Tuesday December 20, 2016
Written by Andy Roberts
On 19th September 1976, Raymond Baxter appeared in The Goodies’ episode It Might As Well Be String, clad only in his underwear and uttering his lines with the straight-faced aplomb which only Ronnie Barker could have equalled.
What made this sketch even funnier was that Mr Baxter was the perfect gentleman broadcaster, the sort of chap whose flannels were always immaculately creased.
Mr Baxter was an essential part of my childhood television viewing on Tomorrow’s World. Every week he introduced what he liked to call ‘marvels’ of science, sometimes covering automotive technology such as electrically powered cars or Denovo Tyres.
He was the BBC’s first Motoring Correspondent, and many will recall his clear incisive tone proclaiming the victories of Hawthorn, Moss, Hill and a young Jackie Stewart. As a competition driver he competed in the Alpine, Tulip and RAC rallies, as well as the Monte Carlo rallies on twelve occasions, six of them as a member of the BMC Works Team. His achievements are preserved in several newsreels, including one where the announcer wonders at his handling of a Mini Cooper S in 1966 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=veS3SaJ662g). The following year marked the twilight of the BMC, when Baxter served as their Director of Publicity, launching the Austin 3-Litre.
Baxter appeared as himself in several films – the Goodwood-set B-Film Mask of Dust, comedy The Fast Lady and (naturally) Grand Prix and also featured on Hancock’s Half Hour. In the world of business, he promoted the BR Motorail service and India Tyres. The latter was in the company of a Ford Consul Cortina and ‘Professor’ Stanley Unwin, and must be seen to be believed (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AlS848bWF50)! Baxter also received the accolade of being impersonated by Peter Ustinov as Roland Thraxter in the racing satire The Grand Prix of Gibraltar.
Raymond Baxter left Tomorrow’s World in 1977 but the episode that will always remain in my mind is one from 1975, featuring engineer Toby Churchill, who lost his speech and only had the use of his left arm after contracting encephalitis. He had adapted a Mini that could be controlled entirely by one hand and received a British Design Award. I still remember the footage of Baxter demonstrating the Clubman Estate and the footage still survives (http://www.bbc.co.uk/archive/tomorrowsworld/8019.shtml).
When I first watched Raymond Baxter on Tomorrow’s World, I was too young to have read about his rallying exploits in a Sunbeam Rapier and was equally unaware of his wartime career as an RAF Spitfire pilot, with mentions in despatches for his part in dive bombing Germany's V-2 sites. But I did learn how enthusiasm for cars could be conveyed with clarity, humour and absolutely no pomposity whatsoever.