via email from Betty van den Betsy:
Betty by the Numbers: Cars
Did you know this figurehead-thingie is called ‘The Spirit of Ecstasy’?
No doubt for good reason...
Well, this slice-and-dice proved something I’d kinda noticed whilst paging through the canon: as Betty aged, either she or her editor decided detailed information on our hero’s chariot was unneeded or unwanted – or else Betty lost touch with or interest in the automotive world. In the last 68 books, from 1985 on, our hero drives either a Bentley or a Rolls (sometimes called a Rolls-Royce), with the very occasional Jaguar, Daimler or Rover for back-up. Only two of those late books identify which model of Bentley, and there are no specifics on the Rolls-Royces.
That’s a long way from the early years, when every Rolls is a Silver Shadow drophead coupé, Merlin or Corniche; Rovers are Land, Range or TC 2000s; and Aston Martins, Panthers and Lamborghinis zoom across the Afsluitdijk. One notices, too, that in later years our hero is apt to explain his Rolls or Bentley by saying that he needs a big car to accommodate his large frame. In earlier years, he was apparently content to cram himself into a sporty Italian model that must have required tucking his knees into his underarms. And, incidentally, those cars were seriously ugly – check all the photo research the Founding Bettys have generously done.
Of course, in early years he also had a back-up car, to vary the ergonomics a bit. In the first three years (1969-71) and nine books she published, Betty’s menfolk average 2.1 cars each. From 1972-79, over 37 books, they average 1.7 apiece, and then from 1980-2001, 89 books, we’re down to just 1.1 vehicles per man. The most conspicuous consumer of automotive goods is Fraam der Linssen of Ring in a Teacup (1978), who kept a Panther 4.2, a Rolls-Royce Carmague, a Range Rover and a Mini. Which one do you think he passed down to Fraam Jr. sixteen years later?
The final count: of the 176 cars Betty names for her menfolk, Rolls Royce wins the checkered flag, with 58 product placements. The Bentley folks are close behind, with 50 mentions. Since 37 of these children of fortune own multiple luxury automobiles – let’s just tot up some maths here – that means 43% of perfect husbands drive Rollses and 37% drive Bentleys. Only two heroes – Jonkheer Max van Oosterwelde of Visiting Consultant (1969) and Radmer ter Bavinck of The Moon for Lavinia (1975) – drive one of each.
And what do the gentlemen drive when not in those exemplars of British automaking? Other exemplars, mostly. Ten Daimlers (typically Sovereigns) and ten Aston Martins lead the pack, with nine Jaguars almost keeping pace. Six Rovers and five Bristols make a nice showing.
I was surprised to find four Panthers on the list. That has got to be some kind of early-childhood fixation of Madame Neels’s, because no one could love that thing on first sight. The ones, twos and threes include: Mini, Jensen, Volvo, Iso Grigo, Mercedes, BMW, Citroën, Porsche, Lamborghini, Iso Lele, a shabby Fiat, Maserati, Lagonda, Ferrari and – say it with me – “The Man in the AC 428 Fastback!” I do think it impressive, and interesting, that Betty Neels had so detailed an interest in automobiles. I read once that she didn’t know how to drive (it was in a Harlequin author profile, in response to a question about what she’d do differently in her life, or something like that), yet she obviously had strong opinions on how, and in what, it ought to be done. She routinely praises her heroes for fast driving, and a few heroines in earlier books have ‘advanced driving certificates,’ as a point of pride.
Incidentally, my notes show no car named for either George Pritchard of A Summer Idyll or Duert ter Brandt of Not Once But Twice. And back here at home, I recently (under duress after a large-ish pickup truck rear-ended me) traded my old Saturn with the busted sunroof for a spanking nearly-new mini-Honda, while the Jonkheer occasionally chauffeurs me to dinner and no dancing in a socking great