Black Country Bugle
‘I could have prevented World War II by dropping a bomb into Hitler’s lap’
wings of the Mercedes. Seated in one of the open-topped cars was Adolf Hitler.
As Charlie later recalled, he could have prevented World War II by simply dropping a bomb into Hitler’s lap.
Charlie regarded 1936 as the peak of his career when as well as the Olympics, he travelled to the Isle of Man to win the first massed-start roadrace over the island’s 37-mile course. That year he won the British Best Allrounder (BBAR) time-trial competition after finishing third in 1933 and second in 1934 and 1935.
Turning professional in 1937 he entered the Tour de France as an individual, although bone breaks had limited his training. Two weeks before the race Charlie read in LA’ uto that he and another British entrant, Bill Burl, would not be allowed to compete. Sending a telegram for clarification he received a reply saying “following your wire dated yesterday agree engagement if you agree.” The condition was that Charlie, Burl and a Frenchcanadian Pierre Gachon should combine in a British Empire team. Charlie rode 2,000 miles until a broken pump stranded him. He later punctured, fitted a new tyre and found the heat had warped the washer of his pump. Getting the tyre to half-pressure he punctured twice more and ran out of tyres. A tourist gave him another tyre, but as he put it on in the excitement of the moment the rod of the pump broke. Using another pump he blew it hard but the tyre fitted so loosely on the rim that it was unsafe.
Another tyre was found that fitted a little better, and again Charlie set off. The first Briton to ride Le Tour, he kept in the race for three-quarters of the distance, and the fact that he was only then forced to abandon through ill luck demonstrates what determination and strength of character Charlie had.
Although he didn’t expect to win without a team or manager, it seemed that they wanted him out of the race.
Riding for Raleigh/sturmeyarcher,
Charlie broke his first Road Records Association (RRA) record, knocking 12 minutes off the time of his rival, for Liverpool to Edinburgh completing the 210 miles in 10 hours.
He narrowly beat the record for Land’s End to London but it was not accepted because – bizarrely – it did not improve on the old one by more than a minute. He duly broke it again by the amazing margin of 25 minutes.
After war service with the Royal Corps of Signals Charlie was too old to race again as a professional when hostilities ceased, and the rules did not allow him to race as an amateur.
In the 1960s cycling began to allow former professionals to ride in amateur races, and Charlie made a comeback. Despite being overweight and a heavy smoker, he won the Veterans Time Trial Association best allrounder title in 1974.
Aged 67 he returned to the Isle of Man, riding roads he first raced over
A tourist gave him another tyre, but in the excitement of the moment the rod of the pump broke
almost forty years earlier, breaking age records at 25, 50 and 100 miles, and in the latter beating the age standard by one-and-a-half hours.
Charlie’s daughters, Nina and Frances, grew up seeing their father’s cups around their home with no idea of their significance. How famous their dad had been was brought home to them in 1962 when they accompanied him to the Royal Albert Hall (British Best All-rounder Dinner and Awards) where he was invited to tell the Story of the Yellow Jersey as his daughters sat in the Royal Box.
For nearly half a century they were unaware that in the loft of their house were their father’s medals, photographs, newspaper articles, his Olympic and Tour de France jerseys, racing caps, notes and correspondence from fans.
The two sisters later wrote and published a biography ‘Dancing Uphill’, a fitting tribute to a true cycling legend.