Malcolm Campbell

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Malcolm Campbell
Sir Malcolm Campbell in 1935
Born(1885-03-11)11 March 1885
Chislehurst, Kent, England
Died31 December 1948(1948-12-31) (aged 63)
Reigate, Surrey, England
Resting placeSt Nicholas Church, Chislehurst, Kent, England
EducationUppingham School
Occupation(s)Racing motorist, journalist
  • Marjorie Dagmar Knott
    (m. 1913; div. 1915)
  • Dorothy Evelyn Whittall
    (m. 1920; div. 1940)
  • Betty Nicory
    (m. 1945)
Military career
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Years of service1914–1945
Service number86891
UnitQueen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment

Major Sir Malcolm Campbell MBE (11 March 1885 – 31 December 1948) was a British racing motorist and motoring journalist. He gained the world speed record on land and on water at various times, using vehicles called Blue Bird, including a 1921 Grand Prix Sunbeam. His son, Donald Campbell, carried on the family tradition by holding both land speed and water speed records.

Early life and family[edit]

Campbell was born on 11 March 1885 in Chislehurst, Kent,[1] the only son of William Campbell, a Hatton Garden diamond seller. He attended the independent Uppingham School. In Germany, learning the diamond trade, he gained an interest in motorbikes and races. Returning to Britain, he worked for two years at Lloyd's of London for no pay, then for another year at £1 a week.[2]

Between 1906 and 1908, he won all three London to Land's End Trials motorcycle races. In 1910, he began racing cars at Brooklands. He christened his car Blue Bird, painting it blue, after seeing the play The Blue Bird by Maurice Maeterlinck at the Haymarket Theatre.

Campbell married Marjorie Dagmar Knott in 1913, but they divorced two years later.[3]

Campbell then married Dorothy Evelyn Whittall in 1920;[4] their son Donald was born in 1921, and their daughter, Jean, in 1923. Dorothy, who became Lady Campbell when he was knighted in 1931, later described him as "quite unfitted for the role of husband and family man".[5] They divorced in 1940.

Campbell married Betty Nicory in 1945 in Chelsea.[6]

Campbell wrote a number of "motoring mystery" novels including Salute to the Gods which was the source material for the 1939 motion picture Burn 'Em Up O'Connor.

Military service[edit]

At the outbreak of the First World War, Campbell initially enlisted as a motorcycle dispatch rider and fought at the Battle of Mons in August 1914.[7] Shortly afterwards he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 5th Battalion, Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment, a Territorial Force unit, on 2 September 1914.[8] He was soon drafted into the Royal Flying Corps, where he was a ferry pilot, for his instructors believed he was too clumsy to make the grade as a fighter pilot.[7]

During the late 1930s, he commanded the provost company of the 56th (London) Division of the Territorial Army. From 1940 to 1942, he commanded the military police contingent of the Coats Mission tasked with evacuating King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and their immediate family from London in the event of German invasion.[9] On 23 January 1943 he was transferred from the Corps of Military Police to the General List.[10] On 16 December 1945, having attained the age limit of 60, Campbell relinquished his commission and was granted the honorary rank of major.[11]

Grand Prix career[edit]

Campbell competed in Grand Prix motor racing, winning the 1927 and 1928 Grand Prix de Boulogne in France driving a Bugatti T37A.[12]

Land speed record[edit]

Campbell broke the land speed record for the first time in 1924 at 146.16 mph (235.22 km/h) at Pendine Sands near Carmarthen Bay in a 350HP V12 Sunbeam, now on display at the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu. He broke nine land speed records between 1924 and 1935, with three at Pendine Sands and five at Daytona Beach. His first two records were accomplished whilst driving a racing car built by Sunbeam.[13]

In 1925 Campbell set a new lap record of 100 mph (160.93 km/h) at Brooklands in a streamlined Chrysler Six.[14]

On 4 February 1927, Campbell set the land speed record at Pendine Sands, covering the Flying Kilometre (in an average of two runs) at 174.883 mph (281.447 km/h) and the Flying Mile in 174.224 mph (280.386 km/h), in the Napier-Campbell Blue Bird.[15]

He set his final land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah on 3 September 1935, and was the first person to drive an automobile over 300 mph, averaging 301.337 mph (484.955 km/h) in two passes.[7]

Water speed records[edit]

Campbell developed and flotation-tested Blue Bird on Tilgate Lake, in Tilgate Park, Crawley.[16] He set the water speed record four times, his highest speed being 141.740 mph (228.108 km/h) in the Blue Bird K4. He set the record on 19 August 1939 on Coniston Water, Lancashire (now in Cumbria).[7]


