Joe Saward talks about the book
The Grand Prix Saboteurs is the remarkable true story of how three motor racing stars of the 1920s and 1930s worked together as British secret agents during World War II in Occupied France.
It is a story that has never been told before. Based on 18 years of research by Formula 1 reporter Joe Saward, the story dazzles with swashbuckling – yet true – escapes, shocking betrayals and a story that you will never forget.
The story begins with “W Williams”, a mysterious figure – even when he was one of the top Grand Prix drivers of the day, driving for the Bugatti factory team. He won four major Grand Prix victories and was the most successful British racing driver of the era – more successful in Grand Prix racing than Henry Segrave.
“W Williams” was really Willy Grover, the son an Englishman who had settled in Paris. His mother was a Frenchwoman and he grew up in France and Monaco. Success brought fame and fortune and he lived the life of a country gentleman, splitting his time between a house in Paris and a villa on the French Riviera in the years before the war. When the fighting began he joined the British Army as a humble driver and escaped to England with the rest of the British Expeditionary Force.
Separated from his beloved French wife, he was keen to return home. It was then that the War Office spotted his unusual talents and steely nerves and he was recruited to be a secret agent in the Special Operations Executive (SOE). He was parachuted to France in the summer of 1942, when all the other British networks had been infiltrated by German intelligence. His mission was to create sabotage teams to prepare for future landings – whenever they might come.
Looking for brave and resourceful Frenchmen, he enlisted the help of an old racing rival Robert Benoist, France’s top racing star in the 1920s, winner of a string of Grands Prix and of the Le Mans 24 Hours.
Together they formed the most extraordinary resistance network of the war. The Grand Prix Saboteurs is their story.
28 thoughts on “The Grand Prix Saboteurs”
I noticed the following game http://blog.us.playstation.com/2009/10/developer-diary-the-saboteur-for-ps3/ seems to follow this story. Are you involved at all?
No, I did get contacted by them at one point. They wanted me to talk to journalists and show them around parts of Paris where the events in William Grover-Williams’s life took place. I guess that they had figured out that I was the expert on the subject. I wrote back saying I would be happy to do so and then wrote a parallel letter to their legal department saying that I hoped that in conceiving and designing the game Electronic Arts had not made use of anything from the book, without the author’s permission.
An American lawyer wrote me a nice letter to say that they had not used anything from the book and that information about the life of William Grover Williams is “widely available to the public”.
Damn, why did I not know that when I spent 18 years researching all the secrets about him?
Oddly enough, soon after that letter came along the request for help was dropped like a stone. I guess they did not want to acknowledge my expertise as this would weaken any legal action, if such a thing is ever necessary.
So I will be getting my son to play the new game when it comes out and if I find ANYTHING that could only have come from “The Grand Prix Saboteurs” book. If I do then I will be going back to the said lawyer and pointing out – in very polite terms – that if they do not pay me I will have to go and find a very BIG American lawyer and sue them for rather a lot of money as I am sure they intend to make squillions with the game.
However, for now, no such action is necessary. We will have to see what the game includes…
Hi Joe. Firstly, thank you for your blog, it’s one of the best out there.
Just wanted to let you know I’ve bought your book from Waterstones.com. Mr C at Sidepodcast asked me to let you know as I understand you do not believe it is available from there 🙂
It’s an early Christmas present to me from me and I’m really looking forward to it arriving as I find your blog really good & enjoy the Asides too. Thanks for everything you do, keep up the fantastic work!
So now The Saboteur game is out has your son had a chance to play it?
The reviews have been very mixed, so there may or may not be those squillions available…
Ever considered selling signed copies via amazon marketplace?
I’ve been listening to sidepodcast for a year or so now and just made the connection that the book I’ve been wanting for Christmas for the past 3 years (and that I finally got this time) was from you.
I enjoy the podcasts and look forward to reading the book! Keep up the good work.
I got said book as a pressie from Santa, and I just had to say that I’ve not been able to put it down since I started reading it. I’m quite familiar with Paris and much of France, and I could just see these things happening. I hope Santa paid a decent price to you!
First, I wish all the best in 2010. for You! I am writing from Serbia. When the Saboteur game was published I found out that You wrote the book about the same topic and I hardly wait to read it. Unfortunately Amazon does not operate in Serbia and I have no chance to buy book. Can You help me in some way to get it in hard copy or is there possibility for downloading the book? I would be glad to read it ASAP. Thanks!
Here’s an interesting article which fit’s into this oeuvre: http://www.facebook.com/notes/historicracingcom/165-this-chap-is-actually-not-a-chap-at-all-he-or-should-i-say-she-is-violette-m/302076829524
I have heard about her before. Very odd.
Can I suggest that the connection may be Hellé Nice – The Buagatti Queen – who at one point had/was a team ‘person’ of Rene Dreyfus.
Hellé Nice was suspected of being a Gestapo agent during the war – something that Violette Morris – based on written eveidence – was.
Link Hellé Nice, Violette Morris, Rene Dreyfus and add Jean Bugatti (a close friend of Hellé Nice and eldest son of Ettore Bugatti) and I guess you can add 2+2 and make either 4 or 5?
My guess is that there is a connection. it would be highly unlikely that those involved with the Bugatti Team in that time frame would have known each other.
