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“I just love old things,” smiles Henry Labouchere, reflecting on two of his great passions parked side by side in the sunshine on a remote Norfolk airstrip.
The tiny Austin Seven and, in aeronautical terms, equally diminutive de Havilland Tiger Moth belong to a bygone era, representing mechanical simplicity and bags of fun.
While the Austin has been in the family since 1955, the Moth was bought in Australia in 1971, but it’s an equally important example of how he cherishes wonderful veteran machines and symbolises an extraordinary life in the air.
Henry was flying solo before he had his driving licence and has flown all over the world in a variety of aircraft.
He has worked with movie legends including Harrison Ford, David Niven and Christopher Reeve, and has spent the past 40 years involved in every area of aviation aside from being a commercial pilot.
Henry’s father, Peter, was a colonel in the Army and his mother, known as Peg, was “an amazing woman” who competed in various international rallies in the 1930s.
He was, therefore, destined to be adventurous.
During the 1960s, Henry worked for a crop-spraying company in East Anglia.
In 1969, aged just 21, he bought a cheap ticket to Australia, doing various jobs then buying the Tiger Moth for £1200 and flying it all around the country before moving on to New Zealand and doing the same thing there.
“I worked with the most amazing people,” he says, “the ‘can-do-ism’, the money you made. It was wonderful.”
After he had returned to England in 1976, one of those people, Arthur Heath, offered him a job working on the 1977 war movie A Bridge Too Far.
A host of other films and television shows followed, including Hanover Street, The Aviator and A Man Called Intrepid.
After marrying Jill, who also has a pilot’s licence, Henry set up an aircraft maintenance business in the hangar adjacent to the old RAF Langham runway where the Austin and Moth now bask in the sunshine.
Henry was six when his father bought the Austin, originally a saloon, for £50 for his older brother John, who drove it for a year before rolling it and writing off the body.
The car was rebuilt as a van and eventually stored in a shed.
“Then it was tarted up so it ran and was given to me for my eighth or ninth birthday,” says Henry.
“I remember being so excited at having this thing, it was just wonderful.”
The fun lasted for about four years, as he “continued to wreck it” around the 70 acres of farmland attached to the old rectory where his grandfather had previously served as the vicar.
In the early ’60s the Austin was sold back to John for four sheets of marine plywood, and it stayed with him until 2010, falling deeper into disrepair.
Henry rescued and restored it, converting it into a tourer – its third body style in 90 years – and, after roughly half a century, the old Austin was back on the road.
“It’s got the same registration, bonnet, wings, engine and radiator, but the body is from a Seven that had its back end cut off to tow a lawnmower,” he says.
“The way the engine sort of fumes into the cockpit brings back more nostalgia than anything else. It’s an automotive Tiger Moth, really – it’s just as appalling!”
Just like the Moth, which he says is finally exactly how he wants it after 50 years, the car is a huge part of the family.
“It’s a lovely thing to have,” Henry explains. “Every time you drive it, you get out with a smile.”
Words: Matt Ware
Images: Simon Finlay
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