CONTENTS

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Moore the Merrier Tracks of Tears Trials of Our Times Strange Tales from Abroad Secret Success And, Therefore, This Country is at War ... Road to Victory Welcome to the Pleasuredrome Six-Day Wonders The Name on the Frame Monsieur Robinson; Mr Tom Milk Makes a Man of You The Firing Squad The Unknown Hero Sixty Minutes of Sixty Seconds Dash for the Cash Gold at the Rainbow’s End A Scandal on Wheels Un Millar Peut en Cacher un Autre This Sceptred Isle

Appendix - The Tours of Britain

Arthur Metcalfe (winner of the Milk Race in 1964) before the start of the 1965 race at Brighton

13 THE FIRING SQUAD

The grand gestures of the bike trade in the 1950s were its death throes. The pro team didn’t finish Hercules but it did little to keep it going. The same went for BSA and the rest. By 1958 BSA, Triumph, New Hudson and Sunbeam were part of Raleigh; Hercules, Armstrong, James, Norman, Sun and the chain company Brampton and others had all been taken over by Raleigh’s rival, the British Cycle Corporation. BCC was in turn owned by Tube Investments, which ran the bike conglomerate to protect its market. Its chairman was John Reith, the terrifying, heavy-browed and scar-faced 1st Baron Reith of Stonehaven who became Director General of the fledgling BBC in 1927. He left there in 1938 to run Imperial Airways, the start of a steady decline in his career which took him to Tube Investments after the war. Although brilliant in his conception of public-service broadcasting against the commercialism of its American equivalent, he was dour and unmoving and hardly the man to put fire into a dying bike industry. A sternly religious man with old-world attitudes, Reith insisted the BBC broadcast nothing on Sunday mornings and only solemn music in the afternoons. He was forced out of that when pirate stations opening on the French coast took his audience, but he stuck to his principles and was said to fire employees who divorced. Persuaded not to dispense with one broadcaster, he thundered: ‘He can stay, but ensure that he never reads the epilogue.’ The epilogue was the end-of-day religious reading on which Reith insisted. Reith could afford to wait. He watched Raleigh open a third factory in Nottingham – the guest was the equally abrasive Bernard Montgomery, the wartime military leader and Eisenhower’s troublesome deputy for D-Day – and slowly overextend itself. ‘The future was set for a clash of the Titans: says Mike Breckon. ‘The late 1950s had seen dramatic drops in profits for Raleigh [and] in 1960

13 – The Firing Squad

TI made its move on Nottingham. After more than 70 years operating as an independent company, Raleigh became part of the TI giant, with two of TI’s board of directors, including the BCC managing’director, placed on the Raleigh board ... There is little doubt that the TI-Raleigh merger hastened the demise of the British cycle component industry.’ Breckon, in his biography of the components millionaire Ron Kitching, quotes him as saying: ‘The components manufacturers were faced with a dictator. TI-Raleigh could more or less turn round and say, “Look, if you won’t let us have it at that price, we won’t buy it from you.” If a company couldn’t exist on that price, what could they do? When you get a company like Dunlop saying they would stop manufacturing cycle tyres rather than go crawling to TI-Raleigh, it gives an idea of what it was like.’ Raleigh concentrated on everyday bikes for the everyday rider. The race market was too small for a firm of that size and it gave the work to Carlton Cycles, the company run by Gerald and Kevin O’Donovan. It was Carlton that got the call to meet Lord Plowden, the chairman and later president of Tube Investments, when fog had diverted him to one airport and TI’s bigwigs had gone to another. The O’Donovan brothers, sons of an Irish motorbike-maker and racer, collected his lordship – Edwin Noel Plowden GBE, KCB, Britain’s wartime head of aircraft production, and created Baron Plowden in 1959 – and took him to their factory. ‘I think he was a bit taken aback to have his hand shaken by oily palms, to be chatted up by smiling workers and to be asked for his autograph: Gerald O’Donovan recalled. ‘My lads made the most of having a live lord to themselves and I wasn’t above taking advantage of it myself.’ Neither man knew it but that was the start of the TI-Raleigh racing team. The O’Donovans had been on the side of the NCU in the civil war but were bewitched into compromising their principles. Gerald O’Donovan recalled: ‘I fell under the spell of a young man, Tom Simpson, who not only was a gifted track rider and time-triallist but also rode these roadraces. Despite his aversion to the road racing scene, it was Kevin who helped to find ways of sending Tom to the European scene.’