Philippe Maillard-Brune was very close to Jacques Menier ( a member of the Menier Chocloate family) who had strong ties to MG which was very “English” remembering that Lord Nuffield (William Morris) – during WW2 set up Castle Bromwich as the first “shadow factory” building Spitfires, supplementing Supermarine’s original capabilities.
When William Morris became Viscount Nuffield in 1938 he merged “his” Morris Motor Company (incorporating Wolseley) and MG with newly acquired Riley to form a new company: the Nuffield Organisation.
Remember that The Riley Brooklands was one of the most successful works and privateer racing cars of the late 1920s and early 1930s. The Brooklands (1927 – 1931) was a car that was popular with the “fairer sex” and gave many a successful platform in motorsport .
We come circle within circle, female racers, WW2, Gestapo and Ressiatance – sorry Joe not read your book yet it is not easilly avaiable here on Kefalonia (Greece) , OK nor are English books in general – so I don’t know the full story nor content, but I have no doubt that the people mentioned above all knew, or knew of each other.
I am not sure i understand what you are saying here. Dreyfus was Jewish and stayed in America after being there to race in 1940 when the Germans invaded. He eventually joined the US Army and served as a sergeant in Italy. Jean Bugatti was dead before the war began. Helle Nice was still recovering from injuries after her crash in Brazil and spent the war in Paris and after the Germans invaded the Vichy Zone in 1942 moved to the Riviera. She was accused of being a Gestapo agent but there is absolutely no evidence that she was. The only accuser was Louis Chiron and the accusation was not made until 1949. It seems that she was speechless when he made his claim. He never repeated the accusation, nor gave any further details. Nobody ever backed him up. She denied the accusation and demanded an apology. He did not supply one. The accusation was made in Monaco, where Chiron was a national hero and so legal action against him was not really an option. Chiron was a bit of a prima donna by all accounts and did not like Helle Nice, who did not have his driving talent but generated as much attention. He may have been rejected by her at some stage (a rare thing for her, apparently). Chiron spent his war years in Switzerland, Corsica and on the Riviera…
Sorry Joe did not mean to give any offence – or be unclear. I am well aware of the Helle Nice/Louis Chiron ‘accusation’ and was not trying to imply in anyway there was any truth or not to it. All I was attempting to suggest was that given the time period say 1920 – 1940 it is highly likely that the individuals mentioned had met and had some form of aquaintance based relationship- not necessarily a freindship.
Does ‘the Saboteures’ exist as an audio book? Can’t find it, but as it seems you are not really afraid of using your voice and not your just your fingertips, I find that a bit odd.
The book is available on Amazon only. It is not available as an audio book. I have thought about it but I never have the time…
I’m a french canadian from Quebec City, Canada. I grown up at about 50 miles from Gilles Villeneuve’s house in Berthierville. Never met him but we would have the same age now.
I’ve bought your book about the Saboteurs from amazon.ca and simply loved it. I’m very addicted to the history of the WW2 and the story of these drivers that became involved in the resistance was very poignant. Congratulations for your researches and your desire to share that cruel story.
I am now on my fourth copy of Saboteurs as I seem to end up giving them away to non-motor racing enthusiasts as a superb example of the fascination of the history of motor sport and the characters involved.
I wrote the piece about Violette Morris (see link from Ted Tofield) on my facebook page. It is not a comfortable story however it is an integral part of history like it or not.
I was wondering if during your thorough research for Saboteurs you came across references to Violette Morris in relation to Williams and co and whether you have heard of any truth in the rumor that Philippe Maillard-Brune was part of the Resistance cell that killed her on the road between Normandy and Paris?
This book was years in the making and it is obvious that alot of work and research went into it.
What a shame is was so poorly presented – the photos are barely understandable, and there are spelling and grammer mistakes everywhere.
Was it just a problem with the 1st edition?
Yes, the problems were fixed later.
I bought a copy of Grand Prix Saboteurs a couple of years ago, and i have just read it again for the umpteenth time. I am not an avid book reader, but once i pick up my copy of G.P.S i can’t put it down. A tremendous book, and i’m sure it would be an incredible film, has anyone shown any interest in adapting the book for a film? If it ever happens i’ll be first in the queue.
Thanks for a brilliant book.
A film is in the pipeline, with shooting due to begin this month, but one of the investors dropped out and so that is being delayed. If that does not work out I have several other options as there seem to be a few companies keen to secure the rights…
If you like the GP Sabs, I suggest you read the Crippen book. It is not about racing, but it is a really fun story of wildly unlikely adventures. It is less dense in style than the GPS…
Thanks for your reply Joe, i ‘m so looking forward to the film, and i just placed an order with Amazon for the Crippen book, and i’m looking forward to another great read.
Happy Christmas and a prosperous new year.
I’m a long time reader/lurker but a first time poster so first off, thanks for the fabulous resource that is this blog.
Second, is GPS going to be available on Kindle at any point do you know? Got so used to reading on mine I virtually never touch a paperback now and I’d really like to read the story! If not I’ll have to go back to paper!
Hi Joe –
I’m wondering whathappened with the proposed film based on your wonderful book? Are the rights still spoken for? I have keen interest!
The last option ran out a few months ago but there are some people still talking. I am open to offers.