Don’t cry for me Edgar
Many readers will think of Che Guevara as a high-spirited, Norton-riding dude with half a moustache. Inveterate ersatz BSA builder and Edgar Jessop fan Doug Fraser has discovered another side to the revolutionary.
On a recent trip to Bolivia I came across this picture and scribbled on the back were the words: “The legendary Edgar Jessop standing beside the relatively unknown chap by the name of Ernesto Guevara.” Attached with a pin were a couple of pages possibly torn from a diary containing a story written partly in Spanish and partly in English. For the readers interest I have done my best to translate. “During the winter months (off-season for racing) Edgar would return to Giggleswick and would usually stay at Sir Carruthers’ mansion where generally boring times (apart from eating and drinking) were to be had. This year turned out to be a little different as Sir Carruthers’ twin daughters Salamander and Gertrude had just returned home from finishing school. Edgar, being a kind hearted fellow, felt it was his duty to offer the girls a class they may not have taken at finishing school. A ménage a` trois evolved and the winter months seemed to just slip by. That was until Salamander discovered Edgar was conducting a similar class with Papa’s very private secretary –a Miss Enid Sharples. Should Sir Carruthers ever discover this, Edgar would be hung, drawn and quartered and also lose his handsome annual remuneration. When the girls laid out the options in front of him, he did what any sensible man would do: he ran as fast and as far from Giggleswick as he could. He had a few European friends in racing circles who, shall we say, had immigrated to South America: Argentina, to be precise. Buenos Aires would be his destination. But alas, after an evening with the ship’s captain and a little too much alcohol, Edgar neglected to disembark before entering the Panama Canal. When he awoke many hours later he was in the Pacific, not the Atlantic, and heading for Chile, not Argentina.
After disembarking at the port city of Val Paraiso Edgar headed to the pub for a hard earned drink. Halfway through his first pint he heard a motorcycle pull up and in walked a chap who recognised Edgar immediately. The chap introduced himself as Ernesto Guevara, but said his friends called him ‘Che’. The two of them really hit it off and a plan was hatched for Edgar to get a lift to Buenos Aires on the back of Che’s Norton for the local TT meeting in two months time. A long and arduous trek followed, from Chile over the Andes and into Argentina, arriving just three days prior to race day.
Fortunately for Edgar, finding his old friend from the “Continental Circus,” Eric Von Zipper, did not prove to be a problem. The fact that Eric was on the TT committee was also very handy as a late entry was easily organised. The matter of what to ride had crossed Edgar’s mind but he was sure Eric would have something in his shed. At lunch two days later Eric eluded to Edgar and Che that the organisation of the TT and in particular the quite substantial prize money may not be all it’s cracked up to be. So to hedge their bets, literally, they decided to repaint Eric’s Kompressor BMW in works Spagforth Salamander racing colours. This consisted of battleship grey with diagonal stripes of drab olive green: a colour scheme that would make a world war two army motorcycle look stunning. A substantial amount of money was then placed at the last minute on the Salamanda Spagforth with the local bookies, which Eric called his “insurance policy”. Race day came and with the grid containing the usual run of pre-war British bikes, cammy Nortons, Velos, the odd Triumph, BSA and a couple of Italian Gileras, Edgar felt the field would be a walk over. And a walk over it was much to the bookies dismay. At prize giving that evening Edgar was a little disappointed, if not surprised, when the promised wad of cash that had been so promoted turned out to be a deed to a power boat named the Grand Mama. To add insult to injury it was nowhere near Buenos Aires: it was moored in Cancun, Mexico. News of Edgar’s success on the Spagforth Salamander quickly spread all the way back to Gigglesick – it was, after all, the Salamander’s only TT victory. Edgar was summoned, all expenses paid. The prodigal son had returned. With no need for a power boat, Edgar gave the deed paper to Che, who later used it with his friends Camilla Cienfrago, Raul and Fidel Castro to travel to Cuba and start the revolution. For readers who are interested, the boat the Grand Mama can still be seen in the Museum of the Revolution in Havana, Cuba.
Edgar Jessop (third from right) with Ernesto Guevara during a stop en route to Buenos Aires where the Norton was reconditioned with surplus Spagforth parts carried by Edgar in his underpants.