Campbell stood for Parliament without success at the 1935 general election in Deptford for the Conservative Party, despite his links to the British Union of Fascists.[17] Reportedly, he once adorned his car with a Fascist pennant of the London Volunteer Transport Service, though there has been no photographic evidence to support this claim.[18][19][20]


Campbell's grave at St Nicholas' Church in Chislehurst

Campbell died after a series of strokes in 1948 in Reigate, Surrey, aged 63.[21] He was one of the few land speed record holders of his era to die of natural causes, for so many had died in crashes.[citation needed]

Honours and awards[edit]


  1. ^ "Entry Information: Births Jun 1885". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 17 September 2016.
  2. ^ "Sir Malcolm Campbell". Gina Campbell.
  3. ^ "Entry Information: Marriages Sep 1913". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 17 September 2016.
  4. ^ "Entry Information: Marriages Jun 1920". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 17 September 2016.
  5. ^ "Dorothy Emily Evelyn (née Whittall), Lady Campbell". National Portrait Gallery. Retrieved 3 April 2021.
  6. ^ "Entry Information: Marriages Sep 1945". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 17 September 2016.
  7. ^ a b c d Calley, Roy (2014). The World Water Speed Record: The Fast and the Forgotten. Stroud, England: Amberley Publishing. ISBN 978-1445637860 – via Google Books.
  8. ^ "No. 28910". The London Gazette. 22 September 1914. p. 7496.
  9. ^ Boscawen, Hugh (2000). "Second World War (1939-1945)". In Paget, Julian (ed.). Second to None: The History of the Coldstream Guards 1650–2000. Casemate Publishers. p. 488. ISBN 1783379391.
  10. ^ "No. 35872". The London Gazette (Supplement). 22 January 1943. p. 435.
  11. ^ "No. 37454". The London Gazette (Supplement). 5 February 1946. p. 802.
  12. ^ "Who's Who in Motor Racing". The Mail. Adelaide. 14 September 1935. p. 27. Retrieved 13 December 2019 – via Trove.
  13. ^ "350hp Sunbeam Key facts". The National Motor Museum.
  14. ^ Kimes, Beverly (1996). standard catalog of American Cars 1805–1942. Krause Publications. pp. 306–334. ISBN 0-87341-478-0.
  15. ^ Motor Sport, March 1927, p.282
    - Motor Sport, September 1927, p.77
    - Richard Noble, Thrust (Bantam Books, 1999), p. 401
  16. ^ Plaque #2138 on Open Plaques
  17. ^ Julie V. Gottlieb, "British Union of Fascists (act. 1932–1940)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edition, January 2008 (Retrieved 5 February 2014)
  18. ^ Zander, Patrick Glenn. Right Modern: Technology, Nation, and Britain's Extreme Right in the Interwar Period. Georgia Institute of Technology. May 2009. Page 99.
  19. ^ "Sir Malcolm Campbell Carries the Fastest Flag", Blackshirt. 26 April 1935. Page 1.
  20. ^ Dorril, Stephen (2006). Blackshirt: Sir Oswald Mosley and British Fascism. London: Viking. p. 356.
  21. ^ "Entry Information: Deaths Mar 1949". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 17 September 2016.
  22. ^ "No. 31378". The London Gazette (Supplement). 3 June 1919. p. 7029.
  23. ^ "No. 33692". The London Gazette. 24 February 1931. p. 1283.
  24. ^ Gray, Will (12 November 2016). "10 great winners of the Segrave Trophy". Red Bull. Retrieved 12 November 2017.
  25. ^ "Malcolm Campbell honoured". The Cairns Post. Cairns, Australia. 27 January 1940. p. 5. Retrieved 12 November 2017.
  26. ^ "Sir Malcolm Campbell – 1885–1948". International Motorsports Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on 20 October 2020. Retrieved 1 September 2018.
  27. ^ "Campbell, Sir Malcolm – At Large – 1994". Motorsports Hall of Fame of America. Retrieved 1 September 2018.
  28. ^ "Campbell, Donald (1921–1967) & Campbell, Sir Malcolm (1885–1948)". English Heritage. Retrieved 4 August 2012.

Further reading[edit]

  • J. Wentworth Day (1931). Speed: The Authentic Life of Sir Malcolm Campbell. Hutchinson.
  • Phil Drackett (1969). Like Father, Like Son: The Story of Malcolm and Donald Campbell. Clifton Books.
  • Leo Villa (1979). Life with the Speed King. Marshall, Harris & Baldwin.
  • Leo Villa; Tony Gray (1969). The Record Breakers: Sir Malcolm and Donald Campbell, Land and Water Speed Kings of the 20th century. Hamlyn.

External links[edit]