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DVD Review: Memories of Hackney Speedway

The theme from 'The Magnificent Seven' blaring over the tannoy, Leaping Len on the centre green and full-blooded action under the Friday night lights - it can only be Hackney Wick speedway. Those halcyon days in the East End can now be relived on a brand new DVD from Retro-Speedway.

"Memories of Hackney Speedway" follows the usual formula for these track histories, a mixture of talking head interviews, cine film, tv footage and still photographs. Amongst those interviewed are Bo Petersen, Malcolm Simmons, Zenon Plech, Finn Thomsen, Barry Thomas, Mark Loram, Bengt Jansson, Colin McKee and (of course) Len Silver.

Silver's long association with the track makes him ideally placed to comment on much of what unfolded over the years. His passion for the sport all too obvious as he recalls the riders and events of years gone by.

Waterden Road first staged speedway in the Pre-war era when the team were called The Wolves, presumably picking up on the alliteration from the Wick. There is some archive footage of those early days, though the DVD rather skims over this era, preferring to concentrate on the club's history from the sixties to the nineties.

Mike Parker was the man who brought speedway back to Hackney Wick, christening the team Hackney Hawks and leading them into the 1962 season. Norman Hunter was recruited to build the track and he recalls here how the old track was lying waiting to be uncovered under the grass. Hunter was also the first hero of the new Hawks' fan, leading the team in those Provisional League days.

It's impossible to tell the story of Hackney without mentioning the heroics of the fence-scraping Barry Thomas. Thommo earned a double-testimonial for his services to the club - as both Hawk and Kestrel. Tony McDonald catches up with him at Iwade to reminisce over the times gone by and hear about his recent comeback in seniors racing. Former team-mates also pay tribute to Barry, clearly as popular with the other riders as he always was with the fans.

Hackney witnessed more than its fair share of tragedy, the track claiming the lives of Vic Harding, Denny Pyeatt and Paul Muchene in separate crashes. An emotional Len Silver admits to carrying a sense of guilt for not piling the tyres around the lamp standards that little bit higher, which might just have been enough to save Denny. He also admits this was a factor in his decision to sell the cliub in 1983. Vic Harding's sister is interviewed and gives the family's perspective on such a tragic loss of life.

One great piece of bonus footage is the inclusion of a clip from Blue Peter. Legendary presenters John Noakes and Peter Purves undergo tuition during the day and line up for a race during an evening meeting. Fascinating on so many levels and Peter Purves comes to grief during the evening race, one wonders if the BBC would allow staff to take such risks these days?

Terry Russell (interviewed at length) played a massive part in the history of Hackney. He and brother Ronnie attended the track as young fans on Wednesday nights in the sixties - opting to attend rather than take up an offer to go the wrestling. Terry later became promoter at Crayford and moved his operation to Hackney when Len Silver was looking to sell the club. Russell tried to amalgamate the Crayford and Hackney brands - leading to the loss of the famous Hawks name, becoming the Hackney Kestrels instead.

The Kestrels era ran from 1984 to 1990 and the top man in that period was the flamboyant Andy Galvin. It's therefore a pity that he's not interviewed on this film, Alan Mogridge, Paul Whittaker and Steve Schofield being notable absentees also. Malcolm Simmons and Barry Thomas principally represent the riders from those National League days. It's probably not reasonable to expect that absolutely everybody would be willing and available to be interviewed, but some of those younger heroes would undoubtedly have had a few tales to tell.

Speedway at Hackney was halted mid-way through the 1991 season. A new promotion took over the club and reinstated the Hawks nickname, but the finances didn't stack up and the team withdrew from the league. The track lay fallow between the summer of 1991 and the summer of 1995, when speedway returned briefly to The Wick.

Terry Russell was again a significant figure in that final fling of speedway at Hackney. He was involved at Arena Essex at that time but became aware of the redevelopment of the Waterden Road stadium and negotiated a lease to return speedway to the track. He staged two British Grand Prix meetings at the track and in 1996 he ran weekly speedway under the 'London Lions' banner. Russell admits now that it was a difficult period, the revamped stadium went into administration almost as soon as it was finished and crowds were insufficient to support weekly league racing. The last meeting was staged at the end of 1996, the stadium fell into a state of disrepair and was eventually demolished. The Hackney Speedway story was over.

As a subject, the Hackney story is a particularly interesting one and this DVD tells it well. It's a four hour production, the production values are excellent and some of the slight irritations of early Retro-Speedway productions (poor sound or lighting) have been eliminated. There's something in this DVD for every speedway fan, particularly those who "Made it a date, Friday at eight".

Here's the trailer:


How To Order

By Phone : 01708 734 502

By Post : Send a cheque for £16 (payable to Retro Speedway) (add £2.50 if outside UK) to:

Retro Speedway
103 Douglas Road
Hornchurch
Essex
RM11 1AW

Online : At Retro-Speedway.com

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