John Beresford Blunsden, one of the major figures in motorsport journalism, has died at the age of 86. John was old school. In the course of his career he not only redefined what motorsport magazines were but also encouraged generations of eager youngsters who to wanted to get into the business. One didn’t need to look up to know when John was around as the phrase “Hello old boy” would be heard. For my generation, he and longtime pal Alan Brinton were the doyens of the motorsport media, good men, proper reporters and good role models.
Born in Bristol, John began his working life in the motor trade, before convincing the Croydon Advertiser, his local newspaper, to let him write a motoring column. At the age of 19 he followed the Monte Carlo Rally with no less a figure than Bill Boddy of Motorsport magazine and a few years later, in 1957, when Motorsport’s owner Wesley Tee acquired Motoring News, John was recruited to work for the magazine which he helped to transform from being a trade publication to becoming a motorsport weekly. He campaigned for the title to be changed to Motorsport News, but Tee would have none of it, although today that is the name of the magazine. John was deputy editor to Cyril Posthumus and then succeeded him as editor in 1959. At the same time, he wrote his first book, a history of Formula Junior. In 1961 he moved on to become a freelance reporter, working closely with John Webb, the promoter at Brands Hatch. He took over the running of Motor Racing magazine, which had begun life as the magazine of the Half- Litre Club before becoming the official organ of the British Racing and Sports Car Club.
He and Brinton created the first truly modern motorsport magazine, including such innovative ideas as track tests (which Blunsden himself did) and driver interviews, rather than the usual diet of race reports and technical features. John was a smooth, fast and skilful driver and, in many cases, could match the lap times of the cars’ regular drivers. In that era Motor Racing was produced from a Portakabin in the café car park at Brands Hatch. In the same era John was also the editor of Airfix magazine, dedicated to the then new hobby of building plastic kits. In addition he and Brinton produced an annual Motor Racing Year, an annual recording the goings-on in international racing and he worked for magazines all over the world, helping to promote the sport and Formula 1 in particular. In 1970 he became the motor racing correspondent of The Times and attended almost all the Grands Prix from then until 1990.
In 1968 he was invited to become the manager of Motor Racing Publications, a book publishing company that had been started by Nevil Lloyd after the war. The following year he acquired a majority shareholding in the business and would ultimately buy the whole business. Under his direction, top priority was given to the creation of new titles, beginning with Around the World in a Cloud of Dust, the story of the London-to-Sydney Marathon, by Nick Brittan.
During the 1970s, the company concentrated on books about high-performance and collectable road cars, leading in 1979 to the creation of the Collector’s Guide series, which now runs to 60 titles. In the 1980s he created a subsidiary imprint, The Fitzjames Press, to publish titles that did not fit into the MRP portfolio. There was also a steady flow of motorsport titles, including a large number of biographies. He himself continued to write books and was twice the winner of the Guild of Motoring Writers’ Montagu of Beaulieu Trophy. He served as chairman of the Guild on two occasions in 1973 and 1982 and was also a trustee of the club.
In 2012, a stroke left him partially paralyzed and unable to walk – or write – but he remained cheerful and as interested as ever in the world of motoring and motor sport. John leaves a widow, Pauline, son Nick and grand-daughter Darcy.