WEDNESDAY’S Echo reported that King Michael I of Romania had died at the age of 96. He’d become king at the age of five in 1927 when his father had been forced to abdicate due to a scandalous love affair (there may even have been the Bucharest equivalent of riding the stang involved).

Michael was a puppet king, controlled by a military dictator who sided with the Nazis. Michael, though, is credited with staging a coup in 1944 which enabled Romania to switch sides to the Allies, much to Hitler’s dismay. However, this left Romania at the mercy of Stalin’s Russia, and the Communists forced Michael out of his country in 1947.

He was exiled to Switzerland where he lived with his wife, Princess Anne of Bourbon Parma, whom he had met at his cousin Elizabeth’s wedding to her Prince Philip, and their five daughters.

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The second of those daughters, Princess Helen, married a Durham University academic, Robin Medforth-Mills, in 1983, and came to live in 13th Century Flass Hall, near Esh Winning. She was fifth in line to the Romanian throne and, for a while, 83rd in line to the British throne.

Even after she divorced in 1992, she stayed in the region, settling with her second husband at Haswell, near Peterlee. And so the ex-king on occasions come to County Durham to visit his daughter…

“For many years, he and his wife were honorary members of the North-East Military Vehicle Club,” says Tony Marshall, of Darlington. “The king was a keen Second Word War Jeep enthusiast, owning four of them, one of which was a gift from Dwight Eisenhower.

“In 1994, he very kindly to agree to present trophies at our club’s annual historic vehicle show at the Durham DLI Museum when he was visiting his family, but in order to finalise arrangements, he arranged to meet up with me when we both in France attending the 50th Anniversary of D-Day.

“For a week we kept missing each other, until, during a break in the parade through Bayeux, when we both were attending to a call of nature, we finally met behind a skip. Following that opportune meeting, he joined us at Durham later that year.

“The military vehicle club promptly added another award to the list, buying a large silver trophy and calling it The King’s Cup. This was to be presented to the owner of the most authentic Jeep on display.

“The king spent two days with the members, visiting their museum in Newcastle and judging the vehicles at the Durham show. After many hours of deliberation, he awarded the trophy to Keith Whitelock, of Tyne and Wear.

“Although very hard of hearing, he was excellent company and very knowledgeable on Willys and Ford Jeeps. Princess Anne was charming and also had her own Jeep.”

He kept in touch with the club for many years afterwards, and the trophy that bears his name is still presented every year.

THE car poser that caught people’s eyes last week was the one that featured AA patrolman Les Mensforth assisting a lady with a caravan.

“It’s is an early Standard Vanguard Phase 1, from the very late 1940s,” said John Biggs of Etherley Grange. “Later Phase 1 and Phase 2 Vanguards had their back wheels covered with what were known as “spats”.”

“It is a Standard Vanguard with the "Fast Back",” said Thomas W Spresser. “My father had one and liked it so much he went on to own a further two, and I started to learn to drive on the Fast Back one.”

Mark Cooper suggested that because of the shape of the rear end, they were known as “beetle backs”

“The Vanguard was a big, strong car, built like a tank, and popular with farmers as it was great for pulling cattle trailers,” said Tony Crooks. “I served my time at the Cleveland Car Company in Grange Road, Darlington, and they were Standard-Triumph agents. On Monday market days, the farmers would often leave their cars for service or repair. If you were unlucky you got the one that needed a new exhaust, which meant working in the pit with the car dripping farmyard residue on you – not nice!”

The Vanguard was Standard’s first post-war car, launched in 1948 with a fashionable American feel and a patriotic name – HMS Vanguard was a famous Royal Navy battleship launched at the end of the war. The car continued in production until 1963.

Among those who identified the Vanguard were Bob Stringer, John Waddleton, Dorothy Elmer, Bryan Folkes, Arthur C. Wheeler, Malcolm McGregor of Saltburn, John Weighell of Neasham, Colin McDermid.

There was also a van in Darlington’s East Street in 1954 up for identification, and everyone agreed that it was a Ford Thames E83W.

AA PATROLMAN Les Mensforth lived at North End Villas in Fir Tree, near Crook, just five doors away from Alf Twiddy who was also an AA patrolman, reports John Alderson from Fir Tree. In those post-war days, the demands on cars of the A68 were such that breakdown men were kept busy.

LAST week we had a picture of the AA box at Scotch Corner, an area we intend to return to when we can commemorate the reopening of the A1(M). In the meantime, Wendy Acres of Darlington says: “In September 1968, my sister and brother-in-law had just returned to my parents’ home from their honeymoon before going off to their new home in Staffordshire in their elderly Wolsey Hornet.

“After discussing breakdown cover with Dad and I before leaving, they decided to join the AA at Scotch Corner. When they got there the AA officer asked: "What's wrong with your car?"

“"Nothing," they replied. But about half an hour later, before they reached the M6, the car broke down – and the AA got them going again.”

ENGELBERT HUMPERDINCK has been keeping us entertained for weeks as we try to work out where in 1965 he played in Darlington just as he was changing his name from Gerry Dorsey. We proved that he definitely performed at the Flamingo at the top of Victoria Road, but then Sue Heed emailed in a cocktail order slip from La Bamba, which was a club in Grange Road.

“My auntie, Beryl Thornley, was on reception at La Bamba and my mam, Joanne Langthorne, got an autograph on the back of a cocktail order slip,” says Sue. “She can't remember date, but the autograph is signed ‘Gerry Dorsey’.”

Around the same time, Tom Jones was in town. “I saw him at La Bamba in 1965,” says Dave Scott. “He had recorded his hit It’s Not Unusual and was promoting it round the nightclubs.

“It is my claim to fame that I accidently knocked him off the stage when he was setting his gear up as I made a short cut across the stage to use the toilet.

“We both laughed.”