Enthusiasts Bypassed by Fame: Ted Connor
Picture: Three of the men who helped revive speedway at long-closed venues in 1959. Johnnie Hoskins (left) re-opened New Cross with the blessing of the control board. Mike Parker (centre) was refused a licence and ran 'pirate' meetings at Liverpool, Bradford and Cradley. Norman Redmond (right), who rode for Bradford, played a major role in organising the riders Parker needed to get his initiative off the ground.
One of speedway�s most admirable traits is the value fans place not just on the game�s star riders, but also on the much more heavily-populated ranks of the journeymen performers.
When leading independent publishers Halsgrove asked me to put together a book celebrating in words and pictures the first 40 years of speedway in Britain*, I was determined to reflect the importance of men whose pivotal role has not always been given the prominence it deserves.
One of the most intriguing periods of all within those four decades was the time in the late 1950s when the fate of speedway was poised precariously on a knife edge. The foundations for an exciting revival were laid by the creation of a new second-tier competition, in the form of the Provincial League.
The birth of the PL kick-started the careers of many individuals who were to subsequently to enjoy vast success, both as riders, promoters and administrators. At the same time, much of the eventual success of the new competition depended on others who, after a brief spell in the limelight, failed to gain the rewards their efforts richly deserved.
The Provincial League was essentially a fusion between the officially-sanctioned Southern Area League, which in 1959 enjoyed one of its most stable and successful campaigns, and the unlicensed meetings staged in the north and midlands by one of speedway�s most controversial characters, Manchester businessman Mike Parker.
My researches for the new book included interviews with individuals intimately involved with both of the major sources which inspired the PL. Parker is no longer with us, but happily very much alive and well in Greater Manchester is Ted Connor, whose diplomatic skills played a huge part in identifying the common interests of southern-based members of the Speedway Riders Association and the northerners who, desperate for competitive speedway, had ridden in 1959�s �pirate�meetings.
Ted�s recollections of stirring days for speedway in the north were complemented by the memories of John Pilblad. John was one of the Southern Area League promoters at the forefront of planning for the new league, who drove many miles through London�s congested streets in the spring of this year to keep an appointment for an interview. His enthusiasm is as strong now as it was half a century ago, and many in the sport consider it an enduring scandal that his love of speedway failed to gain adequate recognition by the powers-that-be.
This week, the spotlight falls on Ted Connor, while a subsequent instalment of the story will feature John Pilblad.
* SPEEDWAY The Classic Era (Halsgrove,), published September 29th 2011.
Picture: Ted Connor (left) rode for Stoke in the inaugural season of the Provincial League. He is pictured with team-mate Pete Jarman and the Potters' mascot.
When Mike Parker�s application to run speedway meetings in the north of England and the midlands in 1959 was rejected by the Control Board, the Manchester businessman and midget car racer simply decided to go ahead without official sanction.
Parker�s midget car connection with Belle Vue had left him well aware that there was a large pool of northern novices desperate to get a ride of any kind. He asked one of their number, former scrambler Ted Connor, to gather together enough juniors to form teams for matches at Liverpool, Bradford and Cradley Heath.
Ted Connor had no compunction in agreeing to ride for Parker and recruit other riders in a similar situation. He explained:
�It was extremely difficult to try and break into speedway at this time and we in the north did not have the advantage of the Southern Area League. The Control Board and the ACU did absolutely nothing to help us. So when Parker came along and offered us rides we jumped at the chance, illegal or not.
�Riding without official consent meant we could not get any help or indeed recognition from the Speedway Riders Association, the SRA, so we formed our own organisation, which we originally called the Independent Riders Association. When we realised what the initials were we changed it pretty quickly to the Unattached Riders Association!
The northern and midland �pirate� meetings were successful. They played a big part in making the Provincial League possible and sparking the revival that eventually led to the formation of the British League and another era of prosperity for the sport.
Ted Connor has little doubt about where much of the credit lay. �Mike Parker for me was the absolute saviour of speedway. He paid very fair rates for points and starts, almost double what the boys in the Southern Area League were earning, and just as importantly for the riders he paid full insurance costs, as well as providing a meal after each of the meetings.�
Parker�s initiative was being noticed elsewhere and the Southern Area League promoters, with the assistance of the competition�s secretary, journalist John Wick, began to seriously consider an expansion that would include the revived interests in the north.
