Lavinia Scott Elliot, our lady in London, has worked for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED for nine years as a mixture of correspondent, researcher, travel agent, consul and ambassador extraordinary. In between supplying background information and factual detail for stories, she makes European hotel reservations for writers and photographers, arranges for press accreditations, reserves plane and train tickets, rents cars and serves as a clearinghouse for messages to and from New York, many dealing with last-minute emergencies.
This spring and summer Lavinia has had, as the English would put it, a full plate. Wimbledon (in this week's issue) and the British Open (next week) are annual challenges for her, but she has also had to cope with the complexities of the World Cup, which was played in various German cities over a period of three weeks, as well as major articles on Roger Bannister (page 60), British egg collectors and an upcoming report on the African country of Za√Øre. Nor are all her efforts reflected in the pages of the magazine: she made arrangements for a writer and photographer to cover Filbert Bayi's recent invasion of Scandinavia on the chance Bayi might set a new world record for the mile. He did not, and there was no story, but such apparently fruitless labors do not bother her.
"Za√Øre was a much greater problem," she says. "We needed a visa for our photographer, but it required more than a routine phone call. Since the Za√Øre embassy is open only two hours a day, twice a week, it took a bit of doing. We got the visa, but it was sticky." And visas are not always forthcoming, as when the Canadian hockey team went to play the Russians. "I was trying to get an artist, Paul Hogarth, into Russia," she says. "I spent three weeks going to the Soviet embassy, but he never got his visa."
Her most bizarre efforts for the magazine had to do with a story Senior Editor Bob Ottum wrote a few years back on the Empire State Building to London's General Post Office race. Lavinia hired a helicopter to meet Ottum and Photographer Jerry Cooke at Heathrow airport, a barge for the chopper to land on in the Thames and motorcycles to zip our contestants through London's twisting streets.
"We rushed them to the 'copter," she says, "and flew down the Thames. Then the pilot asked, 'Which barge do we land on?' I hadn't a clue. But we sighted one with what looked like a landing pad on it. And that was it."
Ottum did not win the race, but he was so pleased with Lavinia's help that he told everyone she was the daughter of a belted earl and had spent her childhood in a castle watching her father practice riding on a white charger.
"Oh, that's not true," says Lavinia. "My father retired from the British army as a major general. I did spend three years with him in Germany and Italy, and I speak German and Italian."
That's not quite so romantic as castles and white chargers, but when it comes to dealing with people in international sports it's a lot handier.
SCOTT ELLIOT: OUR LADY IN LONDON