From our archive: What size boots do you take?

During the 90th anniversary year of the Royal Signals’ White Helmets motorcycle display team, Pete Kelly relives every moment of a day he spent training with them at Catterick, North Yorkshire, during the summer of 1971.

As he lined up for an alarmingly close crossover display, the writer didn’t realise there was a ten-bob prize for touching the other bloke’s numberplate!

Sounding like a tortured lawnmower, a penny-farthing, complete with Cyclemaster engine in the rear wheel, spluttered into view. Did I want a ride, someone asked.

It would have been a waste of time explaining that I’d never ridden an ‘ordinary’ before, never mind a motorised one, because someone was already running across for a comedy helmet and the contraption had been wheeled onto the grass – much softer than concrete after all when you fall from a 5ft-high saddle!

This wasn’t Billy Smart’s Circus, but Catterick Camp in North Yorkshire, where I was spending a day as an honorary corporal with the Royal Signals’ White Helmets motorcycle display team.

As features editor at The Northern Echo in nearby Darlington, I’d been writing a regular series of articles about ‘doing something exciting’ for that daily newspaper’s special Saturday morning weekend section.

These had already included going up in a Tiger Moth biplane on a gusty Sunday afternoon, discovering what it was like being a road racing sidecar passenger and doing aerobatics in an RAF Jet Provost trainer, and I thought that learning to be a member of the White Helmets display team would make another great subject.

The year was 1971, and I was 27 (reverse the numbers and… well, let’s not go too deeply into that!). When I phoned Captain Barry Rowe to discuss the idea, he said: “Can you ride a bike?”

Read more in February’s issue of OBM – out now!

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