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My Time in a Hell Drivers Show

In the summer of 1977, I joined a travelling Hell Drivers show for one season, and later that year I was invited to join another similar show in Germany, and to work the show through Belgium in the summer of 1978.

My jobs varied over the two seasons, including being electrician, barker, general roustabout, clown, and human battering ram, up to twice daily. I had to change clothes ready for each role about six times every day.

Among my many tasks was to help prepare the show. I had to build the entrance to the show every day and take it down again afterwards, and I had to prepare the cars, both the show cars for two-wheel and precision driving, and the scrap cars to be used for crashing. The second picture is of me adding lettering to the side of a car to be used for two-wheel driving (I had to cut out all the letters myself!). We had found a car that was intended for crashing, but was better than the cars we already had, so it had to be repainted, decorated, and then have its rear wheel differential locked all in an afternoon ready for the show that night.

These photos are all of me doing the "Human Battering Ram" stunt, going through a wall of fire on the front of various cars. I wore a helmet and gloves, and covered my face with my hands at the last minute. The stunt was spectacular, but relatively safe. The boss would throw another gallon or so of petrol onto the blazing firewall just before I went through, thus creating a lovely "whooomf" noise and a big fireball just at the right moment.

Getting things ready
Me as the Human Battering Ram, through walls of fire

One of my jobs was to lie on the ground and be jumped over by a motorbike. Before I did the clown job myself, another job was to be run over by the clown (played in this case by my boss, Leonard Bossle):

Me as the clown with my "funny" car. Even though it was a VW Beetle with the motor at the back, I could start it at the front using an old fashioned starting handle. It could open its own bonnet, flap its mudguards, and even drive away on its own:

Motorbikes in the show
Me as the clown

Douglas Airth (from Perth) was the guy who jumped over cars with a motorcycle. I have watched him jump over ten cars landing on the ground rather than on another ramp, and it is said that he has jumped seventeen cars in the same fashion. Here he jumps a maximum of five cars:

Driving on two wheels is a big part of every Hell Drivers show. When I was the clown, I used to get in the two-wheel cars and poke my head out of the "upper" window. Here are various stunt drivers showing off their two-wheel skills: Charlie Barber, Hansi Muller, Leonard Bossle, and Douglas Airth

Douglas Airth from Perth, the 'Flying Scot' jumping cars on his motorbike
Driving cars on two wheels

"Hansi" Muller was probably the best crash man I ever met. He did this spectacular crash with only a single lap strap to hold him in place, and with a handle on the other side of the passenger seat and used to hold hard onto that to keep his body taut. Most crash men use a full harness seat belt and bend the driver's seat backwards to keep the spine straight. This show was on the grass car park at Twickenham stadium. We had a "resident" photographer, who followed us around for a week or two, and these photos are some of his.

Various crash photos taken by me:

Hansi Muller doing a spectacular T-bone crash
Various crashes photographed by me

Here are a few links to YouTube videos of some old Hell Drivers shows:

Canadian Hell Drivers. They were very good indeed, and in fact a lot of the other shows used to copy the Canadians.

Canadian Hell Drivers again in a short clip. This shows how close the audience were for us sometimes when we did shows in closed streets in Belgium. One of my jobs was to try to persuade members of the public to keep back out of the way!

Some excellent stunts and crashes in this clip:

The American Thrillmasters Stunt Show. Clip starts at 4:39, where you can see a couple of the firewall stunts that I used to do. The American shows use fire a lot in their crashes. My boss didn't like to use it, he said it lacked authenticity, and added its own dangers needlessly.

Vintage Stuff, the famous French Sunny and Bataille Hell Drivers shows or "Cascadeurs" in French. This is my favourite show video, there are some truly awesome rollovers, crashes, and T-bone dives. For the rollovers, notice the piece of old tyre (or sometimes carpet) tied to the windscreen pillar. This helps to flip the car over.

This is quite a long video, but is pretty much exactly the same show that we did.