Cars, People

US Star of stage and screen Yolande Donlan visits Filton in 1952 in her Type 401.

Yolande was an American – British actress, voted the most promising female newcomer to the stage in 1950. The arrival of this celebrity at Filton in her Type 401 was worthy of attention from Ted Ashman the Works photographer, for the in-house Bristol Review. This picture also reflects the Bristol car’s potential female market – its light controls and elegance of line making it attractive to (wealthy) women owners and drivers. By 1952 Labour’s postwar command economy Age of Austerity was at last showing some signs of coming to an end, and demand for new cars was high. Petrol rationing had ended in 1950, though premium grades of fuel were still not marketed in the UK until 1953. However did your 2 litre Bristol manage on 72 octane Pool petrol? That’s why you have that Ignition Retard control on your dashboard. 

Vintage fashionistas may query Miss Donlan’s  couturier – was this a Dior or Jacques Heim* original – or just inspired by them? Her couture echoes the Modernist line – and concept – of her car. Couturiers then and now achieved the effortless elegance of their line  with a great deal of costly attention from skilled artisans beneath the surface; and some such as Balenciaga even used a hidden superlight frame to support their masterpieces. Sound familiar?

Having been headhunted from Broadway by Laurence Olivier, and taken the stage lead in Peter Pan in the West End, Yolande had moved into films with impresario  Val Guest becoming her director (and, later, husband).

Her many 1950s films, alas mostly now obscured by the passing of time, included Expresso Bongo (with Laurence Harvey and Cliff Richard), and, more regrettably perhaps, They Can’t Hang Me, and Tarzan and the Lost Safari. She also wrote a witty, tongue – in – cheek travel book, Sand in My Mink. A few months before Val Guest died aged 94 in 2006, he was asked the secret of his longevity. He replied: “Marry someone like Yolande.”

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