Wheels Within Wheels, An Unconventional Life

by Lord Montagu of Beaulieu


Even without the many Montagu family connections to all manner of vehicles vintage and classic or this particular Montagu’s founding of the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu in Hampshire this book would be warmly recommended as an utterly mature account of a life well lived and well reflected upon. That motoring plays a large part in it makes it all the more attractive to our readers.

By definition, autobiographies must be taken with a grain of salt; all too often the inner censor, knowingly or not, undermines the integrity of a public balancing of the books. Not so here. Surprising candor permeates the book, especially the Pro- and Epilogues. It manifests itself not in grand statements but consistently in quiet, reflective afterthoughts. Clearly aware, and clearly appreciative, of the lucky circumstance of his titled life Edward John Barrington Douglas-Scott-Montagu (1926–2015) ponders with sincerity the “what-if” variables. His father’s early death, war, school—all could have propelled him onto a different trajectory through life, with or without being fourteenth Lord of the Manor, third Baron Montagu of Beaulieu, peer of the realm.

His palpable apprehension at times makes one want to avert one’s eyes. He owns up to successes and failures alike; what looked like the latter and may well have turned out to be the former is a legal proceeding known as the “Montagu Case” of 1953 involving his sexual relationship with journalist Peter Wildeblood (d. 1999) that resulted in trial and ultimate imprisonment. Here for the first time his own account of it is discussed; no hyperbole, no vanity—just the facts of a case whose outcome changed a law regarding conduct among consenting adults. 

To be sure, that episode does not dominate the book and plays out in all of two chapters. But, obviously, its impact colors his outlook on life as a whole. Many facets of his professional activities and private passions are described, such as half a decade in the House of Lords, founder of both the Historic Houses Association and English Heritage, his championship of Tourism, the Jazz Festivals, the National Motor Museum.

Included are a family tree, list of illustrations, and an index that consists largely of proper names.

Wheels Within Wheels, An Unconventional Life
by Lord Montagu of Beaulieu
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2000
334 pages, 62 b/w photos, hardcover
List Price: $40
ISBN-13: 978-0297817390

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