’cross words

What was the cat­a­lyst for Ian Berry to be­come an MX writer?

Classic Dirtbike - - Contents -

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!

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