the Long Room, Journal of the Lord’s Taverners
July 2001
Barrie Gill
courtesy and copyright of the Lord’s Taverners

Walter Hayes CBE

There can have been few occasions when the great and the good have found themselves gathered in a church listening to motor racing legend Stirling Moss reading a cricketing text by none other than John Arlott (see Life & Times – Walter Hayes Memorial service audio).

But then the friends, family and admirers in St. James’s Church were celebrating the life of a unique, incredibly gifted man – Taverner no. 945, Walter Hayes CBE. The congregation – lords, world champions, leaders of industry, rally drivers, professors and Fleet Street’s finest – themselves illustrated the magnitude and diversity of Walter’s achievements.

His first calling (in the 1950s) was as a journalist – and his love of writing was a constant stimulus in his life. He was a master of words and certainly appreciated their power.

As an associate editor of the Daily Sketch, he strategically re-wrote the horoscope of Elizabeth, the lady who was to become his wife, to assist the wooing process!

As editor of the Sunday Dispatch, he recruited a young Terence Conran to comment on style and chose an up-and-coming engineer, Colin Chapman, to be his motoring correspondent. Little did he know that a future partnership with the Lotus boss would help to change the face of British motor sport.

In 1962, he was headhunted to become director of public affairs for Ford of Britain. His task: to change public perception of the company and its product.

Brilliantly, he chose motor sport as his platform. The Cortina and Escort spearheaded Ford’s challenge on race circuits and rally tracks.

But it was his decision – after a meeting with Colin Chapman – to persuade Ford to invest £100,000 on a new Ford Cosworth Grand Prix engine that was to place Britain at the forefront of Formula One; 150 wins made it the most successful engine in Grand Prix history and Graham Hill, Jim Clark, James Hunt and Jackie Stewart all won their World Championship titles “powered by Ford”.

The Escort was dominating the rally world, Formula Ford racing was the breeding ground for future champions and the Ford GT40 won Le Mans.

It was no surprise when Henry Ford II persuaded Walter to move to Detroit. He retired at 65 but was called back to become Chairman of Aston Martin where he helped the DB7 to become the best selling car in the company’s history.

Somehow, in the midst of this hectic career, he found time to write a children’s novel (unsurprisingly about a PR campaign to change the images of witches!), some wonderful children’s poetry and a seminal history book on the survivors of the mutiny on the Bounty.

He was a free spirit in the world which was becoming more and more institutionalised. And he loved cricket! Which is why Stirling Moss found himself paying such an unusual tribute to a unique, much loved character.

Walter is survived by his wife Elizabeth, sons Richard and Jeremy and daughter Harriet to who we extend our deepest sympathy.