Picture: The Midlands v Liverpool at Cradley Heath in August 1959. The Liverpool Pirates riders are Ted Connor (left) and Roy Peacock.
The SAL men found Parker willing to listen to their ideas, despite his apparent scorn for the Control Board, its methods and its personnel. A meeting at the Control Board�s offices proved positive and the authorities decided that they were prepared to sanction the formation of the new competition.
One major stumbling block remained, over the legal position of the northern riders who had joined Parker and staffed his �pirate� meetings at Bradford, Liverpool and Cradley Heath.
Here the key men proved to be Ted Connor, Norman Redmond of Bradford, and SRA secretary Cyril J Hart. Hart, like John Wick, was also a journalist. He was sent north to a meeting with the northern riders at the Corporation Hotel in Manchester, with a clear remit from SRA chairman Cyril Brine of Wimbledon to hammer out a deal.
Ted Connor and fellow rider and Unattached Riders Association official Norman Redmond of Bradford believed a compromise might be possible which would see the URA affiliate to the SRA. Prospects initially looked dim, when that possibility was ruled out by the visitor from the south. Cyril Hart then changed the entire mood of the meeting by offering to appoint one of the Unattached men as an official SRA representative, to look after the interests of the riders in the north.
The URA members, after inviting Hart to step outside while they considered their decision, agreed to come back into the official fold. Ted Connor was appointed as the SRA northern representative on a show of hands, and the last obstacle to the Provincial League had been removed.
On the rider front, when the news of the agreement reached between the SRA and the northern-based riders reached the Control Board, it was decreed that bygones should be bygones, and any racing licences suspended should be restored � except in one case.
Ted Connor recalls: �Everything was legalised again after the meeting with Cyril J Hart. The Provincial League was accepted, but with the exclusion of Ted Connor. I was to be made a scapegoat because of my leading role in helping Mike Parker find riders for the �pirate� tracks, and also because I had dared to ride in those meetings under my own name.
�Thankfully for me, Mike Parker put his foot down and said, �no Ted Connor, no Provincial League under the Control Board. Because of that I was able to race at Stoke in the league�s first season.�
Ted and Norman, like many of the junior riders who had taken part in Parker�s revival meetings, did at first find a measure of success in a Provincial League that had initially been intended primarily as a vehicle for novices.
The three tracks that dominated the first season of the PL, eventual champions Rayleigh, Poole and Bristol, had different ideas, and packed their teams with experienced former National League riders. Most of the rest of the teams were forced to follow suit, and more experienced riders - Ken Adams and Les Jenkins at Stoke were examples - came back to the fold, to the exclusion of Ted and many of his counterparts.
It should never be forgotten that the riders who used the Provincial League as a springboard to fame, including legends such as Ivan Mauger, owe a great deal to Ted and his colleagues, without whom the new competition would never have got off the ground.
This article was first published on 13th October 2011
"I have just read the article on the Provincial League and the high praise heaped on Mike Parker re the money paid by him to the riders. I rode at Liverpool in 1961, I had two second half rides and won both of them, after the meeting I went to Mike Parker's office to get paid and the door was slmmed shut in my face and he refused to pay me for the two wins. There were other riders there banging on the door to get paid, one of them told me that it was like this every week. So I left and drove through the night back to London. I never did get any money from Parker. I again met Parker when i was riding for Wolverhampton, I asked Mike if he could loan me 300 pounds so I could buy a new set of leathers and a new bike. I would pay back the loan plus the bank interest. His answer was 'Jim, if you were scoring ten points a meeting I would lend you the money'. My reply was 'lend me the money and I will score ten points a meeting'. He said 'how do I know you will score ten points a meeting'. I replied 'lend me the money and you will get your answer'. He flatly refused to lend me the money. He then asked me to move to Wolverhampton and look after the track for him. I turned him down flat. I had to pack up speedway because I could not afford to pay for the bike and leathers that I so desperatley needed to stay in the sport. Have any other readers got any stories about Mike Parker good or bad that they would like to share with us?
"i remember George Hunter coming to my house round about 1979, and heard him saying to my dad (Chic Todd), that Mike Parker was a bastard and was the reason he left Wolves. I never knew there was that much of a hatred there !"
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