There’s something terribly British about a night at the Proms. Or in our case, a daytime concert. The theatre stage at Southwards Car Museum was decked out in red, white and blue and we were presented with flags and a song sheet as we filed in to take our seats. The theatre was full, with our Probus group helping to swell the numbers. Looking at the heads of those seated in front of us, it was just like looking at “fifty shades of grey and white". It was fair to say that most of the audience were those of retirement age. All determined to thoroughly enjoy themselves too.
As a variety concert, the programme had a bit of everything. The show opened with everyone belting out God Save the Queen, and the New Zealand National Anthem, while we waved our flags gaily in the air. The singers of “Operatunity” then served up a few opera classics. The mood was lightened with some humorous items, such as Whispering Grass from the show, It Ain't Half Hot Mum, and Nobody Loves a Fairy when she’s 40. And being a Christmas show, we joined in with some of the lovely classic Christmas carols. But the noisiest items of all were those great Prom standbys, such as There’ll Always be an England, Land of Hope and Glory, and Rule Britannia, sung with gusto and much flag waving. Most Kiwis have some combination of UK blood in their veins, and the concert certainly had the blood pulsing. It was a great show.
The Operatunity concerts provide a light lunch as part of the deal, so we played follow-the-leader as we all trooped upstairs. Sandwiches, Christmas mince pies and tea or coffee were on offer, with the performers helping to serve the lunch.
While we were eating our lunch, we had great views looking down onto the Southward Car Museum, chock full of classic cars, motor bikes, and even an aeroplane or two. Leonard Bingley Southward, an avid motor enthusiast, automobile collector and motor sport legend first started in the motor industry as a messenger boy with a Wellington based firm. He later branched out on his own repairing motorcycles and by 1935, Southward Motors, which specialised in repairs to the very popular Austin Seven, had opened in Kent Terrace, Wellington.
During a trip to Britain in 1956, Len Southward and his wife, Vera, watched the finish of a veteran car run in Birmingham. On their return to New Zealand, he bought the car which started his famous collection, a Model T Ford, for which he paid £40. The car collection continued to grow, and finally a purpose built facility in Otaihanga and opened to the public on December 22, 1979. The Model T, still in the condition in which it was bought, has pride of place in one the largest privately owned collections of classic and vintage cars in the world. This museum must surely be a petrol-head’s idea of heaven. And rumour has it that there are just as many cars (in various condition) tucked away in the basement as there are on display in the museum.
His work in the motor industry was officially recognised when he received his knighthood from the Queen during her visit to New Zealand in 1986. Sir Len died on February 19th, 2004 at the ripe old age of 98