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Boys' Annuals with a Speedway Appeal
By Philip Dalling

Among the regular stallholders in my local covered market is a bookseller who specialises in children's literature of all kinds. Believe it or not, his stock, and no doubt that of other people in his particular line of business, is a potentially rich source of speedway-related material.

Passing the stall recently, I was attracted by a pile of original Eagle Annuals from the 1950s and 1960s. Closer examination revealed that the pile included the 1961 edition, featuring a front page montage of photographs including a speedway action shot.

When I opened the volume in search of any other speedway mention, it got better and better. A double-page title spread had the legend The Tenth Eagle Annual superimposed on a magnificent monotone drawing of three riders jostling fiercely for position on a bend.

Another flip of the page produced yet another speedway illustration, this time a drawing of a rider sitting astride his machine carrying what appears to be the Sunday Despatch World Championship Trophy (probably the one that preceded the winged tyre).

A close inspection of the rest of the annual produced all of the characters and features recognisable to anyone who was a boy in the 50s and 60s, but no other reference to speedway in the shape of either an article or a caption.

That brings me neatly to the point I wish to make. The editor of The Eagle had absolutely no reason to feel that he had to attach an explanatory caption to the speedway illustrations. Boys (and I am sure very many girls) in that era, unless they lived in some of the UK's most inaccessible corners, knew very well what speedway was all about.

Unlike today, when finding a mention of speedway (or at least a favourable one) in the national media is like hunting for a needle in a haystack, speedway in the 50s (despite the slump in the number of tracks) and the 60s, and onwards to a certain extent into the 70s and perhaps early 80s, was an accepted part of British sporting life.

My speedway bookshelf contains several annuals of the time, some specifically produced for a youthful audience and others for adults, and all give ample space to speedway. The oldest volume I have is The Daily Express Book of Popular Sports, which according to the inscription inside the cover was given by his parents to a young man by his mum and dad for his birthday in August 1938.

The Sports Annual for 1949-50, produced by the Sporting Record, has no less than 10 pages of illustrations devoted to speedway, with the introductory page carrying a full-page shot of Harringay captain Vic Duggan, astride his machine on the starting line, holding the Riders Championship Trophy he won at Wembley in 1948 (a year before the World Championship was re-introduced).

The jewel in my collection is undoubtedly Eagle Annual Number Four, produced for Christmas 1955, which contains a superb five-page article entitled The Lure of Speedway, written by the late Cyril J Hart, with the same kind of highly-effective monotone drawings, this time by Roland Davies, probably taken from photographs.

The article follows the activities of a National League Division Two rider during the racing season. One of the illustrations shows the World Championship Trophy being presented to a rider who bears a possible resemblance to Fred Williams.

I was able to talk to Cyril about the article before his death, and the role it played in arousing my own interest in speedway. He recalled that the going rate for such a piece at the time was 25 shillings (£1.25 pence). It reminded me that my own remuneration for articles I had published in the speedway press in my early days varied from fifteen shillings (75p) to a guinea (£1.05 pence) or, exceptionally, 30 shillings £1.50 pence).

Searching for these annuals must constitute a specialist sub-branch of the speedway memorabilia business. There must be plenty of them around, so happy hunting!

 

This article was first published on 13th May 2012


 

  • Ian Harwood:

    "Coincidentally my wife bought me The Eagle Annual No.4 last month for my birthday because it had that speedway article in it. "

  • Tracy Holmes:

    "Fabulous stuff! I too have found in over 40 years of collecting, annuals like 'Eagle', 'Boys Own' and more have been a rich field of gems for the picking. Hours of digging have been rewarded by some excellent snaps of speedway, longtrack, grasstrack and Ice. Snaps I have not seen in speedway publications. Here in Christchurch NZ, most of our 2nd hand bookshops have gone thanks to the earthquakes that have not stopped either !!! But no trip to the survivors or weekend markets is complete until all of the books have been thoroughly checked out and especially these annuals and yes, even the girls ones! You can find some rare diamonds in the most unlikely places. Thanks for the great article!"

  • John Hyam:

    "I was interest in regard to 1950s pay rates. My first article appeared in 'Speedway Gazette' in 1952 and the editor, Colin Valdar, sent me a postal order for seven shillings and sixpence - and a covering letter to say he was "so impressed" that he wanted me to carry on as a contributor. So far as seven shillings and sixpence is concerned that would have been 35p in today's terms, but its comparative spending terms today would have £9.27, so it's not so bad. So on that basis, Cyril Hart would have had a spending power of about £30 for his article. In this same period at the start of the early 1950s, I also used to occasionally contribute to the old 'Eagle' comic items about speedway and midget car racing - they used pay 10s 6d old money, which means in comparison that old pay rates aren't as bad as they look. It would probably means 10s 6d in today's spending power would have been about £12 or so."

  • John Fray:

    "How nice to hear mention of Cyril J Hart. I only got to know Cy ril later on in his life. I visited him at his home and then at the nursing home before he died.Cyril was a true gentleman with a mind full of speedway information. It is not surprising that Cyril's journalism would find him writing a piece for the Eagle he would have really enjoyed bringing the spills and thrills to the attention of the young in order to capture their imagination and knowledge of our sport. It was a really pity that Cyril's archieve was destroyed, just thrown away I believe, because he had a card index system that would have provided so much information to our historians. Cyril told me that he reported and provided copy from all the tracks along the south coast during our sports hey days. Cyril with his wife, Marion, were out nearly every night of the week through out the season. More often than not Cyril went to one track and Marion to another so that no match went uncovered. Cyril gave so much to our sport and I am sure that there will still be many of us who remember him. I am particulary proud of Cyril's work, he was a life long member of the National Union of Journalist (NUJ), and always pleased that his work is still recognised and admired. "

  • Jim Chalkley:

    "I have just read John Hyam's article on Eagle comics. I also have a connection with Eagle comics. I posed for the pictures in Doomlord as a security guard, the date on the comic is 27th November 1982. Also again in 1983 as a policeman in Doomlord, the date on the comic is 26th March 1983. I then posed for the pictures for Sgt Streetwise, I was the clerk of the court where the trial of an east end villian was taking place, the date of the comic is 16th of October 1982. I must say I got well paid for my work on Eagle comics. If any of you have any old Eagle comics look for those dates and you will see me."

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