Michael Jayston 'Why women are better drivers than men' by Romany Bain

Radio Times August 1978

There is always a slight hazard in getting involved in an argument with a handsome man in a restaurant. You can so easily be made to look silly. Especially if the man is as quick witted and talkative as Michael Jayston, who stars in Sunday’s play The Last Romantic.

I brought up the subject of women drivers, being one myself.

“I think women drivers are marvellous,” he said in that seductive voice once described as” ‘sounding silken like the rustle of bedclothes.’

“They’re especially good if they stick to going forward. I have noticed that women have a bit of trouble reversing and parking, but that’s not very important. No, seriously, nine times out of ten, a woman driver is more reliable and therefore better than a man.

“And the tenth? She’s a blonde, under 21, drives a sports car and should be avoided at all costs.”

Jayston has been a confirmed ladies’ man since he first came to notice as the ladykilling Lincoln Dowling in The Power Game on television.

We were lunching in Manchester where he is making a 90 minute play - called Gossip from the Forest, about events leading up to the signing of the Armistice to end the First World War. In the play, to be shown later this year, Jayston portrays a German diplomat.

Although he once played the co-founder of the best known car firm in the world for the TV series Mr. Rolls and Mr. Royce, Jayston, 41, has not driven himself since he was in the Army in the early 1950s.

“Like Michael Caine, when I wanted to drive I couldn’t afford it. Now that I have the means I’ve lost the inclination. But I travel a lot, in cars, and taxis and buses, and my vote goes to the woman driver.

“Most male drivers are a menace because they are so competitive and aggressive. They have to go faster to prove something. Women aren’t like that. You don’t hear women boasting about doing a ton in a built up area. You don’t hear them rabbiting away in public about rev. Counters and how they have found a new route from their office to their mother-in-law’s without going into the centre of Bradford. Or how they drove from Stratford to London in an hour-and-a-half. Men are so boring about their cars. They treat them with more reverence than they do their wives.

“Men will never admit that they are bad drivers. It’s always the other chap’s fault. If a man is in an accident, it’s his bad luck not his bad driving.

“The figures for road deaths are terrifying. The number of deaths is totally unacceptable. If as many of us were dying from typhoid, there would be a public outcry.

“Women drive more carefully and are not involved in as many accidents. There are even firms that offer a woman a better deal than a man if she is insuring a car driven by only one person.”

He paused for a moment to draw breath, so I asked him about The Last Romantic. The play is about the clash between a television producer who gets sacked for being drunk and his right-wing father who is trying to raise a volunteer army.

“I play the effete TV producer who takes to the bottle.

“Which reminds me. I have just done the voice over for a commercial warning against drinking and driving. I can’t understand anyone who drinks and then gets behind the wheel of a car. And just endorsing a license means nothing.

“Penalties should be much more severe. Drinking and driving is tantamount to attempted murder.”

If Jayston devoted so much attention to individual drivers, had he, I wondered, any bright ideas to solve traffic congestion?

“Look at the centre of London,” he said. “It’s being choked to death. The sight of twenty cars crawling bumper to bumper each containing one person is a joke. Ban them, I say. Ban all private transport from city centres.

“The Government should subsidise taxis. They could run a cheap shuttle service to and fro and small jeep-type vehicles could carry passengers on short journeys.

“That would get rid of all the ordinary drivers at one go. Ordinary drivers can’t cope with the difficulties of traffic in city centres.

“Accidents would be cut by half, and the problems of parking and parking meters would disappear overnight.”

Can you imagine Jayston as Minister of Transport? Well, he seemed totally serious about his schemes, so rather unfairly, I pointed out that some people hate taxi drivers and that most taxi drivers are men anyways. Jayston leapt to their defence.

“British cabbies are the best in the world. They are a special breed. I adore them. They have common sense, intelligence and they know how to take you to a place. You feel absolutely safe as a passenger.

“They have a sense of humour which is often black, and a sad acceptance of life.

“If I’m feeling down, and take a cab and talk to the driver, I usually get out feeling better than when I got in. Cabbies are philosophers in their own way.

“Some people say they are dishonest; that they take passengers the longest routes and that they over charge. I don’t believe it.

“Last week a Cockney drivers told me that he had picked up a Chinese gentleman whose journey cost him 70p on the clock. The passenger had to to 60 leafing through a wad of notes before the cabbie realised what he was doing. ‘Not pahnds, mate. Pence,’ said the driver and he handed the money back.”

Lunch over, I watched Jayston call a taxi outside the restaurant. By the time the taxi moved off he was deep in conversation with the driver - plotting against other road-users, no doubt.