by Cornelis van den Berg


We don’t often have the opportunity to tell you about this kind of book because, quite simply, they are few and far between. Part history, part made up story, Dreamers is a beautifully produced and presented little book that is either historical fiction or a nonfiction novel—depending upon how you define and understand those genres.

Regardless of the label you assign it, the story between the covers is indeed part real and documented history and part fiction. The press release that promotes the book describes one of the main characters as “an enigmatic figure in the British motor racing and manufacturing world.” Anyone familiar with the life and career of one Thomas Anthony Donald Crook (1920–2014) might quibble with describing him as enigmatic if not for the deft way in which this book’s author, Cornelis van den Berg, brings him into the story simply as a fellow solo diner with whom the fictional protagonist strikes up a conversation. As their conversations progress over the ensuing days, like an onion being unpeeled layer by layer, readers learn more about Crook and the protagonist who we never know by anything more than Frank, his first name.

The showroom was small; room for only three cars. Tony Crook proudly stands alongside what appears to be a model 603.

Frank is somewhere in his early to mid 30s and essentially without direction, or purpose, or a job, and seeking to rectify that. We hear his conversations with Tony from his point of view and see the parts of London they are in through his eyes as he is the narrator. We also meet a few others who, unlike Tony are not historical or real people, but who very much form a part of the story as Frank’s search for some direction for himself progresses.

Tony Crook at speed in the number 11 car, a Cooper-Bristol.

The conversations with Tony are solidly based in history, his racing history and his business history as the owner of Bristol Cars. Dreamers was inspired by meetings between author van den Berg and Crook in 2010. Although, at the time van den Berg was still employed as the publisher of De Pers, a Dutch-language tabloid newspaper published in the Netherlands that had a subscribership of around 200,000, he embarked on writing this novel that first published in Dutch in 2012. 

Butterfield Press subsequently published this English translation, releasing it in 2018 as a companion book to Michael Barton’s full biography of Crook released as a hardcover, boxed book that same year titled Mr Bristol; The Remarkable Life of T.A.D. Crook. That book is described as “three years in the making and a treasure trove of photographs from Crook’s racing career, and a generous selection of images {some specially commissioned for the book] of his most famous cars [that were] either built or owned by him.

Butterfield is located in the UK and apparently doesn’t have distributors in other parts of the world but will gladly ship purchases anywhere and, as indicated on their website, shipping within the UK is free.

Tony Crook enjoying Monaco reminiscences.

Of Crook, an article in Volume 11, Number 1 of Automobile Quarterly says, “although not particularly well known outside of Britain, [he] probably contested more speed events on [Frazer Nash] Replicas . . . He was moreover a man with a quelquefois la politesse streak that appealed to race crowds, constantly finding himself, or pretending to, . . . balked or otherwise wronged; to this he’d respond with hi-fi gestures and a knifing show of con spirito motor racing.”

Tony Crook had long been a great appreciator of Bristol cars. In 1960 he took a financial stake in the company, becoming its sole owner in 1973. He had retired as proprietor and managing director in 2007, having sold a stake in the company. Not wanting to spoil the story in Dreamers, I will say no more as this history and more is cleverly woven into Frank’s search for himself as the friendship between the two forms. 

It’s a lovely, literate read for anyone wanting a bit of a diversion and a read purely for its entertainment factor.

Also available as a Special Edition of three copies in crimson goatskin and slipcased at £500.

by Cornelis van den Berg
Butterfield Press, 2018 
208 pages, 16 b/w images, softcover
List Price: £50 plus shipping
ISBN 13: 979 1 9996 325 1 9
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