PETER CAHILL - 1932 - 2008
December 2008 (CMM 237). CMM’s senior correspondent Peter Cahill died suddenly in October. Here, editor John Hodson, pays tribute to a Journalist who lived for classic motoring, in an extended version of the eulogy delivered at Peter’s funeral....
In all his years working for Classic Motor Monthly, Peter only ever let me down twice at deadline. The second time was just a few weeks ago, the first time was about, if memory serves, five years back.
Both Peter and I had a natural instinct for deadlines; we both knew, to almost the minute, when too late was really too late. Thus for 16 years we played the game of him asking me when deadline was, me giving him a wildly optimistic reply, and him completely ignoring me, in the nicest possible Peter Cahill manner.
This despite the pleas, the cajoling, the downright begging. And so his copy usually arrived well after the date I'd given him, it overshot by a good margin the actual 'too late' date. And, despite the fact, as I lectured him on many an occasion, it being truly pivotal in the planning and layout of our publication, it always arrived last.
What he didn't know was that after its arrival it sat on my desk, for, oh, a good half day, an eternity in our chaotic deadline schedule. My deadline clock was tuned slightly finer than Peters; I can see him now, smiling broadly and chuckling as only he could at that news.
However five years ago, Peter pitched up the day before deadline at my home having driven from Rodder, Germany in his little LHD MG Metro. He parked it on the pub car park opposite, had a quick cuppa, then, because he was to stay the night, he went to get his bag. Except he couldn't; in the brief minutes since he arrived, the car had been stolen. Peter returned looking quite distraught. The car contained practically everything Peter owned; his clothes, his computers, cameras, notebooks, the lot. I assured him in a slightly glib but I hoped reassuring manner that everything would be okay, and he said; "But everything's gone; everything I had for deadline, pictures, the stories, my notes, the lot."
Peter calmed down, the police arrived, and within a couple of hours, the car was found abandoned and written off. Everything of value was gone. The following morning, we reversed roles, I was hit by panic and Peter exuded calm and a quiet assurance that all would be well. He worked beyond the call of duty; between us we sorted out the police and getting the few possessions the thieves didn't take - thankfully the fashion sense of a, well, slightly rotund pensioner was not to their liking so we got back most of his clothes. And he bashed away at his computer rewriting, from memory, everything he possibly could - the pictures, well, they were gone for good, but we did it, and though his pieces that month contained many, many generalisations, Peter hit his deadline, and if he let me down, honestly, how could he help it?
Peter was at this point now a house guest again; they'd stolen his only means of transport. But I had a cunning plan. I recalled having a conversation with a chap earlier in the month who was trying to sell his late father-in-law's SAAB, he just wanted to get it off his drive; from his description, it didn't sound half bad, and as luck would have it, he was local. So off we trotted and it did look like a bargain - with the minimum of umming and ahing, Peter was back on the road.
It's only a couple of years back that the SAAB gave up the ghost. Peter called me and said - only half joking I'm sure - that he was thinking of having her recommissioned, dusting off his motorsport license and campaigning her. Typical of the man. Peter was in his early-70s, but simply refused to acknowledge the fact. He always appeared to have unlimited energy, even if that was not always the case. Last year, when he was quite ill, only a very few knew just how sick he was. It's an irony that he'd appeared to have come through that trauma, and people, up and down the country, folks in our classic car world who genuinely cared for him, remarked just how well he looked.
The second time Peter let me down at deadline was, well, the last - this final for Peter - issue. He rang me to tell me, quite excitedly, that he'd had word from the hospital that were at last going to sort him out, but that he'd be going in for his 'minor repair' as he called it, on deadline. Don't worry, he said, I'll have everything to you in time. Peter worked the whole weekend, and despite me getting a little twitchy, the copy came down the line as promised. He would ring me, he said, from hospital to make sure everything was alright.
But, everything wasn't alright. Peter, shockingly, is no longer with us. It was deadline, and there were no late night coded ring telephone calls as he fussed and kept my sagging spirits up. He didn't call me the morning after we went to bed with CMM, to ask how I was, how late did I finish, to start planning for the next issue. Not his fault. If he let me down in these small, but oh so important ways, honestly, how could he help it?
He won't be at the shows, hoving into view, the accoutrements of the photo journalist slung around his shoulders, brightening our days, taking command of the CMM stand, telling the odd, daft joke. Suddenly we would be attracting visitors, old friends, strangers, all of whom Peter had time for, to have a chat with the man who had come to personify, for many, Classic Motor Monthly.
Peter and I were introduced at the Alexandra Palace Classic Car Show by Andrew Greenwood in 1992. 'You should get together' said Andrew. Peter looked at my wife Ann and I, sitting behind our table and still quite new on the scene, and probably thought not. I looked at him, and he appeared...well, expensive...
