First Picture:Norman Folland at Court Lane in the 1950’s
Second Picture:The other end of the motorcycle world the AA bike
This week’s page comes from Steve Timms and in the News and Views section a suggestion from Griff about our corporate 65th birthdays. See what you think and let me know.
‘Dixon of Dock Green’ wasn’t exactly ‘The Wire’. But, back in the fifties, a big percentage of Britain’s population would tune in each week to see wrongs righted and bad ‘uns brought to justice.
One episode concerned itself with the menace of tearaway teens taking to the newly-built bypasses on powerful motorcycles and treating them like their own private racetrack. These delinquent youths clad in the rebel uniform of blue jeans, boots and black leather jacket, would gather at transport cafes where the neon lights never went out and a truck driver headed north could fill his fuel tank and his belly and perhaps satisfy less salubrious desires any hour of the day or night. As well as a relaxed attitude towards the age and attire of their clientele and their geographic location, most often out-of-town, at the end of invitingly fast and open arterial roads.
One other fixture made the 24hrs transport caffs the spiritual home of the café racers; the jukebox in the corner blaring non-stop raucous rock n roll. It was the jukebox that formed an essential part of the plot, someone would stick a sixpence in the slot and the second the hiss of needle on vinyl came out the speaker, boots would scuffle on linoleum in a mad scramble for the door. The bikes would be quickly kicked into life and roar off into the night headed for a prearranged turning point a market square statue, a bridge or a boozer then it was the speed thrill of a flat to the tank, hell for leather tilt to get back to the caff before the music died .
The programme illustrated with perhaps more melodrama than was necessary the inevitable consequences of such reckless bravado acted out within the confines of the Queen’s Highway. Broken bones, mangled motorcycles, a young life snuffed out too soon and a heartfelt homily from the silver haired Sergeant on the foolhardiness of youth.
The thing about record racing was that no one could actually remember it actually happening before that broadcast. Because of course it was an invention of the scriptwriters.
There may have been no account of it before but there was certainly plenty of it afterwards. Life imitated art and the consequences were quite often, death. ‘Suicide Club!’ screamed ‘The Daily Mirror’ on its front page and accompanied it with a fantastic photograph of one of these ‘Coffee Bar Cowboys’. He’s cornering hard on a big, British twin-cylinder motorcycle, urging it on to 100mph the mythical ‘ton’ and looking very cool indeed in a road racer’s crash helmet, skin-tight black leathers and a white silk scarf fluttering like a pirate flag in his wake.
The fastest and best-looking bikes had always been British bikes. Methanol burning Matchless V-twin racers had thrilled and terrified audiences. Between the wars and for a decade after the second great conflict the peerless Brough Superior and then the invincible Vincent had ruled the roads. But these were thoroughbred motorcycles intended for adventurous chaps of independent means. An ordinary working man might as well have aspired to an invite for cocktails at the Savoy with Noel Coward. Anyway it wasn’t just that the purchase price was beyond the means of those who had to actually work for a living. There was also the small matter of coming up with the full amount upon delivery. Hire Purchase had been around since before the war but it was Harold Macmillan’s Tory govt. that really encouraged it in the late fifties. ‘You never had it so good’ said Macmillan. The truth for most ordinary working people was that they’d never had it all. Never mind so good.
Britain embraced ‘Buy Now Pay Later’ with gusto. Now Dad could have the Ford Anglia he’d lusted after (yes, people really did lust after Ford Anglias) Mum could trade her Eubank for a Hoover. And, if he was in work and could persuade his parents to sign the papers, then perhaps their teenage son could get himself a Triumph Bonneville or a BSA Gold Star. Both had been designed to separate cash rich North American buyers from their dollars. So lashings of chrome plating, two-tone paintwork and hand painted pinstripes replaced the staid livery that most British built motorcycles had been previously offered in. But that wasn’t enough for the Café Racers. They modified their machines so that they would take on the long and low look the race bikes they saw parked up still steaming in the paddock after a thrash around Brands Hatch.
Race bikes were built with a single purpose speed. Riders were laid out along the bike to spread their weight and present a low profile to cut through the air. To achieve this racing stance foot pegs were shifted right back along the bike and the handlebars were either lowered or dispensed with altogether in favour of lightweight ‘clip-ons’ that attached directly to the front forks. A tiny fairing might be fitted for the rider to tuck in behind. Anything designed with comfort or weather protection in mind was either got rid of or cut back to a bare minimum. Essential items like frames or foot pegs were drilled full of holes to reduce weight (it also looked good) and big comfy saddles were replaced by Spartan racing perches, which had the added advantage of enforcing intimacy with any female brave enough to ask for a lift home from the caff. Lightweight alloys replaced heavyweight steel where possible. Although a long range endurance racing fuel tank would often actually weigh quite a bit more than the item fitted at the factory but with a its quick release strap fixing and pop off fuel cap it didn’t ‘arf look fast. Before the war German race car engineers had scraped the paint from their cars to reduce weight. Or so the story went. Shame it’s not true. But keen to incorporate any performance enhancing modification in their machines café racers stripped away the paint and polished parts to within an inch of their existence… It may not have made their bikes go faster. But….yes, that’s right, you’ve got it, it made them look faster.
The ultimate Café Racer was the Triton. It was a hybrid, but not in the modern sense. Those who built and owned Tritons were more interested in ruling the road than saving the planet. So they took the rather under powered engines out of Norton motorcycles famed for their road holding and handling of rigid chassis nicknamed ‘The Featherbed’ for reasons that have never really made much sense and inserted the twin cylinder and twin carburettor motor from a Triumph Bonneville. Best not to ask where so many Triumphs willing to donate their engines came from.
