To old-school aeromodellers—those who actually made their own models—Vic Smeed is synonymous with the name Tomboy. This delightful little free-flight cabin model which appeared in the Aeromodeller, November 1950, has subsequently been made by the hundreds, the world over. Aeromodellers will also remember his other always reliable free-flight sport designs like the Madcap, and Pushy-Cat. They may then be surprised to learn he also published an early control-line design, the radial cowl Virago. Less surprisingly, Vic was an early pioneer of radio control, publishing a book on the topic for model boat builders. His flying R/C models were again of the sport category with his "Chatterbox", a single channel model for escapement control, being a popular free plan in the December 1958 issue of the Aeromodeller (a larger version later appeared in Radio Control Models and Electronics). Impressive as this may be, it is only just the tip of the iceberg for Vic's designs and publications.
Perhaps reflecting his ability as a designer of sport power free-flight cabin models for Aeromodeller, Vic's name first appeared as a model boat designer with the Lorelei cabin cruiser in the January 1953 issue of Model Maker (MM). Drawing upon his experience with propeller driven craft (Vic had been an RAF pilot during WWII), his next appearance in MM was a two-part series on "Airscrew Driven Hydroplanes" which commenced in the December 1953 issue with the Skimmer, concluding in the next issue with the Scudder, and Skater. Although capable of excellent performance, all of Vic's designs were aimed at the average modeller. This was not lost on the staff of the Model and Allied Press stable who hired him as a staff writer for The Aeromodeller in 1953. In April '54 his name began appearing in MM as the Assistant Editor. This situation, with DJ "Dickie" Laidlaw-Dickson as Editor continued until February 1959 when Vic stepped up to the the role of MM Editor. He retained this position as MM became Model Maker and Model Cars, reverted briefly to Model Maker, then morphed into Model Maker and Model Boats, finally settling on simply Model Boats in 1965. The reason for dropping the "Model Maker" from the title and any from of model engineering from the content was soon to become public.
Throught all this time, "Dickie" Laidlaw-Dickson was listed as Editorial Director and under his guidance, the parent company, Model and Allied Press Ltd (MAP), saw and grasped an opportunity to take over the model publications of Percival Marshall & Co Ltd. This comprised a number of popular model making and machining books, plus a pair of magazines: Model Railway News, and the venerable Model Engineer (ME). The ME dated back to the late 19th century and had a solid world-wide following. MAP's competing magazines, Model Maker, and Model Mechanic before it, had been but poor competition, but since 1959, the ME had been slowly declining following a change in editor and editorial policy. So following negotiations, as of the December 15, 1965 issue, the address for the ME changed from Maidenhead to Herts with Dickie at the head as Editorial Director and Vic at the helm as Managing Editor. Dickie and Vic were a winning team and revitalize it they did, bringing back old readers, gathering new ones, reinstating the annual Model Engineer Exhibition. To the delight of many, they immediately reinstated Lillian "Curley" Lawrence, aka LBSC. Although then in this 80's, Curly was as sharp and inflexible as ever, continuing his discourse on miniature (never model!) locomotive design and associated matters, cut short in 1959 by the then new ME editor.
The team of Dickie Dickson and Vic Smeed (with our old friend Ron Moulton in the background) remained in this position until 1977 when Dickie retired and Vic resigned (Dickie's own memorable editorial quote: "Exit: pursued by bear..."). Their last issue was volume 143, number 3559, April 15-30, 1977. In the next issue, Ron Moulton was listed as Editorial Director. The post of "Managing Editor" had disappeared and Les Porter was listed as Editor. The parting appears to have been amicable with a small but nice tribute to Vic appearing in his "last" issue, noting his 24 year association with MAP Ltd and his largely unsung contributions to the yearly organization of the annual ME Exhibition, restarted after the MAP takeover. The farewell mentioned that it was Vic's intention to continue contributing as a free-lance writer and designer. Interestingly, the departing photos used of Vic and Dickie were the same ones used twelve years previously when they were introduced to ME readers in issue 3288 (given the opportunity, some people prefer not to age, photographically—just ask me!)
In preparing this tribute page, I went through various Aeromodeller and Model Maker Plans Handbooks to create a list of Vic Smeed's model designs. Certain patterns emerged which tell us a little more about the man. For instance, he was an "early adopter" of new model trends. His Virago was one of the very early English C/L designs, which might be called semi-scale and was also his only published C/L model. Naturally, he was into R/C in the single channel, rubber-driven escapement days, both for aero and marine applications. Vic was also at the front of the rail and slot car craze, publishing books on the electric side of subject.
