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.
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?”
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