However, we DID get together and the articles started to trickle in, mostly under pseudonyms; I got the distinct impression somehow that Peter thought CMM wasn't long for this classic car world! Sixteen years later, and Peter was loyal, supportive, enthusiastic as ever; though he contributed to many other excellent enthusiasts publications Europe-wide, he was always 'our Peter', the very heart and soul of our publication.
People call asking to speak to the 'editor Peter Cahill', or write in under the same impression. 'The editor, Peter, not here?' people would ask me at shows, and a I rarely disabused them. I was comfortable with the fact that Peter was our figurehead, I was always very, very proud to have him on the staff.
I was also proud to call him a friend, one who knew and always asked after my family, someone who stood by CMM through times thick and thin, who was always there, like a rock, during any editorial crisis. He was a ray of bright sunshine during an increasingly bleak world. This 'classic car world' - and Peter was known and loved quite genuinely the world over - is suddenly much smaller, it is truly diminished by his passing.
And, of course, Cahill conquered Europe. In the mid-90s, Peter, as he was wont to do, suddenly announced he was off to live in Germany, where he had very fond memories of National Service. He would be, he said smiling broadly, our European correspondent. He came to love Rodder, the little village that he made his continental home, and they came to love him. Peter, who wrote for the German based British Classic Cars magazine, and was on the judging team at the Essen Classic Motor Show, was truly loved; they saw him as a quintessential, English gentleman, and he forgave them for past misdemeanours, with that wicked sense of humour of his; oh, he had a fabulous time down his Rodder local when our footballers beat them 5-1. Darting between his twin homes - Kenilworth to Rodder and back again was a mere hop, skip and jump for the man with boundless energy - became Peter's life the last decade and more, and he was as welcome and recognisable on the European show scene as he was here.
Within hours of Peter's death, my email in-box began to fill with tributes; Gary Hall, of the German Armstrong Siddeley group, said he was, like us all, devastated by the news, and he sent me this quote translated from Goethe, which he said fitted Peter perfectly: "A really great talent finds its happiness in execution."
Peter's encyclopedic knowledge of all things automotive was astounding and if he you asked him a question to which he didn't know, he wouldn't rest until he had a full and definitive answer. He had the great gift of making everyone he talked with feel like they were the most important people in the room. He lit up when he saw a beautiful machine; motor cars, and particularly beloved classic cars were, in short, his life.
Peter always had a twinkle in his eye, he made the most mundane things FUN.
It seems to unfair that all that knowledge, all that expertise, all that genuine love, for classic motoring has simply gone, but the fact is that Peter will always be remembered and recalled, I'm sure, with great fondness. And he won't really be gone as long as we have the legacy of Peter's journalism.
While making up this last issue, there was a piece of Peter's - on a Stag Fast Back - that I'd been unable to place for space reasons for a few months. It looked unlikely to make it again, but fate intervened. Michael Ware had submitted his column, but I'd failed to notice that his email (that miracle of the modern technology) only contained photographs - not the regular piece, and he was away on holiday. Calamity.
Miraculously, it was exactly the right space for Peter's held over Stag article, and Peter being a Triumph man to the core it was a piece that was not only written with great expertise and full of contemporary inside information, but the sheer joy of it all seemed to jump off the page at me, and as I read it I could hear him, his enthusiastic voice ringing clear in my head. It was pure, undiluted Cahill, all his powers intact, at the top of his game. Posthumously, he'd come though again; he would have loved that.
He'd have also chuckled that husky Cahill chuckle when that morning - that same morning that brought the dread news - the post arrived, with an envelope from Kenilworth. Peter's envelopes were famous in our office. Once, years and years ago. he sent some photos, the envelope had gotten wet, torn open and the contents scattered within the maw of the Royal Mail. Right, he must have thought, that won't happen again - every missive thereafter arrived bound in yards and yards of the stickiest, toughest tape imaginable. There was many a morning when, after several minutes of pulling, biting and cursing, I would sling one of Peter's parcels across the room barking for someone to please, please break into it!
Audrey's letter opened in a trice; and inside, bless him, Peter had sent a DVD containing all the pictures and articles that he'd worked so hard on the previous nights to send to us for deadline; belt and braces he used to call it. And, yes, it was bound in yards and yards of the stickiest tape imaginable...
Classic Motor Monthly goes on, the classic car world continues to spin. But it's all so different. Things have changed now that the Great Cahill isn't pounding away at a keyboard somewhere. It might be a cliche, but it happens to be true. We won't see the like again.
God bless you Peter; it was a privilege to have known you and to have shared your friendship.
It was fun.