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Diggens Rodney I (ROD)

Year working: 1937 -

Long standing automobile artist who produces very detailed colourful gouache paintings. Frequent exhibitor at Goodwood and Silverstone. Also paints superb aviation paintings and is a long standing member of the Guild of Motoring Artists. ----------------------------------------- Here in his own words is his biography.------------Born August 2nd 1937 in Dulwich south London. There was never, as far as I know, any indication that there might be an aptitude for drawing. Although, like most youngsters, there was always a pencil to hand but never a ready supply of paper. So it wasn't a good idea to leave blank sheets about or for that matter books that might contain type free pages! The disruption to family life at the outbreak of WW11 hit the Diggens household as hard as any other and the two older boys were sent off to Dereham in Norfolk to escape the bombing. Later, mother and youngest son moved to a small cottage at North Green Parham and the two evacuees were sent down to Suffolk to join them. 1943 saw the arrival of the USAAF and Parham, like so many other small towns and villages across East Anglia, was soon buzzing to the sights and sounds of B17s setting off on hazardous missions across Europe and into Germany The Americans, glamorous, and with a generous nature, soon became a big part of village life and the three Diggens boys were never far from the perimeter fence (and beyond) of station 153, known to the Americans as "Framlingham". Memories of North Green, of Framlingham and of the 390th BG, of B17F "Cabin in the Sky" and her crew, will never fade and the time spent there was to have a lasting effect on the family. Returning to London after hostilities with a Father they hardly knew and to yet another new school wasn't easy. And that adopted Suffolk dialect was made much fun of by mischievous cockney school mates. But thanks to an enthusiastic art teacher who must have spotted something, a place was found at the Central School of Art and later, at the Camberwell School of Art. The comparative freedom at Camberwell meant that the first few months were wasted on the young student. But it didn't take long for the atmosphere and the impressive surroundings of the school to take effect. Although life there was relaxed and friendly lessons, by to-days standards, were disciplined and ordered, with much attention to drawing and form. Among the interesting characters who modeled for life classes there were Quentin Crisp and Spencer Churchill, at least I think it was he, a Mr Universe I believe. Another favourite subject was the Principals beautiful Riley Kestrel saloon. Perhaps it shouldn't be admitted but despite the influences of such luminaries as Uglow, Spencer and Sutherland it was the likes of Cuneo, Wootton and Nockolds who fired the imagination of this young student. It would have been nice to have stayed on at Camberwell and to have moved on into the senior school, but a fellow has to earn a living and after a short time in advertising at Royds (lots of Brylcream and Denis Compton) a move was made into printing. Photogravure was very much a hands on affair at that time, as it was in much of the printing industry. And the skills the young trainee was introduced to were daunting to say the least. But nothing a five year apprenticeship couldn't fix. A frustrating interruption turned a five year course of study into seven when national service intervened. Catterick Camp and the wilds of Yorkshire in the middle of winter wasn't the nicest place for a young conscript to find himself, and the loss of most of his hair didn't help either! After the initial period of square-bashing, boot-polishing and spud-peeling it was a great relief to be posted to a proper regiment, the First Royal Tanks at Tidworth on Salisbury Plain. Once initial training on the Centurion MK111 was complete life became far more exciting and the sensation of rushing at full tilt across rough terrain, the engine popping and banging against the rev limiters, isn't soon forgotten! As a matter of fact that frustrating interruption turned into something of a grand adventure, including the Suez crisis of 1956 and a tour of Hong Kong. It also offered the opportunity to sample a wide range of military vehicles and apart from the Centurion, included the Comet tank, Alvis Saracen and Dingo scout car, great fun. Going back to being a mere apprentice was going to be very dull. It isn't difficult to see what inspired an interest in aviation but why motoring occupied so much time isn't at all clear. There wasn't much motoring in the family, a Flying Standard 12 a J Type MG (with a side valve Ford engine) ugh! who would do such a thing. A couple of motorcycles a S8 Sunbeam, my very first means of transport a P&M (or was it P&C) "sloper" Panther and an A35 which was lots of fun. An A40 Farina saloon was encouraged to go faster with the help of Paddy Gaston and later Downton and Speedwell. Membership of the BRSCC saw the A40 competing in club events and was soon followed by a Yimkin tuned Mini. Later and with hardly enough money to buy shoes with the Doc Merfield 105E Anglia was purchased. A little crazy really, but so much fun! "If you drive it over half a crown you can tell if it's heads or tails" he used to say, and he was right. Some years later a customer brought a photograph of his idol, Steve McQueen, into the shop for framing and I nonchalantly remarked that I'd beaten him in a race at Brands Hatch. McQueen, driving John Whitmore's 850 Mini, was third and I was second. I'm pretty sure that's how it was. The look of complete disbelief on his face took me back somewhat, but honestly, who's going to believe a tale like that!! Meanwhile the printing industry was going through a massive change and with the new technology beginning to make its mark it was time to move on. At about this time and struggling to succeed as a freelance artist/illustrator and with some interesting clients to satisfy. I chanced my arm and approached the popular magazine. (a first in its field, ) Thoroughbred & Classic Cars with my portfolio. It was there that I met Lionel Burrell, he commissioned my first piece of work for the magazine It was to be a key move and many opportunities came about as a result of the illustrations that were published. The exhibitions of motoring art held at the London showrooms of H.R.Owen in Kensington is a good example and will be fondly remembered. To see my work hanging alongside artists who were such an inspiration all those years before was quite overwhelming. I well remember asking Roy Nockolds if he would sign my catalogue, he would he said, marching off to inspect my small display, but only if I would sign his,

Further reference

Article about Rod Diggens in The Automobile magazine July 2007

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Mercedes French GP 1914. Image courtesy of Stuart Middlemiss,

Vintage Bentley montage. Image courtesy of Stuart Middlemiss.

Goodwood with Ferrari and Maserati

Goodwood Trophy 1953 with Fangio V16 BRM leading the pack. Image courtesy of Stuart Middlemiss

Pau Grand Prix 1954 with Jean Behra Gordini holding off maurice Trantignant's Ferrari. Image courtesy of Stuart Middlemiss.

Alvis TE 21 Convertible

Jaguar montage with Sir William Lyons

MG montage with Cecil Kimber

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