A jovial, warm-hearted character who became celebrated as ‘The Voice of Brands’, veteran circuit commentator Brian Jones died on New Year’s Day. He was 85.
For such a proud Englishman, it was appropriate that Jones was born on St George’s Day in 1935, and he grew up in Gloucester.
Jones and his brother Gordon both became keen rugby players, and each played in the 1950s for Gloucester, the club that would eventually be bought by the late Tom Walkinshaw at the dawn of the sport’s professional era.
Jones then had a spell in the army, and once back in civilian life he took up a role with BP, where he had a marketing role and looked after the oil company’s motorsport sponsorship.
As BP wound back its involvement from the sport in the late 1960s, Jones moved to Brands Hatch where he became general manager of Motor Racing Stables, the circuit’s racing school.
As right-hand man to MRS founder Geoff Clarke, Jones oversaw the school’s Daily Express Crusader Series in 1970, using the fleet of Lotus 51 Formula Ford warhorses but with the prize of a brand-new Lola for the winner.
The winner of that competition was a young Welshman named Tom Pryce, and Jones became very close to his young protege – he and Clarke even acted as his managers for a while before prospects became brighter for Pryce elsewhere.
“Geoff wanted Tom under contract because we really did regard him as very special,” Jones once told this writer. “Tom wasn’t quite sure. Although he signed the contract he withdrew from it, and thank God he did! He realised that nothing was negotiated at Brands without a glass in the hand…”
Jones, indeed, became part of the cortege of hard-drinking but ground-breaking and resourceful cohorts of long-time Brands impresario John Webb. He soon moved into circuit commentary, and by the late 1970s was leading the circuit’s British Grand Prix team of announcers, as well as being the man on the mic at pretty much every car-racing fixture in between.
His was the perfect voice for Webb-era Brands, where the emphasis was on attracting as many new fans to the sport as possible through various enterprising initiatives.
With his baritone, measured, slow-paced delivery, he was the antithesis of the fast-talking commentators that prevail in action sports. Jones himself said that he wasn’t necessarily the man for the hardcore fan, and that his job was more to entertain the wives, girlfriends or children who might be making their first visit to Brands.
That’s not to say that he lacked knowledge – his circle of contacts and friends in the sport was so wide that his ‘inside info’ was as good as anyone’s, and never was this more apparent than when he commentated on the local Champion of Brands series for his favourite Formula Ford category (Jones loved Formula Ford so much that he once referred over the tannoy to Rene Arnoux’s Formula 1 Ferrari as “looking for all the world like a big red Van Diemen”).
Current Brands boss Jonathan Palmer, who took part in numerous races commentated on by Jones, said: “Brian Jones was to Brands Hatch what Murray Walker was to British F1. Both were synonymous with the motor racing they covered and had wonderful, distinctive and charismatic voices.
“Brian was a tremendous supporter of Brands Hatch particularly, and of national motor racing generally. His knowledge and enthusiasm was immense, while he was a popular regular in the Kentagon too, where much valuable research was of course done!”
Jones was not only the Voice of Brands, but he was a kind, genial man who rarely passed up an opportunity to support anyone in motorsport he believed in, whether that was a driver, a journalist or an aspiring fellow commentator.
On one occasion, as the Road Saloons grid formed at the end of a Brands Hatch winter clubbie in the late 1980s, he announced that he was passing the mic over to someone the crowd would know as a very talented young racing driver, but who wanted to give commentary a go, and that he was sure that the individual concerned would do an excellent job. That commentary debutant was Ben Edwards…
Jones was also a pioneer in the early days of what is now regarded as media training, through his popular Brian Jones Presentation Skills Courses of the 1990s, which took place over two days at the Brands Hatch Thistle hotel. This would sometimes entail some very hungover young drivers on the morning of the second day in those more carefree days.
He was also the first ‘permanent’ commentator for the British Touring Car Championship’s TOCA package when that started in 1993.
When Jones started at Brands, the brash management of the circuit was regarded somewhat sniffily by the elite up at Silverstone, but he was greatly honoured when he was eventually put forward as a member of the British Racing Drivers’ Club – his proposer was no less than Sir Stirling Moss, and his seconder Sir Jack Brabham.
During his early commentary days in the 1970s, there was a Radio 1 Raceday where several of the station’s DJs were taking part behind the wheel, and it was realised that no one had considered who would provide the live commentary on the radio. Jones did the honours, and some distance away a listener named Ros was taping the show, as youngsters did in those days.
Little could either know that Ros would eventually become Brian’s wife, and they had a daughter Charlotte to add to Jones’s son Tim and daughter Fay from his previous marriage. All of them survive Jones, who very proudly commentated on his son’s prowess in the Formula Ford 1600 and FF2000 categories in the 1980s – usually with an apology to the crowd in case he sounded biased.
He was just that sort of bloke really. Yes, he was devoted to his wife, children and grandchildren, but he loved everybody, and everybody loved him.