Velocette’s guru – and no mean rider himself – Harold Willis (the P G Wodehouse of motorcycling?) is well remembered for his quips and the nicknames he applied; ‘Whiffling Clara’ was the supercharged single, ‘Spring Heeled Jack’ was the experimental sprung frame KTT, ‘Roaring Anna’ was his own racer, while the most famous of all was ‘The Roarer’, the supercharged twin. Willis’ de Havilland Moth was ‘Clattering Kate.’
Willis’ remarks are well remembered in print but every now and then one comes across another insight into a less documented character. As an example, it appears Harold Daniell (pre and postwar Norton works racer and the first man to lap the TT course at 90mph) could be somewhat acerbic with his ‘quips’ such as the occasion when an AMC top brass commented there were no flies on Harold’s works AJS R7. “I couldn’t catch them on this thing!” spat the Londoner in reply…
Noel Pope’s (Pope being the holder of the outright Brooklands motorcycle lap record) book Full Chat gives some good lovely insights into the period, with a particularly memorable section on racing in Europe and facing the might of the works BMW and DKW squads.
He was the only one of the travelling circus (the band of riders who went from track to track, living almost hand to mouth on start and prize money) to take part in a particular event, so some of his fellow circus entertainers offered to act as pitcrew. They supplied such helpful signals such as ‘Follow the dust cloud’, ‘They went that way’ (with an arrow) and ‘Look behind you’ as Noel was imminently to be lapped. They then started the sequence of signals again…
What made me think of this was listening to something on the radio saying about how being inquisitive and wanting to learn is a sure fire way to keep the brain active. My personal favourite things to learn are these small asides which give a little more character to eras and take us closer to the men who rode our motorcycles in their heyday.
We try to do a little of that each month – witness the ‘Men who mattered’ section, while the John Surtees interview and beach racing features hopefully add insights into times passed. It just transports us, hopefully pleasantly, into a different era for a brief time.
Where legends come to life
James Robinson, Editor
James Robinson has been the editor of The Classic MotorCycle since 2002. Aged 34, he has possessed a motorcycle licence for 16 years and during that time has owned and ridden all manner of motorcycles, spanning over 100 years from oldest to newest.
Presently the custodian of a varied shed full of motorcycles, his overriding enthusiasm is for pre-World War Two sporting machines, with a couple of cammy Velos, a Rex-Acme and a Model 9 Sunbeam among those competing for attention.