What was the catalyst for Ian Berry to become an MX writer?
Setting his stall out, our new columnist tells how he got to become a noted MX author and what floats his MX boat.
Aquestion I’m often asked is “How did you get started writing about motocross?” to which I respond by telling them that my father is responsible for that. Back in the late 1990s dad sent me a couple of Duke videos for my birthday that depicted the sport in the Fifties and Sixties. Watching the videos, memories of spectating at meetings throughout the Sixties and Seventies came flooding back, so I searched in the motorcycle magazines of the day – this was before the days of the internet – for books I could read to further my enjoyment. To my great surprise there weren’t any available, so I set about writing a book of my own. That was more than 20 years ago now, but we have to go back more than 50 years to discover when my love affair with the sport began.
Like so many of my generation, I first fell under its spell when it was being broadcast live on the BBC’S flagship sports programme Grandstand on Saturday afternoons. Presenter David Coleman and commentator Murray Walker introduced me to the likes of Jeff Smith, Dave Bickers and Arthur Lampkin, along with his brother ‘Sid’, going hell for leather in the muddy, chaotic, 10-minute sprints that grabbed my attention and brought a little sunshine to our otherwise drab Saturday afternoons in winter.
This would have been in 1965 and in the spring of the following year, at the tender age of seven, I was taken to my first scramble. The family was bundled into the car and driven the six miles from our home to the venue at Cross In Hand, Sussex. It was a fantastic day out and my overriding memories are of the thundering noise as around 40 riders on a mixture of lightweight two-strokes and four-stroke leviathans, raced away from the start, feeling the ground shake beneath my feet as riders landed after launching themselves from one of the downhill jumps and, of course, the wonderful, unforgettable smell of Castrol ‘R’.
For many years all I could remember about the riders present that day was that my dad, who had ridden in South-eastern Centre trials in the Fifties, spoke to John Giles in the paddock. However, whilst trawling through the archives of MCN at Kettering one day, I came across a report on the meeting. Greeves ace Alan Clough, who had made the long journey south from Manchester, was the star of the show, winning both 250 races and leading the likes of the Rickman brothers, on their own Métisse machines, Giles, Joe Johnson on a Triumph Métisse and Rob Jordan on a Triumph Wasp, until his 360 Greeves seized up in the first 320-500cc race. With Clough sidelined, the Rickmans, as they often did, shared the spoils with a win apiece. The sidecar racing was fast and furious with future multipleBritish champion Nick Thompson winning both races, though my sister Jackie and I were more impressed by Dave Treleaven and passenger Ken Canfield, not for their riding skill, but for their natty, striped helmets, the height of sartorial elegance to us!
The seed was planted as I marvelled at the speed and skill with which most of the riders circulated the fast, rugged heathland circuit. I say ‘most’ as I also vividly recall St John Ambulance members being pressed into action, as an over-zealous effort on the part of one of the riders resulted in a broken collarbone.
I dreamed of racing the likes of Jeff Smith and Arthur Lampkin, Dave Bickers and Alan Clough for many years after that day; something I never did get to do. But through my writing I have been lucky enough to meet many of my childhood MX heroes and I am happy to consider some of them friends today. I have spent a lot of time in their company and by and large I have found them friendly and helpful, even if occasionally bemused that I would want to write about them after so many years. Whether it be having a mug of tea with Dave Bickers in his favourite workshop in Coddenham, hearing John Banks thank me for reminding him just how much he had won, or sitting down to breakfast in a hotel in Imola with Rolf Tibblin and Torsten Hallman, writing about motocross definitely has its perks and such happenings serve as a timely reminder that I have a lot to thank my father for!
But to close, I’d like to return to the occasion of my first scramble. On returning home from the meeting that day, my Triang scooter was immediately liberated from the garden shed and I was soon lapping the garden at a fair old lick, with a commentary along these lines coursing through my head. The newcomer Berry has passed Horsfield and Clough this lap and now he’s moving up alongside… and, yes, he’s passed Arthur Lampkin! This is incredible. Now he’s only got reigning world champion Jeff Smith ahead of him. He’s gaining rapidly on Jeff and it looks like he’s going to… “Ian! Come on. Tea’s ready.”
Isn’t that always the way? You’re just about to snatch the lead from Jeff Smith in the big final when your mum calls you in for your tea!