WHAT­EVER HAP­PENED TO Bri­tish-built hel­mets SUB­SCRIBE TO MCN AND RE­CEIVE AN OX­FORD AQUA ROLL BAG Visit Call the hot­line NOW

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Once, there was a world be­fore Arai, Shoei and Shark. A dif­fer­ent world where the pre­ferred hel­mets for Bri­tish mo­tor­cy­clists were – odd that this now sounds – Bri­tish. Back in the late ’70s, in mo­tor­cy­cling’s hey­day when 17-year-olds ter­rorised the High Street on 250-stro­kers, a li­cence was a Post Of­fice form away and typ­i­cal bik­ing at­tire in­cluded Doc Marts and a pad­dock jacket, hel­mets usu­ally came with union flags on them. Kan­gol were one of a num­ber of UK hel­met firms who flour­ished in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s and were fa­mously worn by rac­ers – in­clud­ing Mike Hail­wood. Oth­ers in­cluded Sta­dium, Cen­tu­rion, Cromwell, Paddy Hop­kirk and Grif­fin – all of which have dis­ap­peared. So what hap­pened? And where did they go?

What’s the story? Kan­gol was founded in the 1920s as a tex­tile firm spe­cial­is­ing in head­wear, par­tic­u­larly berets (the name comes from K (for knit­ting) Ang (for An­gora) and Ol (from Wool) and was the main beret sup­plier in WW2, most fa­mously to Field Mar­shal Mont­gomery. In the 1950s Kan­gol di­ver­si­fied into safety prod­ucts, pro­duc­ing safety hel­mets and seat belts in Carlisle. Then, fol­low­ing the hel­met law of 1973, Kan­gol be­came the UK’S big­gest man­u­fac­turer, pro­duc­tion mov­ing to larger premises in Stran­raer, Scot­land.

What were they most fa­mous for? Be­ing the hel­met of choice for a gen­er­a­tion of rid­ers and rac­ers in the mid-late ’70s, among them John New­bold, Tom Her­ron, John Wil­liams, Ron Haslam, Dave Pot­ter and even Joey Dun­lop.

Great­est mo­ment? The great Mike ‘The Bike’ Hail­wood in his last Isle of Man ap­pear­ance at the 1979 TT. Wear­ing a Kan­gol.

So what went wrong? Sim­ply, Bri­tish hel­mets weren’t good enough – or fash­ion­able enough. The UK in­dus­try started to suf­fer in face of cheaper, or sim­ply bet­ter and more so­phis­ti­cated, for­eign im­ports, first from Europe with the likes of Nolan, Nava and AGV – then from Ja­pan. Most fash­ion­able teenagers wanted a Sheene or Roberts AGV in­stead.

What hap­pened next? First, in 1981, Kan­gol Hel­mets were re-branded as Top Tek, pro­duc­ing the likes of the Nim­rod, which fared lit­tle bet­ter. Then, in 1983, the firm were taken over by in­dus­trial hel­met spe­cial­ists Hel­mets In­te­grated Sys­tems Ltd (HISL) a leader in mil­i­tary and civil air­crew head­gear who, in­ter­est­ingly, had ear­lier also bought the Cromwell mo­tor­cy­cle hel­mets

op­er­a­tion. Top Tek was dis­solved in 1984 and HISL were taken over by Amer­i­can mil­i­tary and civil safety equip­ment firm Gen­tex in 2014.

And the oth­ers? Many went the same way. Cen­tu­rion, of Thet­ford, Nor­folk, be­gan mak­ing hel­mets in the 1950s and were most fa­mously worn by side­car world champs Jock Tay­lor and Benga Jo­hans­son. By the early 1990s, how­ever, it had with­drawn from mo­tor­cy­cling al­to­gether. It sur­vives to­day as Cen­tu­rion Safety Prod­ucts Ltd mak­ing, among other things, work­man’s hats. Sta­dium, an in­jec­tion­moulded plas­tic pi­o­neer founded in 1911 best known for its Achilles’ full face from the ’70s, also sur­vives as the Sta­dium Group in Hartle­pool, a lead­ing provider of elec­tronic tech­nolo­gies hav­ing ended hel­met pro­duc­tion decades ago. Oth­ers such as Grif­fin and Paddy Hop­kirk went the same way.

So, do any sur­vive? Sort of. Cromwell lives on, un­der HISL/ Gen­tex own­er­ship, as a spe­cial­ist fire and emer­gency ser­vices hel­met. While Everoak, most fa­mous for its as­ton­ish­ingly naff full face Cas­quette and Su­per Cas­quette in the ’80s, has been re­vived, too, and pro­duces £800 repli­cas of ’50s-style cork ‘bone domes’ for the clas­sic au­tosport scene.

And Kan­gol? The name has gone from strength to strength – but for fash­ion cloth­ing and head­wear, not hel­mets. The brand’s been owned by Mike Ash­ley’s Sports Di­rect since 2006, with li­cences sold to may dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing Topshop. Kan­gol hats, mean­while, re­main in pro­duc­tion in East­ern Europe and the US.

SUB­SCRIBE TO­DAY AND GET… CHOOSE FROM THREE EASYOPTIONS: Print Dig­i­tal Print & Dig­i­tal Joey was famed as an Arai man but back in 1981 he was lap­ping the TT in a Kan­gol

Sport­ing his Kan­gol with pride, Mike Hail­wood head­ing for vic­tory in the 1979 Se­nior TT Heady days: Hail­wood’s Kan­gol Sen­sa­tional style, so says the ad­vert

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