George (Nick) Georgano

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George (Nick) Georgano

The Bulletin has enjoyed a fine run with Nick's Pictures of Alvis cars when they were working cars. Half way through the series, this (Bulletin 528) seems a good time to understand a bit more about the man behind the camera.

Your Editor has asked me to write something about my career in these two fields. Where to start? I became interested in collecting photographs at a very early age, five or six I suppose, cutting images from magazines and catalogues (I am deeply ashamed of the latter, knowing how valuable car catalogues have become), and pasting them in albums. I took my first car photographs in 1950, during a short family holiday to Brittany, to supplement my collection of cuttings as I discovered to my delight how many French cars of the 1930s (and sometimes 1920s) there were on the roads which were virtually never seen in the UK, makes like Chenard-Walcker, Donnet, La Licorne, Mathis, Rosengart and Unic, for example. I returned twice to Brittany, but did not take a great many photos as I had only a Baby Brownie camera taking eight photos per roll of film.
When I went up to Oxford in 1952 there were many vintage cars in undergraduate hands, including Alvis 12/50s and 12/60s; the first vintage car gathering I went to was a combined Alvis and Humber rally at the Esso works at Steventon, near Abingdon in May 1953. I must have taken over twenty photos that day, a record to date. The Coronation followed soon afterwards, with an enormous Veteran Car Club rally at Windsor. I joined the VCC two years later, though I have never owned a Veteran. London was also a great place for finding old cars, especially the streets of South Kensington, near the Royal College of Music. Visits to London were relatively rare until I took a teaching job at Watford in 1959. This was only eighteen miles from Hyde Park Corner, I had a half day on Wednesdays, and almost always took the underground up to London and spent a few hours on the streets unless the weather was too bad, in which case I went to the Veteran Car Club Library.

There I laid the foundations of what became the Encyclopedia of Motorcars.

The Encyclopedia is 650+ pages and it describes some 4000 car makes from all over the world with photos of examples of many of them. Nick edited the book in at least 3 editions with contributions from some 30 authors. The publisher is Ebury Press.
Being slightly detached from the usual run of workaday London I had some amusing encounters with tramps and batty old ladies, but never any hostility. One nervous lady asked me why I was photographing her car, and was I from the Police, but on the whole people are supremely indifferent, though I have heard stories of hostility from bus drivers and inspectors in depots which are private property. My closest encounter with this was a a bus depot in Jerusalem (understandably a twitchy place) where the guard was actually quite friendly; ‘My friend…’ he greeted me; ‘no photos’, and as he was carrying an AK-47, I beat a dignified retreat. I was also forbidden to photograph a police car in Helsinki.

I stayed at Watford for five years, then had two years teaching near Oxford, and when I started writing full time in 1968 I had a flat in Notting Hill, which explains the number of London photos in my collection. My policy, if I had one, was to photograph anything interesting and a little unusual; until the late 50s I avoided post-war cars but then started taking exotica like Ferraris and Maseratis. In 1964 I realised that custom bodywork on the Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith chassis was beginning to disappear into collectors’ garages or across the Atlantic, so I started to

take those too. I have to confess to your readers that I did not specialise in Alvis, though I did take quite a number, at first pre-war, then the post-war cars when they started getting rare. I used my little Baby Brownie until 1961 when I bought a Kodak Retinette from a friend. I now had 36 exposures per roll, and could control exposure and shutter speed, what luxury! This expanded the number of photos I could take, especially in poor light. I used black-and-white film exclusively until 1976 when my daughter was born and my wife insisted that I had to record her progress in colour.
After the Retinette I had several cameras of which I cannot recall the make, then in 1989 acquired a Canon EOS 3200 with 35-135mm zoom lens (it also had a 100-300mm lens but I used that for wildlife rather than cars). This lasted me with one change of body until last year when I moved into the digital age with a Canon EOS 1000D. Fortunately the old lenses can be used with this, and I am extremely happy with it. I have never kept a count of the photos I have taken, but with vehicles alone it must run to over 18,000. I have visited 32 countries, photographing vehicles in all except for Sweden, where I spent a three-day business visit and did not take a camera.
Writing and Editing
I had long been fascinated with the number of vehicle makers there have been, and my first effort in this direction was to compile an ABC of Road Vehicle Manufacturers. Written when I was sixteen, it ran to 378 makes, including commercial vehicles (the Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile has 6871 makes, passenger cars only). I still have this ABC and look at it from time to time; it is a mixture of sound facts and some awful howlers.

When I wrote the ABC I had no idea that someone else had tried the same thing. This was George Ralph Doyle, a civil servant who compiled in his spare time, and published privately in 1931, The World’s Automobiles, a list of some 2,000 makes of car, with manufacturers’ addresses and date when they were in business. While at Oxford I had the good fortune to meet Doyle, and after a few years was able to help him here and there, especially on the more recent makes.

