Wednesday, April 23, 2008

BOOK REVIEW- "Continental Circus" by Ted Mellors

In a letter from Ivan Rhodes in the Aust.VOC magazine FTDU 319, reference was made to Ted Mellors and how he is considered to be the forgotten man of motorcycle racing, having died tragically by asphyxiation whilst working on his car in a closed garage ( there’s a lesson for us all there…)
As well as a good racer he was a dab hand with the pen and had written a manuscript on his racing exploits while racing as part of the “Continental Circus”, a group of basically British or Commonwealth riders who followed the GPs around Europe. Mellors was part of it from 1929 until the war stopped it in 1939, riding Nortons, New Imperials, Benellis, Velocettes to name some. He became a factory Velocette rider in 1936 and rode them all over the continent up to 1939.
Stanley Woods only rode in the Ulster, some other Irish events such as the Leinster 100 and North West 200, The IOM TT and an occasional continental event.
The manuscript was unfinished and in 1949 Geoff Davison who published the TT Special, a paper devoted to the TT during TT week, added some stories from earlier times and then published it as part of a series of “TT Special” books. 160 pages long, amply illustrated, 7”x5”, they are now not easy to come by and you would expect to pay around £25 (about $70) from an English source.

Ted Mellors at the start of the 1936 Junior IOM TT, he finished 4th on a newly introduced factory DOHC Velocette.
In Ivan’s letter, reference was made to Mellor’s grave site, which has remained unknown to motorcycle historians until recently.
Where it was came about by an unusual chain of business, KTT Services, serviced,restored and sold motorcycle instruments and

Ted receives the Lightweight TT trophy for first place on a 250cc Benelli. The presentation took place in the Villa Marina, Douglas, IOM and Ted responds to the crowd.
I had my shop fitted out with memorabilla, posters etc.
A chap came in one day, unknown to me, but I subsequently found he was a member of the Australian Velo OC and spying a poster on the wall, well known to Velo folk.."The Learner and The Expert", he said, "Do you know who they are?"..."Franz Binder, the Austrian Velo racer and Ted Mellors, the Velo factory rider" I replied... "Mellors is related to me", said Derek Deacon who had introduced himself by then...I was a little sceptical to these facts, but didn't show it.
Derek return soon after with a trophy of Mellors and further expanded on his relationship to Mellors, seems his mother was a cousin, relatives were alive in Birmingham and yes where Ted was finally buried was known. I related this to Ivan Rhodes, who quickly followed it up and he took the photo shown below which is in The Robin Hood Cemetery, in Birmingham, England.

Both Mellors and Davison paint a fascinating tale of the effort needed to compete in racing events of the day.1929 when he started was the start of the Great Depression, jobs and money were hard to come by and to travel to the Continent usually entailed taking trains, wheeling your racing bike with a tool kit ,leathers, a clothes bag all balanced on the seat onto the guards van of a train and repeating it at the other end, often pushing the bike and kit miles to the circuit or nearby hotel.
The races were usually of at least 100 miles length ( 160km), although the TT was usually 6 laps (over 220 miles) as was the Ulster GP. Fuel and accessories were often supplied by the Trade “barons” and so were available at the circuit. Riders were usually much older than today when they started, some in their late 20’s, most in their mid 30’s. A youth of those days simply didn’t have the money, nor could his family help out due to financial hardship. This meant relatively well-off people succeeded in getting a ride on a good machine.
Motor homes as we know them were non existent.
However if you made it to the top; take Stanley Woods for example; in 1938 riding in the TT, winning the Junior TT and coming 2nd in the Senior TT, with trade bonuses netted him over £980 for the 2 weeks work. If you consider that a new Mk.7 KTT cost over £105 he did pretty good, at a guess around $295,000 in today’s money.
A sad end to a talented rider......
Left click on photos to enlarge them...

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