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Campbell, Donald Malcolm

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Campbell, Donald Malcolm

Born : 23 March 1921
City : Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey, England
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Campbell, Donald Malcolm Biography

Family and personal life

Donald Campbell was born at Canbury House, Kingston upon Thames, Surrey, the son of Malcolm, later Sir Malcolm Campbell, holder of 13 world speed records in the 1920s and 30s in the famous Bluebird cars and boats, and his second wife, Dorothy Evelyn ne Whittall. This background would shape Donald Campbell's entire character, and indeed his life.

Campbell attended St Peter's School, Seaford and Uppingham School. At the outbreak of World War II he volunteered for the Royal Air Force, but was unable to serve because of a case of childhood rheumatic fever. He joined Briggs Motor Bodies Ltd in West Thurrock, where he became a maintenance engineer. Subsequently, he was a shareholder in a small engineering company called Kine engineering, producing machine tools. Following his father's death on New Year's Eve, 31 December 1948 and aided by Malcolm's chief engineer, Leo Villa, the younger Campbell strove to set speed records first on water and then land.

He married three times: to Daphne Harvey in 1945, producing daughter Georgina (Gina) Campbell, born on 19 September 1946; to Dorothy McKegg in 1952; and to Tonia Bern in December 1958, which lasted until his death in 1967. Campbell was intensely superstitious, hating the colour green, the number thirteen, and believing nothing good ever happened on a Friday. He apparently also had some interest in the paranormal, which he nurtured as a member of the Ghost Club.

Death

On 4 January 1967, weather conditions were finally suitable for an attempt. Campbell commenced the first run of his last record attempt at just after 8.45 am. Bluebird moved slowly out towards the middle of the lake, where she paused briefly as Donald lined her up. With a deafening blast of power, Campbell now applied full throttle and Bluebird began to surge forward. Clouds of spray issued from the jet-pipe, water poured over the rear spar and after a few hundred yards, at 70 mph, Bluebird unstuck from the surface and rocketed off towards the southern end of the lake, producing her characteristic comet’s tail of spray. She entered the measured kilometre at 8:46. Leo Villa witnessed her passing the first marker buoy at about 285 mph (459 km/h) in perfect steady planing trim, her nose slightly down, still accelerating. 7.525 seconds later, Keith Harrison saw her leave the measured kilometre at a speed of over 310 mph (500 km/h). The average speed for the first run was 297.6 mph (478.9 km/h). Campbell lifted his foot from the throttle about 3/10 of a second before passing the southern kilometre marker. As Bluebird left the measured kilometre, Keith Harrison and Eric Shaw in a course boat at the southern end of the measured kilo both noticed that she was very light around the bows, riding on her front stabilising fins. Her planing trim was no worse than she had exhibited when equipped with the Beryl engine, but it was markedly different from that observed by Leo Villa at the northern end of the kilometre, when she was under full acceleration. Campbell had made his usual commentary throughout the run.

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