On his sudden death in 1961 the publishers, Temple Press \(also publishers of The Motor magazine) asked me to complete the edition he was working in, which came out in 1962 under our joint names. This was my first published book. Although an invaluable starting point for research, Doyle’s book was fairly modest in scope. I dreamed of a more ambitious work, with proper histories of each make, and as many photos as possible. Unknown to me, the book packagers George Rainbird Ltd were considering just such a book, spurred on by their dynamic and car-loving sales director Edmund Fisher. I was put in touch with Rainbird by another motoring historian, Tim Nicholson, and on the strength of my work on the Doyle book I was offered the post as Editor of what became The Complete Encyclopedia of Motorcars. I was still teaching at Cothill School, near Abingdon but it was clear that I could not do justice to both jobs, and in July 1966 I said goodbye to the classroom for ever.
The Encyclopedia was published in 1968, and before it was completed I was asked by Rainbirds to write A History of Sports Cars Much of the picture research for both books was carried out at the Photographic Library of the Montagu Motor Museum, as it was then and the Curator Michael Ware invited me to take on the job of part-time Photographic Librarian, saying “You seem to have been through our archives more than anyone else”.
In 1976 I became Head Librarian. This was a full-time job and although very absorbing, prevented any significant freelance writing, so at the end of 1981 I left Beaulieu, though I kept my seat on the Museum’s Advisory Council, and was a frequent visitor to the libraries. The Rainbird Encyclepedia ran to three editions, the last in 1982, and won numerous awards on both sides of the Atlantic. I have also edited two other massive Encyclopedias, on Motor Sport and Commercial Vehicles, and written
The Encyclopedia is 650+ pages and it describes some 4000 car makes from all over the world with photos of examples of many of them. Nick edited the book in at least 3 editions with contributions from some 30 authors. The publisher is Ebury Press.

some thirty titles, two on the London Taxicab (, a full-length book in 1972 and a small volume in the Shire Publications series in 1985). I have also written three other titles for Shire, on Humber, Bentley and Electric Vehicles. Other works have included The American Automobile, a Centenary, The Art of the American Automobile, Britain’s Motor Industry—the First Hundred Years, of which I was Managing Editor.

For a long time I tried to find a publisher for an updated edition of The Complete Encyclopedia, but without success until 1998 when, through Lord Montagu’s contacts The Stationery Office (HMSO) agreed to do a greatly expanded version with over 1.4 million words and 3500 illustrations. With 23 contributors from all over the world, this ran to two volumes of 950 pages each. Some buyers, especially librarians, felt that these were too unwieldy, and the second edition was issued in three volumes. There was also an Encyclopedia of Coachbuilding, and it was this that brought be into contact with Nick Walker. He had already published An A-Z of British Coachbuilders, and I was delighted that he agreed to contribute on these makes to the Encyclopedia of Coachbuilding. He also wrote an extended 45 page introduction to the Encyclopedia, for which, though an oversight at the publishers, he was never credited. I was very sorry about this, and had we done a second edition the error would obviously have been put right. I did not know Nick very well, though my wife and I visited him and Genny once at Ilmington, and looked forward to future contacts. I was greatly saddened b y his death last year.
Since the Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile, published in 2000, I have not written any books,,. but continue to write the odd article and to take photographs., I am delighted that my earlier efforts are appearing in The Bulletin .They are also appearing in The Alvis Register Bulletin and The Vintage Sports Car Club Bulletin.

Another Georgano title currently available covering Scammell the well know Truck maker.

Martin Boothman

The Georgano Alvis Photographs Part 1 (bulletin 524)
A good number of our readers will know of the Kerbside Encounters series running in the VSCC Bulletin of photographs taken in the 1950s and 1960s by Nick Georgano. Nick took photos of cars of all makes he came across, often parked in the streets of London. Julian Collins, who died so sadly 4 years ago, had asked Nick for any photographs he had of Alvis cars, and Nick kindly sent them to Julian in mid July 2006, just about the time he became very ill. They came my way as I was then Chairman of the club, later in 2006.

I’m afraid that whilst I was Chairman the photos rested safely in a box file in my study, as I had plenty on my plate already without the considerable task of scanning, getting help identifying them and then organising the photos for publication. Last year however, with David Culshaw’s help, I started on them and now they are all scanned, all have been sent out to the Model Secretaries for help in providing information about the cars, and this first batch is ready to go.

So with many thanks to Nick Georgano for taking the photos so many years ago and then letting the AOC publish them, to Dave Cushaw for doing the initial analysis of every one of the pictures, and for Simon Fisher for giving me much background information, here are five lovely pictures of Alvis Fireflies.
To be continued….

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