LAST week in this space, we included a picture from 1971 that we didn’t understand. It showed a “UFO” car in Skippers garage, Darlington, with a “bunny on the bonnet”.

We can reveal that the young lady is Linda Carr (now Soderman) who still lives in Darlington and worked then in the Skippers sales office, and lots of readers – including Eric Robson of Durham, Mike Waldman of Leyburn and Geoff Richardson – got in touch to explain about UFO.

For instance, a correspondent named Bedale Bear said: “The car was driven by Ed Straker in the TV series UFO created by Gerry Anderson. I should know because I had the Dinky model. It was a great series, and as a youngster in his formative years, watching the girls in their silver bodysuits and purple hairdos defend the earth against green fluid breathing aliens was a real treat on a Saturday morning.”

He has pretty much nailed the 1970 show in a sentence.

UFO was Anderson’s follow-up to Thunderbirds, and it involved SHADO (Supreme Headquarters Alien Defence Organisation) defending earth on a weekly basis from alien attack. Most of the vehicles were spaceships or tracked land assault wagons or submarines which somehow managed to fire a jetfighter while underwater, but Commander Ed Straker did drive around in this gold car which was so fast it could out-run an alien intergalactic spaceship.

There was also a purple-pink car in the same style.

“The cars were built by Alan Mann Racing on Ford Zephyr IV chassis and were powered by a Ford Cortina 1600 engine,” says John Hunter of Grinton. “The bodies themselves were hand-made of aluminium.

“The gullwing doors were supposed to automatically open at a touch of a button but, in reality, when it was required to show someone getting out of a car, a stage hand off screen would manually lift the door. On at least one episode the door lifter's reflection can be seen in the window of the car.”

Because of the Ford connection, the UFO cars toured Ford garages in 1971. It stopped in Darlington for about five days in November.

“I have a fond memory of being was 11 years old, living in Bishop Auckland and my dad took me to Darlington as a treat to see the car – wow that was exciting,” says Mike Dennis, who adds that he’s “still a sci-fi geek”.

Ken Bennett in Billingham adds: “I was at junior school at the time and I remember the car being on display on a rotating turntable in a car showroom in Billingham town centre.”

After the tour, the gold car was bought by DJ Dave Lee Travis, who used it as a promotional vehicle. He sold it in the early 1980s, and we believe it is now rotting beneath a tarpaulin somewhere in the Midlands.

The purple-pink car has disappeared from the face of the planet – it could well have been abducted by aliens.

Many thanks to everyone who has explained the car, including Phil Webb, who says: “UFO is currently re-running on the Forces TV channel. Check out the hairstyles and uniforms – they are even more fascinating than the cars.”

From the Darlington & Stockton Times of February 27, 1869

THOMAS COOKE, the twice mayor of Richmond, was accused of defrauding his local bank of £5m, in today’s values, along with two of the bank’s managers, said the D&S Times 150 years ago this week in a story that must have caused widespread sensation, and scandal, in the dale.

The fraud, said the D&S, had been going on for 20 years at the Swaledale and Wensleydale Banking Company, which had been the dale’s first bank on its formation in 1804.

It had become a joint stock bank in 1845, and the first manager, Isaac Fisher, and his clerk, Thomas Smurthwaite, had secretly approached Mr Cooke with news of “private information of a very advantageous investment” in railway shares.

Mr Cooke said he had reluctantly agreed to enter into a “co-partnership” in which the bankers opened an account at their bank in his name from which they withdrew money in his name which they then spent on railway shares.

Mr Cooke told a court in London that he had withdrawn from the affair after a couple of years because returns were minimal.

In 1854, Mr Fisher had died, and Mr Smurthwaite had become bank manager. The following year, Mr Cooke said he was surprised to find that he was a shareholder in the Great Luxembourg Railway which had sustained great losses for which he found himself liable.

