Malcolm Campbell

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 during the 1920s and 1930s 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.

Sir Malcolm Campbell

Malcolm Campbell rc10431.jpg
Sir Malcolm Campbell circa 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
OccupationRacing 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

Early life and familyEdit

Campbell was born in Chislehurst, Kent. on 11 March 1885,[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.[citation needed]

Between 1906 and 1908, he won all three London to Lands 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 divorced two years later.[2]

Campbell then married Dorothy Evelyn Whittall in 1920 and their son Donald was born in 1921, and their daughter, Jean, in 1923.[3] They divorced in 1940. Campbell married Betty Nicory in 1945 in Chelsea.[4]

Military serviceEdit

At the outbreak of World War I, Campbell initially enlisted as a motorcycle dispatch rider and fought at the Battle of Mons in August 1914.[5] 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.[6] He was soon drafted into the Royal Flying Corps, where he served as a ferry pilot, as his instructors believed he was too clumsy to make the grade as a fighter pilot.[5]

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.[7] On 23 January 1943 he was transferred from the Corps of Military Police to the General List.[8] On 16 December 1945, having attained the age limit of 60, Campbell relinquished his commission and was granted the honorary rank of major.[9]

Grand Prix careerEdit

Campbell competed in Grand Prix motor racing, winning the 1927 and 1928 Grand Prix de Boulogne in France driving a Bugatti T37A.[10]

Land speed recordEdit

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 driving a racing car built by Sunbeam.[citation needed]

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.[11]

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.[5]

Water speed recordsEdit

Campbell developed and flotation-tested Blue Bird on Tilgate Lake, in Tilgate Park, Crawley.[12] 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, Cumbria, England.[5]


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.[13] 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.[14][15][16]


Campbell's grave at St Nicholas' Church in Chislehurst.

Campbell died after a series of strokes in 1948 in Reigate, Surrey, aged 63 years.[17] He was one of the few land speed record holders of his era to die of natural causes, as so many had died in crashes. His versatile racing on different vehicles made him internationally famous.[citation needed]

Honours and awardsEdit


  1. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 17 September 2016.
  2. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 17 September 2016.
  3. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 17 September 2016.
  4. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 17 September 2016.
  5. ^ a b c d Calley, Roy (1 September 2014). The World Water Speed Record: The Fast and the Forgotten. Stroud: Amberley Publishing. ISBN 9781445637860.
  6. ^ "No. 28910". The London Gazette. 22 September 1914. p. 7496.
  7. ^ Julian Paget (2000). Second to None: The History of the Coldstream Guards 1650 – 2000. Casemate Publishers. p. 488. ISBN 1783379391.
  8. ^ "No. 35872". The London Gazette (Supplement). 22 January 1943. p. 435.
  9. ^ "No. 37454". The London Gazette (Supplement). 5 February 1946. p. 802.
  10. ^ "Who's Who In Motor Racing". The Mail. Adelaide. 14 September 1935. p. 27. Retrieved 13 December 2019 – via Trove.
  11. ^ Motor Sport, March 1927, p.282; Motor Sport, September 1927, p.77; Thrust, by Richard Noble (Bantam Books, 1999), p. 401.
  12. ^ Plaque #2138 on Open Plaques.
  13. ^ Julie V. Gottlieb, "British Union of Fascists (act. 1932–1940)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 (Accessed 5 February 2014)
  14. ^ Zander, Patrick Glenn. Right Modern: Technology, Nation, and Britain's Extreme Right in the Interwar Period. Georgia Institute of Technology. May 2009. Page 99.
  15. ^ "Sir Malcolm Campbell Carries the Fastest Flag." Blackshirt. 26 April 1935. Page 1.
  16. ^ Dorril, Stephen (2006). Blackshirt: Sir Oswald Mosley and British Fascism. London: Viking. p. 356.
  17. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 17 September 2016.
  18. ^ "No. 31378". The London Gazette (Supplement). 3 June 1919. p. 7029.
  19. ^ "No. 33692". The London Gazette. 24 February 1931. p. 1283.
  20. ^ Gray, Will (12 November 2016). "10 great winners of the Segrave Trophy". Red Bull. Retrieved 12 November 2017.
  21. ^ "Malcolm Campbell honoured". The Cairns Post. Cairns. 27 January 1940. p. 5. Retrieved 12 November 2017.
  22. ^ "Sir Malcolm Campbell – 1885–1948". International Motorsports Hall of Fame. Retrieved 1 September 2018.
  23. ^ "Campbell, Sir Malcolm – At Large – 1994". Motorsports Hall of Fame of America. Retrieved 1 September 2018.
  24. ^ "CAMPBELL, Donald (1921–1967) & CAMPBELL, Sir Malcolm (1885–1948)". English Heritage. Retrieved 4 August 2012.

External linksEdit