s now half a century since Ian Calder, pictured, received the news that his uncle had perished in a crash on a fast curve next to a forest two kilometres into the fifth lap of a European Formula 2 race – in those days F1 drivers drove almost every weekend, sometimes appearing in what might be considered lesser events. The sadness remains palpable.

Calder, now 68, was sitting at home with his two brothers. His family worked the Borders land five miles to the north-west of Edington Mains, where the Clarks, originally from Fife, farmed. Calder, then 18 and having just left school, felt nothing would be the same again. It wasn’t.

“We were all gobsmacked,” he recalls. “Horrified. There were a lot of them [drivers] getting blipped out at the time but… it didn’t feel real.”

As would be the case with any teenager with an uncle who also happened to be among the most glamorous sportsmen on the planet, Calder was in thrall to Clark. Hype isn’t what it is now. But dark haired and undeniably handsome, Clark gave the impression he was unbeatable. He was not, perhaps, quite of this earth.

Although the stone memorial at Hockenheim, now hidden between two conifer trees, commemorates “Jimmy” Clark, and friends such as fellow F1 driver Jackie Stewart refer to him thus, he was always “Uncle Jim” to his nephew.

Calder’s mother was Clark’s eldest sister, Mattie. Three of Clark’s four sisters have now passed away, including Mattie. Isobel alone survives from the immediate family. She is due to return to Berwickshire this weekend.

The wider family were and are close, emotionally as well as geographically. Having Clark as an uncle meant Calder was given licence to daydream. He was able to drift over the oppressive walls of boarding school and inhabit the glamorous world of motor sport – in his imagination at least.

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“I remember lying on a grass bank watching the cricket first XI and I was sitting there listening to the British Grand Prix with my transistor radio and ear plugs in when we were definitely forbidden to be doing anything other than watching the cricket,” he says.

As with the sons of many farmers at the time, Calder was sent to Loretto School in Musselburgh. Clark, too, had gone there. “He had been sent there to round off his education, but would never admit to being anything other than average at school,” writes Graham Gauld in Jim Clark: Portrait of a Great Driver, which was published just months after his death.

But it’s where he nurtured a car obsession, devouring copies of Motor and Autosport in the school library. A commemoration service in tribute to Clark will be held at the school chapel later this month, when pupils have returned from holiday. It unfortunately clashes with the Bosch Hockenheim Historic event. This is an annual meet held in honour of Clark but which has particular resonance this year, hence why Calder is preparing to visit the scene of his uncle’s death for the first time.

But it’s Duns, for a Jim Clark Trust-organised series of events, where all roads lead this weekend. Along them will be travelling some particularly valuable vehicles, including the red Lotus Elan development car gifted to Clark by Colin Chapman, the founder of Lotus cars and an early mentor for the Scot. 
In total five of Clark’s cars will be on site, including a yellow left-hand drive Lotus Elan, which he owned while living in Paris for a spell, and the Lotus 25 in which he won his first F1 world championship in 1963.

Perhaps more importantly given that time continues to march on, some of Clark’s old friends are gathering too, perhaps for the last time on such an occasion.

“The nice thing about this weekend is a lot of Jim’s chums are making the effort to come,” says Calder. Andrew Cowan, a former Scottish rally driver and fellow farmer, also from Duns, and Peter Procter, who sustained terrible burns in a racing saloon car accident at Goodwood two years before Clark’s death, will be there.

Sir Jackie Stewart, sadly, is at the Masters in Augusta, fulfilling his Rolex ambassadorial duties. He will be in situ for the grand opening of the new 
£1.6 million Jim Clark Museum, the ground for which is being broken this weekend ahead of its planned completion next spring – “weather permitting” says Calder.

Of course, this being farming country, the elements are an endless preoccupation. It’s no different this week as temperatures plummet again. “They are talking about it being around nine, or maybe even up to double figures – wackydoo!” smiles Calder, for once more concerned with the potential impact on visitors than crops.

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Judging from the clips of the service, albeit in black and white, Clark’s funeral 50 years ago on Tuesday was on a day to match the sombre mood. Border farmer mingled with celebrity, including Clark’s peers Graham Hill, Innes Ireland, Dan Gurney and Jack Brabham.

Loudspeakers were used to broadcast the service to those outside since the village church was clearly unable to accommodate the hundreds who turned up to pay tribute. Tomorrow’s service has been designed to echo what was heard then.

The same two hymns will be sung: The Lord Is My Shepherd and By Cool Siloam’s Shady 
Rill, which includes the verse: “And soon, too soon, the wintry hour/of life’s maturer age/will shake the soul with sorrow’s power/and stormy passion’s rage.” Of course, Clark never got to the wintry hour of life’s maturer age, more’s the tragedy. He remains forever young.

The photograph on the front of tomorrow’s service sheet shows Clark looking at the camera while crouching beside his beloved collie, Sweep. It is far removed from the racing car setting where we are perhaps more accustomed to seeing him.

“I did that on purpose,” says Calder. “He was a farmer first. That is my opinion. The photograph has been in the family scrapbook and so is over 50 years old but we did the best we could with it. No one 
will have seen it before.” And neither has anyone seen Clark’s like again.