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The end of the civil war between the NCU and BLRC cleared the way for Carlton, which was still under the Simpson spell. It meant the company was open to an idea from a Sheffield enthusiast called George Shaw. In 1964 he suggested the O’Donovans run an independent team in Britain. Kevin O’Donovan agreed. He called his lordship, recalled their meeting that fog-filled day, and told him Shaw’s ideas. It was a successful call. Gerald O’Donovan said: ‘He gave us a private subvention from TI funds, loaned us cars and drivers for European trips, and other kindness. In later years, with the pro team, he also loaned us his prop-jet.’ The domestic team worked well and Carlton even had an arrangement with Cycling that it would take an advertisement on the front page of the magazine every time a Carlton rider won a race. And that’s how things could have stayed had Britain not entered the European Common Market. In 1976 Raleigh wanted to expand into a far bigger market and that meant a team of appeal to more than just British enthusiasts. The time had come to run a real team. O’Donovan was called on to help. ‘David Duffield [later a commentator with Eurosport but then working for Raleigh] and I were told by the Chairman to get ourselves to Barcelona for the World Championship road-race: he said. ‘We were to suss out what management material might be available. We decided on Raleigh Amsterdam as the forward base, with Peter Post as team manager. George Shaw was to [continue to] look after the UK end and UK-based riders.’ Post was a good rider but his business ventures hadn’t been startling. Or rather, they had: his bowling alley in Amstelveen had caught fire and failed. O’Donovan said he was no good at budgets until Raleigh’s advertising manager, Sidney Woods, taught him how to do it. The disciple then became the maestro. ‘Riders even needed a receipt in triplicate if they bought a bottle of Coke on expenses,’ O’Donovan said. Such was the discipline that riders changed TI-Raleigh’s abbreviation of TJ-R Group to Tirgruppe, which meant firing squad. The first team was registered in Britain and, under the rules of the time, had to have British riders. But one by one they came home – Brian Jolly, Dave Lloyd, Phil Bayton, Bob Carey – with tales bitter or discreet about getting the worst bikes, being used as cannon-fodder, metaphorically kicked because they weren’t Dutch. Lloyd recalled: ‘Post mellowed later

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but he was a swine to the British riders. He always made sure the team had the best food and stayed in the best rooms, but he certainly had a down on the British, I was always last on the massage table.’ O’Donovan said: I will confess that in the beginning even I thought that there was some Dutch chauvinism in this. The truth was that few British riders thrive off their own island and there were certainly far too few to make up the major team we needed. We registered in Holland in 1975. More than once Peter let riders leave who had an inflated view of their own worth, rather than spoil the balance of the rest of the team. Usually these riders learned that without the depth of team support, life was not easy. I remember him telling one Australian rider: ‘You want me to pay you nice Australian tennis money? You go play tennis.’ From 1976 to 1983 Post and Raleigh amassed two world road championships (Gerrie Knetemann 1978, Jan Raas 1979), the 1980 Tour de France (Joop Zoetemelk), the Amstel Gold Race in 1978, 1979 and 1980, the Tour of Flanders in 1979 and Ghent-Wevelgem in 1980. Plus 15 world championships, five World Cups, 77 Tour stages, the Giro d’ltalia, 37 Classics and 55 national championships. The French magazine Vélo named it top team in history and said it ‘imposed its astonishing collective force from the moment the team was created’, adding that Post ‘maintained great cohesion in a team rich with individual strengths’. Well, history turns circles and TI-Raleigh, which had so ruthlessly taken over the bike industry in Britain, found its team taken away in turn. It worked with a list of subsidiary sponsors of which the last, Panasonic, took over. ‘We became Panasonic-Raleigh and finally the ante was so high that we moved out. We just could not meet the cost of their sort of budget: O’Donovan said. The team folded in 1983 after 12 years. Twelve years later many of the riders returned to a party, Raleigh Reunie 1995, to celebrate.

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Of the rest, Lord Plowden retired as president of the TI Group in 1990. Gerald O’Donovan died at home in 2001 after a heart attack. George Shaw was connected with Carlton and Raleigh for 23 years and still works in the trade. He left Raleigh in 1989 after what Gerald O’Donovan described as internal politics. He was replaced by Paul Sherwen, a former Tour rider. Tom Simpson died in the Tour de France in 1967. Peter Post is retired in central Holland. And Raleigh? Its factory was sold machine by machine in December 1999, 109 years after it started. An era passed. The irony is that many think of Raleigh as a British team. It never was. It had some talented and hardworking Britons, some of whom like Bob Carey went to evening classes to learn Dutch before joining. But that was little more than one year in twelve. Derek Buttle’s Hercules team lasted three years and was always entirely British. That’s the irony: that the better British sponsorship became, the less it went on British riders. The last attempt to field a Tour de France team was the fall-apart ANCHalfords in 1987, which was in mayhem long before the race ended. And only some of the team were British. Is there something in the theory that, as O’Donovan said, few British riders thrive off their own island? Let’s look at that again later.

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