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Not your usual history about the usual suspects, says Dave Minton, but the essence of inspiring motorcycling lives distilled for your elucidation…
In 1956 I was walking through Preston when an outfit purred past, sounding more docile from its single fishtail pipe than I imagined, in my youth, that any motorcycle had a right to. Moreover, it sported twin rear wheels. Innocent (ignorant?) though I was then about the world and its ways, I knew enough from conversations between my father and uncles, most of whom were car and bike buffs, that I had been privileged to see the finest and rarest of all the world’s motorcycles in the metal – a four cylinder Brough Superior.
I chased it hard until, at long last, it stopped at a red traffic light. I stood there, panting and gaping, until the owner, cloth capped and Stormguarded, turned a grin on me. He winked and blipped the throttle but the engine barely purred. Then he was gone. But I had seen what no-one else in my family
ever had, an actual four-cylinder Brough Superior.
There is little these days that holds the same magic for us: we have become cynical, although I must say that as motorcyclists vulnerable to ourselves as well as the shortcoming of others, we hold dreams more closely than most.
To this day I have never seen or heard another (and tend to disbelieve the Dream fours have ever existed, even as one-offs) yet I continue to wonder what such a machine would feel like to ride. Lordly, surely, no less. At least, I did wonder. Now, having read Charles ‘Titch’ Allen’s memorial volume, Legends in Their Lifetime, George Brough & Lawrence of Arabia, I know exactly how it would be.
Brough Bits on Now…
‘Come for a ride … none of the controls are where you expect them. A left-handed slant-eyed Yak driver from Tibet would be a far better pupil than one steeped in conventional motorcycle habits … a left-hand (throttle) twistgrip (and one) on the right-hand bar works the ignition advance and retard. Left foot clutch … Right foot brake … You grope for the starter button … upside down, under the tail end of the tank … (and) … the (gear-lever) flops about as if not connected to anything but if you know what you are doing you can use it to stir up the cogs.’
Sounds much like my old Indian.
The important thing is that Titch, a motorcycling romantic if ever there was, for all that was also a shrewd, hard-headed, canny and very honest man and writer. In fact, after reading his laconic report on the 800cc Austin Seven engined BS, I decided I liked it even more than any amount of fantasy-fuelled worship could provide.
I don’t believe I have ever reviewed a book so impossible to pin down, to objectively criticise or even, for that matter, to praise. Quite simply, its appeal in all respects is so great that I find myself unable to offer a balanced view. You might well imagine that a book focused on George Brough and TE Lawrence would be pretty narrow. In truth its breadth of interest covers motorcycling in all its forms, its truly classic forms and all in the deceptively simple yet actually inspiring English of CEA. Were I forced to name a similar style I would probably nominate Hemingway.
Unlike any other motorcycling book I have ever read, although in similar style to the finest angling and flying reflections, Titch’s final work is a book to dip into. It has a narrative, of that no doubt, but one arranged by character, by event, and apparently by the author’s own inclination. It’s a warm book, yet without sentimentality, a factual one although lacking regimentation, historical yet without strict chronology. At least, not in the text, but neatly in an index. Never have I come across a personal declaration of a motorcycling life that so appealed yet one so utterly different to my own.
If you want knowledge of TE Lawrence free of the familiar baggage, if you find the myths of George Brough wearisome and want to cut to the real man, try this book for size. You will not regret it and, I swear, it’s one that will probably last you a lifetime of late evening dip-ins.
By a cruel irony of fate, this was dear old Titch’s last book, to the extent that he did not quite finish it, which only adds to its poignancy of course. But how very just that the founder of the VMCC should also have written what may well be his and the club’s finest publication. It is also a superbly bound book of the very highest material quality.
RC Reviewer: Dave Minton
Legends in Their Lifetime, George Brough & Lawrence of Arabia, by Charles ‘Titch’ Allen OBE BEM, publisher VMCC, ISBN 978-0-9560312-2-2-8, RRP £29.99.
Available from www.vmcc.net/vmccshop
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