BSA: The Hollywood Connection

Pre-war and preposterous tales from the old country on two wheels

As the war clouds gathered over Europe in the late 1930s the Birmingham Small Arms Company (BSA) made a big push to secure lucrative transatlantic sales with an extravagant photographic assignment in the Borehamwood area.

Sales director Basil Pinchpenny (not pictured) flew the celebrated American writer Virginia Woolf (third from right) to RAF Northolt in a Goodyear blimp. On arrival the bespectacled intellectual was whisked by BSA motorcycle and sidecar combination to Aldenham reservoir near Elstree studios. There she was joined by society beauties Bunny Slitte-Trench and Adolfa Goering-Smythe.

Virginia Woolf (crouching, embarrassed, with glasses): "The whole thing was very confusing. Basil had promised me The Ritz and I ended up staying at The Elstree Moat House. I was constantly badgered by a man who claimed to have designed the sidecar (kneeling, right). He insisted he'd been involved in the Flash Gordon movies and was always urging me to 'polish his rocket'. Frankly I was glad to step back into the blimp for the return transatlantic journey."

Adolfa Goering-Smythe (arm raised): "Yes, I can vaguely recollect some awful common people from the BSA firm and their dreadful motorcycle, a Slapper I think it was - an awful oily thing - they made me lean against it and gesticulate.

Many of the gels at the time were frightfully taken with National Socialism and the wonderful work being done by Mr Hitler. I felt it would be the very least I could do to somehow show the English upper classes' appreciation of that marvellous man's work. Being well-bred I was allowed to act in this way while many poor people were of course jailed or shot for their cruel and idiotic views."

Bunny Slitte-Trench (far left): "It was all so terribly funny. And so terribly sad too. I'd known Adolfa for years and years. She was always so spirited, so game... I admired her, worshipped her, one might almost say. She was my imaginary friend.

"Of course we were both so dreadfully in-bred that neither of us realised until 40 years later that either of us really existed, which is a most frightful thought."

Basil Pinchpenny (not pictured): "Awful business. Very unfortunate. Didn't sell any bikes - got the sack, and quite right too. Although the Woolf girl's now won an Oscar I hear. Well done to her.

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