Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Circus Life

While I have been to several book launches in my time I've never been the one to actually get up in front of a crowd and help launch a book. But tonight I was on the other side of the podium, stepping in very happily to say a few words about a wonderful new book written by a friend of mine. Here it is, and what follows is, yes, a little promo for my friend Don's great book, but there's also a nice little story to start with of Don's book solving a diecast model mystery for me. 

The full title is "Circus Life: Australian
Motorcycle Racers in Europe in the 1950s".
Written by Australia's best motorcycle racing
journalist, Don Cox, it's a reference book
of coffee-table book proportions (480 pages,
33cm high, 25cm wide, 5cm thick). It's awesome.
I've worked with Don in the past and have
edited many of his stories, hence our connection.
This book hopefully will end up in libraries,
as well as in many homes. It's much more than
a motorcycle racing history book, it is social
history which documents this era superbly.
Now, before I launch into showing you a few favourite pages from the book, I thought I'd start with the way Don's book solved a little diecast model mystery for me.
This is a 1:24 scale model made by Starline of the 350cc
Moto Guzzi 'Bialbero' which won the World Championship
in the 350 class in 1953-54-55-56-57. I have figured out
that the strange word 'Bialbero' merely means 'twin cam' but
the remaining mystery for me was 'whose bike was it?'.
I know that an Australian, Keith Campbell, won the 1957
World Championship on a Guzzi 350 but I've never found
a photo of him on a Guzzi 350cc bike numbered 72.

Here's the Guzzi with Don's book,
and on page 465 is this photo below.

This is another Australian, Ken Kavanagh, winning the 1956
Isle of Man 350cc TT on the #72 Guzzi 350. At last I know!
And so at the book launch I mentioned this mystery then gave Don this model as a little memento of the book's launch (oh, and I have another Starline model of the #72 Guzzi ordered and on its way, to replace the one I gave to Don).

I'll give you the details on how to order the book, should you be interested, at the end of this posting, but in the meantime I've photographed some of the pages (hence the rough look of a few of them) to give you an idea of the amazing extent of Don's research and coverage of this era.

This isn't just motorcycling history, it's social history as well. Don is truly encyclopedic in his knowledge of motorcycle racing, always very accurate and detailed, but in this book he has excelled himself by telling the stories of the lifestyles of the racers, all Aussies abroad living in buses, vans or whatever they could manage that night. It's also the story of the wives, the girlfriends, the border crossings, the promoters, the wild nights and, unfortunately far too many young lives lost on dangerous circuits. On with the show...  

I'll only show you one or two motorcycle racing photos, which
do make up the majority of the photos in the book, of course.
This is a wonderful double-page spread showing Australian
Bob Brown riding to a win in East Germany.

The behind-the-scenes photos are pure treasure, and there's
lots of them. Allan Burt and Bob Brown's converted bus
took them all around Europe to race meetings.

The flying kangaroo on Jack Findlay and Kevin King's
Austin van told everyone where they were from.

The book's designer, Alan McArthur has used
 period posters at full page size, and they are
a delight. This is Czechoslovakia, 1957.

A brace of Manx Nortons, a very handsome sight.

While most of the photos are black and white, there's a good
smattering of colour shots too. This is Australian Roger Barker
pushing off to start at the 1957 Isle of Man TT. I'm sure that
vivid colour scheme was the only one in the race!

As mentioned earlier, the wives, girlfriends, mechanics and
other travelling companions all feature many times and get
to tell their stories too. This is Gwen Bryan stopped by the
side of Lake Como in Italy, near the Moto Guzzi factory. Her
husband Keith Bryan had a lot of success, as his flash
transporter readily testifies.

Family snap: Dawn and Neil Johnson with baby Peter.

Glamour: this lovely lass is Bernadette
 Somerville, at Brno.

Margot Agostini looking elegant in the paddock.

The girls go shopping at Spa Francorchamps.

This book covers so much ground, but it's also very much
a serious history of a motorcycle racing era. It dwells not
just on the main heroes back then: it successfully covers
dozens of racers who tried their luck in Europe. Don has
included the sidecar racers, the New Zealanders who were
there as well, plus so many Australian riders that I have
to admit that I hadn't actually heard of some of them until
I started to read this detailed and authoritative history.
Should you be interested in getting a copy of 'Circus Life', here's the details on how to order it. For anyone with an interest in motorcycle racing history, especially we antipodeans, this is a book which you can proudly leave on the coffee table for others to admire and browse through.

To order, please email 
and include your mailing address.

How to pay
Via Paypal.

is the account name.

Or, directly to the 

Plimsoll Street Publishing account, 
BSB 032 298 account no. 348961. 
Please put your name in the description box. 

Or, send a cheque/money order to:

Plimsoll Street Publishing Pty Ltd, 
PO Box 356, Haberfield, NSW 2045. Australia.

Au$99 plus $8 post & handling for books in Australia, mailed from Sydney.

1 comment:

  1. Very beautiful Moto Guzzi 'Bialbero' 350cc of Starline.