After what appears to have been a frank exchange of views with Mr Cooke threatening to go public and expose the fraud, Mr Smurthwaite wrote Mr Cooke a private letter absolving him of any involvement in the “co-partnership”. Mr Cooke thought the matter finally closed.

However, ten years later, Mr Cooke heard there were rumours in Richmond of a great fraud involving himself at the bank, and he wrote to the directors, demanding that they write to local newspapers including the D&S Times quoshing the rumours.

The directors, led by Christopher Other of Elm House, Wensley, investigated. They found a “sundry account” that was £42,722 10s overdrawn – about £5m in today’s values. To cover the debt, Mr Smurthwaite produced shares in railways around the world – the Royal Swedish, the Illinois Central, the Antwerp & Rotterdam, even the Sambre & Meuse (a railway in Belgium built by George Stephenson) – but he was still £11,450 7s 7d short.

The London court case 150 years ago took Mr Smurthwaite’s guilt in the enormous fraud as read, and set out to determine the extent of Mr Cooke’s involvement.

The judge, Vice-Chancellor James, decided Mr Cooke had entered into an “imprudent” arrangement with the bankers in the early days in which £5,594 of the bank’s money had been speculated on railway shares, but said there was no evidence to show that he had known that they had continued to buy thousands of pounds worth of shares in his name using money they had secretly taken from the Swaledale & Wensleydale.

Vice-Chancellor James said it was a “gross and scandalous libel” upon Mr Cooke by the bank’s directors to drag the former mayor into this “most vexatious proceeding”.

In 1804, the Swaledale & Wensleydale had branches in Richmond and Leyburn. It added Bedale in 1834 and Hawes in 1838, but it looks as if Mr Smurthwaite was left solely to carry the can for the fraud of 1869. It appears not to have unsettled the bank too much, because in 1875, it opened a branch in Masham, and in 1899, it was one of the many provincial banks which merged to form Barclays.

THE Looking Back column was guest speaker at Thorpe Thewles History Group last week where there was much excitement about our recent story of Lord Ernest Vane-Tempest, the black sheep of the rich family from Wynyard Hall who, 150 years ago, was married in their village church.

Lord Ernest – he of "strephonic tendences", as the D&S said in 1869 – had twice been drummed out of the army, once for beating up a theatre manager who blocked the dressing room door of an actress he fancied, and once for forcibly shaving a new recruit. Lord Ernest rehabilitated himself firstly by opal mining in Australia and secondly by fighting in the American Civil War, but, estranged from his mother the marchioness, when he returned to contest Stockton for the Conservatives, he lost badly.

However, he won the hand in marriage of Mary Hutchinson, the daughter of a local iron merchant, and they married in January 1869. The marriage wasn’t happy, and they separated after Lord |Ernest tried to “knock the block off” a nobleman who was having an affair with Mary.

Members of the history group told how Lord Ernest died in 1885 in Scarborough but was buried back in their churchyard. “He was late for his own funeral,” said one. “The train carrying his body was delayed.”

His place of burial shows how much of a black sheep he was. Most venerable members of the family are buried at Long Newton on the south side of Stockton as it was the original home of the Vane family before they married the Tempests of Wynyard.

Although Thorpe Thewles, to the north of Stockton, is closer to the hall, only servants, milk maids and black sheep are buried there.

The question then arose of how Thorpe Thewles got its name. The first bit is easy: “thorpe” is Danish word for a “smaller village” – Viking settlements with names ending in “by” were usually larger than thorpes.

“Thewles” is much more tricky. Thewles could have been the name of a landowner, or one theory is that it comes from “thel” which meant a plank of wood – either they had a bridge made out of a plank or they were as thick as two short…

But the most likely meaning is even worse. “Thewles” is Old English for “immoral”. The Penguin Dictionary of Surnames agrees – people, such as well-known North-East TV reporter, called Thewlis get their name because they descended from an “ill-mannered, immoral person, void of good qualities”.

Perhaps, therefore, Lord Ernest is lying in an appropriate place.