The idea that Rockers were scruffy and didn’t care about how they looked is ridiculous and has been put about by the Mods. Anyone who ever owned a copy of Johnny Stuarts ‘Rockers!’ Which boasted on the cover that it was the most shop lifted book in London could see for themselves. ‘The Look’ was Ashman Gold Top racing boots with white fisherman’s socks tucked in over the top, leather trousers and a black leather jacket the best quality and also the best looking had the distinctive red satin quilted lining synonymous with Lewis Leathers of London. A white silk scarf has always looked rakish. And, if you could afford it, you’d top it off with a crash helmet and goggles. And when I say crash helmet I don’t mean the ridiculous ‘Corkers’ worn by scooter types. Proper ‘Jet’ style helmets as worn by the six-time world champion Geoff Duke. The truth was that Ton up Boys and Café Racers cared about the way they looked as much as any mod.
No modern bike will ever look as good as the Café Racers of the late fifties and early sixties for the same reason that no modern train will ever look as good as Mallard, no plane will ever look as good as Concorde and no car will ever look as good as a ‘55 Mercedes SL, a‘61 E-Type or a ’67 Mustang. The difference between everything else I’ve mentioned is that almost all of us could aspire to a Café Racer. There are modern motorcycles from the likes of Ducati, Triumph and Moto Guzzi trying to pass themselves off as café racers. But why not go for the genuine article instead? A Gold Star or Bonneville can be had for five grand and I just say an immaculate Triton sell at auction for eight thousand including commission. Go on, you’ve got the leather jacket– now get the bike to go with it.
Keep in touch
I left Manor Court (Then Springfield) in 1972. Recently I met up with Andy Spenceley (Classmate from 72) who now resides in Johannesburg. Amazing after 38 years.
News and Views:
Well, it won't have escaped your notice I reckon that you have realised that we are all 65 in the early part of next year which is a real milestone birthday and event which should be celebrated if only in the knowledge that we all get a pay rise with the Senior Citizens Pension ( I hate the expression Old Age Pensioner ! ) and a rise in taxable allowances and judging by our present government's intentions we have just clipped in for it as well.
Now personally I am not " retiring" and provided I can remain in good working health I shall carry on until I am around 70 as a self-employed renovator of houses with my own working hours though and still carry on doing something which I actually enjoy doing, in fact, I have taken on another house renovation project right now in order to keep the brain cell occupied and from not seizing up !
So.... here is the important bit coming up..........
The De-Vere hotel in Swindon hold some very good dinner/dance cabaret nights on or around February and March and on my last Birthday I took the family to a Beatles Dinner Night which I have to say was excellent and the food & service was also excellent. We all had a thoroughly good night. Tickets were around £28 each which I thought was good value considering the evening's entertainment and standard of cuisine.
So what I am suggesting is why don't we have own large round table for a suitable venue around that time to celebrate our Birthdays. You may stay at the hotel as well on a big discount for a standard room. On the Sunday everyone can come back to my place in the afternoon for tea, sandwiches and a sticky-bun before departing for home.
I will organise the bookings for the evening dinner dance and enquire about room rates etc. for everyone.
It will require monies up front about 6 weeks prior to the chosen event because these evenings sell out very quickly indeed and you have no chance of booking anything 2-3 weeks before because they are all sold out. You have a choice of menu which is also required from you at the time of paying.
There are quite a few things to do if you make a weekend of it as the De-Vere is situated on an entertainment complex or you might like to visit the Great Western Designer Outlet Village which is about a mile or so away. The ASDA shopping Mall is also directly opposite the De-Vere
To get the ball rolling I will need to know who is up for it (and who is not) and would like to come along so as I can do some planning. So please give me an indication of your intentions as soon as you can.
http://www.devereshawridge.co.uk/index.htm Click on link................
On this day 21st August 1960-1965.
On 21/08/1960 the number one single was Please Don't Tease - Cliff Richard & the Shadows and the number one album was South Pacific Soundtrack. The top rated TV show was Rawhide (ITV) and the box office smash was Psycho. A pound of today's money was worth £13.68 and Tottenham Hotspur were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 21/08/1961 the number one single was You Don't Know - Helen Shapiro and the number one album was Black & White Minstrel Show - George Mitchell Minstrels. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was One Hundred and One Dalmations. A pound of today's money was worth £13.25 and Ipswich were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 21/08/1962 the number one single was I Remember You - Frank Ifield and the number one album was West Side Story Soundtrack. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was Lawrence of Arabia. A pound of today's money was worth £12.89 and Everton were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 21/08/1963 the number one single was Sweets For My Sweet - Searchers and the number one album was Please Please Me - The Beatles. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was The Great Escape. A pound of today's money was worth £12.64 and Liverpool were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 21/08/1964 the number one single was Do Wah Diddy Diddy - Manfred Mann and the number one album was A Hard Day's Night - Beatles. The top rated TV show was Conservative Party Political Broadcast (all channels) and the box office smash was Dr Strangelove. A pound of today's money was worth £12.24 and Manchester United were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 21/08/1965 the number one single was Help - The Beatles and the number one album was Liverpool. The top rated TV show was "Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was The Sound of Music. A pound of today's money was worth £not very interesting and 11.69 were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions. The big news story of the day was Riviera Police (AR)".