His aero designs were predominantly in the free-flight sport category, although they did include a single "sport" rubber free-flight model (the Junior Miss), and a single tow-line glider. The latter was the Golden Wings, an A1 class model designed as the subject for one of the first "single model competition" events for the Aeromodeller's "Golden Wings Club", a fine program intended to encourage junior participation in model making. This has become yet another timeless Smeed design, still used for single-model events today—no juniors involved—by clubs all over the world. Built with a modicum of care, you can loose a Golden Wings off a very short tow, which is why we now fit them with radio trackers costing about 500 times the materials required for the model. Somewhat surprisingly, Vic Smeed never ventured into "scale" in his flying models, although most were what we'd call "semi-scale cabin models". This is not the case in his marine designs, the quantity of which dwarf his other designs and indicate which was his first love. As well as numerous prototypical models, his marine designs were another matter entirely with several scale models from lifeboats and tugs, most Vospers, tramp steamers, a US paddle-steamer, and a destroyer thrown in for good luck.
The tables below list just the Vic Smeed designs appearing in the Aeromodeller, Model Maker, and Model Boats. Vic also wrote occasionally for Meccano Magazine, so the lists are almost certainly incomplete.
|Vic Smeed's Flying Model Designs|
|Virago||Junior Miss||Golden Wings||Tomboy||Chatterbox|
|Victoria Parker||Cherub||Band Boy|
|Water Baby A||Sea Mew||Vosper PL4||Ceriva (tug)|
|Mis'Deeds||MV Arran||Lorette||Vosper Royal Barge|
|Mistral||RMS Empress of Britain||Lorelei||PS Royal Falcon|
|Liverpool Type Lifeboat||HMS Cossack||RNLB Plymouth||Range Safety Launch|
|Water Bug||Bustler (tug)||Pathfinder||SS Painted Lady|
|Hobo||Bardic Ferry||STS Dilyisa||Thornycraft MTB|
|Magga Dan||Vosper RTTL||Kingfisher||Lorosa|
|Sprat (sub)||Moonmist||Skimmerrana||Fairy Huntsman|
|St Louis Belle||Fairmile Type "C" ML||MV Frank Rayner|
|Lotus Mk 9||GM Firebird||Scuttler||Scorcher|
Then there was Vic Smeed, the author, editor, and compiler of an impressive list of books. In Vic's titles, we see the total breadth of his modelling interests. Many in the following list were MAP publications produced during his time with the company, but many more were published after he went free-lance. Always, their content reflected his continued interest and access to the material of his old company. For example, Fifty Years of Aeromodeller, compiled by Vic and published in 1986 by Argus Books (successor to MAP) was a pure tribute to that magazine, probably contracted by the then Argus management; and who better to turn to for this task?
|Books (as author, editor, or compiler)|
|Basics of Aeromodelling|
|CO2 Models to Build (Small Model Planbook 1)|
|Complete Railway Modelling|
|Control-Line Models (Small Models Planbook 5)|
|Encyclopaedia of Model Aircraft|
|Encyclopaedia of Military Modelling|
|Encyclopaedia of Motorcycling|
|Fifty Years of Aeromodeller|
|Flying Models—Favorites of the Fifties|
|Flying Rubber Models (Small Models Planbook 2)|
|Free Flight Power Models (Small Models Planbook 4)|
|Introducing Radio Control Model Boats|
|Home Workshop Hints and Tips (Workshop Practice #26)|
|Model Maker Manual|
|Model Maker Annual (one only)|
|Model Flying—The First Fifty Years|
|Plan Parade (Small Models Planbook)|
|Power Model Boats|
|Radio Control for Model Boats|
|Scale Aircraft for Free Flight|
|Scale Model Ships|
|Simple Electric Car Racing|
|Simple Model Yachts|
|World of Model Cars|
|World of Model Ships|
Vic Smeed and his designs are a visit to times past and though many of us old timers still enjoy building and flying or sailing the odd Smeed design, we too, like Vic, are reaching our use-by date. So if you remember fondly the Madcap, or the Sprat, take a trip down memory lane by chasing up a title or two from his publications list. They are not hard to find, don't cost a lot, and they will bring back those feelings of enchantment that accompanied Vic's published designs of all kinds.
...with enormous respect and fond memories, Ron Chernich, January 2011