Raymond Baxter was well known for his BBC television work as a motor racing commentator and programme presenter. When his death, in September, 2006. was announced on BBC news, they mentioned this detail and, of course, his RAF career as a Spitfire pilot during World War II.
It was left to ITV news to enlighten us as to his experience as a competitor in motorsport, in particular at the Monte Carlo Rally and speed hillclimb racing at Prescott.
One of his first assignments for the BBC was to assist Murray Walkers father, Graham, as commentator on the Isle of Man TT races which were then Britain’s venue for the motorcycle road race world championships. Graham was a successful TT rider in the 1930s, and when he retired from motorcycle racing, the BBC recruited him as their TT commentator. Murray eventually took over from his father and the rest, as they say, is history.
Raymond Baxter, a long-term resident of Henley-on-Thames, recalled being introduced at the NEC Classic Car Show as ‘Raymond Baxter BMW’. When he pointed out that he had never driven for BMW, the announcer replied, ‘BMW means Before Murray Walker”.
As a fierce competitor in his own right, Raymond had a collection of trophies, two of which were particularly rare: a pair of silver-plated tankards, awarded by BACH, the British Automobile Club of Hamburg, in June 1949. Members of BACH consisted of service or civilian motorsport enthusiasts stationed in or around the German city.
Leaving Hamburg in 1949, he was employed in the UK by the BBC's Outside Broadcast Department, where his enthusiasm for motor sport was put to good use. His first job was in the Bristol division of the corporation where he produced a programme entitled 'The Birth of the 500s'. In fact, 500cc car racing had started in the West Country with some of the great names associated with the sport, like John Cooper and Colin Chapman. Cooper was the first British racing car driver and designer to popularise rear engine racing cars, and the name 'Cooper' is synonymous with that particular engine layout, a design which laid the foundation for the modern Formula One concept.
R W 'Reg' Phillips introduced Raymond Baxter to single-seat racing cars after they met at Silverstone in the late 1950s. Phillips was racing 500cc cars at the time and was responsible for encouraging Baxter to compete against him at speed hillclimb events. Raymond raced at Prescott with his son, Graham, until Graham's final year at Oxford University put a stop to father and son competing against one another - with some degree of relief from Raymond it must be said, as the speed was becoming fast enough, and their times close enough to be dangerous.
Baxter senior was the instigator behind the BBC's coverage of the Monte Carlo Rally in 1950, a precursor to his ambition of competing in the rally itself the following year as co-driver to Gordon Wilkins. The pair entered the 1951 'Monte' as a works team fo the British manufacturer Jowett, driving a Jupiter, and finished 11th overall, second in class. A total of three Jupiters won the manufacturers team prize. R B competed in the Monte Carlo and Alpine Rallies throughout the 1950s, later admitting that his worst drives were with a Reliant Scimitar - fast and powerful, but not easy'. As a Scimitar driver for seven years, I can relate to the sentiment - the wheelspin could be somewhat embarrassing on a damp track.
As a rally driver, Raymond Baxters finest hour was at the Monte Carlo rally in 1960 while he was co-driver to Peter Harper in the Sunbeam Rapier Team, which consisted of Paddy Hopkirk as winner, with Peter Proctor second and Baxter and Harper third. The team were the highest scoring British cars and third overall, beaten only by two factory Mercedes.
In a ceremony at the Piccadilly Showroom, R B was presented with a silver salver inscribed 'Presented to Raymond Baxter by The Rootes Group in recognition of an outstanding performance driving a Sunbeam Rapier in the 1960 Monte Carlo Rally. Highest placed British Car. 1st 1300-2000cc Series Production Touring Class'.
The 1961, RAC Rally of Britain resulted in the following motoring press headlines: 'Triumph for Rootes, Baxter Top of the Class.' - a fitting tribute to a fine competitor. His final years in rallying were with the BMC Team of Mini-Coopers.