John Parker July 1939-April 2021

John Parker, has died at the age of 81, he was one of the world’s leading coachmen.

John's career started in the Royal Army Service Corps where he was coachman, but left to become a stunt driver in films - his credits include Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Dr Doolittle and The Wrong Box. 

After successfully transferring to competitive driving, he represented Great Britain 11 times at World and European Driving Championships.

In 1982, he gave up competition to concentrate on displays, television and activities with his London-Norwich Royal Mail Coach, one of only two licensed to carry the Royal Mail, during which he enjoyed a 20 year association with Norwich Union.

In 1996, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the last Royal Mail Coach to run from London to Norwich, John broke his own record for the furthest distance driven by a single coachman in a 24 hour period, driving the 137 miles from London to Norwich in 22 hours 34 minutes.

Another world record, featured on ITV’s You Bet, was broken when John’s team of grooms changed one team of horses for another in an incredible 21.2 seconds, beating the wheel change of world sports car champion Derek Bell and his Le Mans pit crew.

Away from the Royal Mail coach, John and his four Hungarian greys were invited to Luciano Pavarotti's show in Modena, Italy to race against cars. At the Horse of the Year Show he drove five horses through a blazing corridor of fire in ‘The Tunnel of Fire’ (a feat never attempted by any other coachman.) He appeared on stage in the opera Carmen, and for more than 25 years took part in the Olympia International Show Jumping Championships.

He was Chairman of the British Driving Society for 14 years, later becoming president before retiring in 2015. He also spent time as chairman of the National Harness Horse Testing & Training Board, vice-chairman of Goodwood Riding & Driving for the Disabled Association, president of the Yorkshire Driving Club, was a member of the panel of expert witness for Suffolk Trading Standards office and an expert consultant for the Veterinary Defence Panel. An accomplished public speaker, John travelled the world lecturing and teaching, particularly enjoying his association with the Carriage Association of America. Until his death, he was Patron of the British Mule Society.

John, together with his life-long partner Susan, ran the world-renowned driving centre, Swingletree, near Diss in Norfolk. In a career expanding more than 60 years, countless drivers benefitted from the teaching facilities at Swingletree, their famous summer camp for young drivers introducing many youngsters to carriage driving.

John retired after Susan’s death in 2018.

Emma West drove John to the church in a horse drawn hearse which belongs to her father David West. It was a poignant moment as Emma was one of John’s last pupils and spent time at Swingletree a few years ago. The tribute at the service was given by Paul Heiney

Donations in memory of John to the Sanders Watney Trust can be made through JustGiving  














 Obituary and pictures first published in June/July 2021 Edition of Carriage Driving Magazine. 

The NHBS wish to express sincere thanks to Jane Kennedy / Mary Holmes; Carriage Driving Magazine and pictures above by Tina Adler and Paul Orchard.  Further details about Carriage Driving Magazine can be seen by clicking the link below 


Our memories of John at the Great Dorset Steam Fair told in pictures below.



Displayed next to the NHBS exhibit, the Norwich Union Royal Mail Coach, each of the five day show John gave a driving demostration with his team of four and the Royal Mail Coach at the same time giving in his unique style a running commentary.

 Below; Under directions from the boss preparations for the demonstration drive !!














 I can imagine John's commentary now " The coach horn was sounded as they approached the staging point, get the next team ready for a quick change over"!!!!!



 GDSF Pictures by Di Hanson

The picture above was taken in 2017 the last time John attended the show, seen here admiring my latest find at the show which was a nosebag and white metal brasses from Wadworth Brewery Devizes.

Jim Speed