Illustration by Joda, @jonydaga)
Sometime around 1953, in a room darkened by blackout curtains, a few people sat in front of a projector, analysing footage of a fatal boat crash – John Cobb’s attempt on the water-speed record. They studied it frame by frame. Two of them were brothers, both engineers: Ken and Lewis Norris. They would be designing a boat to take on the record. The man working the projector, Donald Campbell, would be driving it.
Though Cobb had died in a jet-powered boat, ‘the Norris brothers were convinced that the jet engine was the only way forward,’ the author Steve Holter notes. Once this had been decided on, the brothers could begin work, from their offices in Mid Sussex. The Argus has claimed Hove as a secondary location - Lewis apparently ‘tested out models of the boat with Campbell at Hove Lagoon’.
In the resulting vessel, the Bluebird K7, Campbell raised the water-speed record seven times, before his fatal crash in 1967. The Norrises also designed Campbell a car, the Bluebird CN7, in which he broke the land-speed record.
Lewis – known as Lew – was described by obituaries as ‘warm, fun-loving and unassuming’, and ‘self-effacing’. Perhaps too much so: it’s been difficult to find out how he felt about all of this. Or about his work on automatic seatbelts, microswitches, go karts, and D-Day landing craft. Or his life in Hove, where he spent the last few years of his life. He died in 2009, aged 84.