Bob Berry, who has died aged 91, worked for many years in public relations and marketing for the car manufacturer Jaguar, but also spent time in the 1950s as a racing driver.
Bob’s route into racing began in France in 1951 at the Le Mans 24-hour race, where as an enthusiastic spectator he got chatting to Jaguar’s racing manager, “Lofty” England. Bob offered to help in the pits, but instead Lofty gave him a job as the Jaguar team’s timekeeper and interpreter for the race, which it won for the first time that year.
That led to an offer of a post in Jaguar’s publicity department, and he then took up racing as a sideline, at first in a Jaguar XK 120 with special lightweight bodywork. He had a promising season in 1954-55, and as a result was given the chance to drive a Jaguar D-type owned by the Lancashire millionaire Jack Broadhead.
However, he had mixed success in the D-type in 1956-57 and eventually had an accident at the Goodwood track in Sussex that put him in hospital for six weeks. Afterwards the Jaguar boss Sir William Lyons gave him an ultimatum: concentrate on your main job or leave to become a full-time racing driver. Bob, aware of the dangers involved in racing, as well as his own limits, chose the safer option.
Nonetheless his driving skills proved useful in his work, including for the launch of the E-type Jaguar at the Geneva Motor Show in 1961, when at the last moment he had to drive a demonstrator car from Coventry to Switzerland in double-quick time, arriving at the venue with 20 minutes to spare.
Born in Prescot, Lancashire, to Robert, a retail chemist, and his French wife, Aimée, a headteacher, Bob went to Rossall school near Fleetwood. Following national service he read modern languages at Cambridge University, and it was while studying there that he made his holiday-time visit to Le Mans. Once offered a job at Jaguar he abandoned his studies.
In 1966 Bob became Jaguar’s director of PR and marketing, and later, after Jaguar had become integrated into British Leyland, he was sales operations director for the group. In 1980 he became managing director of Alfa Romeo in the UK but left in 1982, later working as managing director for a motor trader in Cardiff and as a consultant before retiring in 1991.
I came across the story of Bob’s life when I joined Jaguar as company historian 20 years after he had left. Though we never met, I always had a great respect for his achievements.
Bob’s first marriage, to Avril Blades in 1958, ended in divorce. He married Alison Pyatt (nee Dykes) in 1984, and in retirement they toured around the world in a motorhome before settling in Leamington Spa in 1998.
He is survived by Alison and Avril, by the two children from his first marriage, Suzie and Peter, Alison’s daughters from a previous marriage, Lyn, Jo and Lisa, and two grandchildren.