Titch Allen: Godfather of the classic motorcycle movement

Titch Allen was the godfather of the classic motorcycle movement. As a cub reporter for the Nottingham Guardian he rode his 172cc Francis Barnett to the 1931 press conference that announced the opening of the Donington Park race circuit.

Slipping away early, he rode around the unmade paths and woodlands tracks of the proposed circuit and staked his claim to be the first man to ride a motorcycle lap of what was to become hallowed ground.

Serving in the Second World War as a despatch rider, he responded to a suggestion in a motorcycle weekly that the interest in older machines warranted the formation of a specialist club. Demobbed with the British Empire Medal, which he dismissed later by saying "It's been devalued now they award it to a village postman for doing his job", he invited fellow vintage enthusiasts to meet at the Hog's Back, Surrey, in April 1946. Thirty-eight riders responded and the Vintage Motor Cycle Club was formed. Allen cleverly offered honorary membership to the editors of both The Motor Cycle and Motorcycling, and to Bill Boddy of Motor Sport, who remains a member to this day. Publicity inevitably followed and the club grew quickly.

Allen started work as a representative for the Feridax accessory company, designing some of the products himself and looking for ways to publicise them at minimal cost. In 1953 he entered the motorcycles-only Monaco Rally, run over the same route as the better known Monte Carlo car event. He left Oxford on Thursday evening, his borrowed, Yorkshire-built 600cc Panther fitted with a Feridax windscreen, dual seat and panniers, while his wife Jess occupied the sidecar. The final leg of the Rally, across the Alps on Saturday, was interrupted when he swerved to miss a wobbling cyclist and hit the steep rocky mountainside. Running repairs got them back on the road, only for them to collide with an errant bus in Monte Carlo and limp slowly to the finish, exhausted after more than two days without sleep. His reports for the two motorcycle weeklies were despatched by air on Sunday and given pages of cover that were worth more than a year's advertising budget could buy. He was especially proud that his wife's dress for the prize-giving ceremony had survived the rigours, protected in his pannier box.

In 1954 he followed that adventure with a ride around the coast of mainland Britain on a Birmingham-made 650cc Ariel and sidecar, an official observer replacing a disillusioned Jess in the sidecar. Despite the sidecar suspension collapsing and being repaired with a fence post and wire, the journey was completed in 10 days, an unofficial record for the journey.

He raced a collection of vintage machinery, including an ex-Brooklands lap record-holding Brough Superior that frightened him by shedding its handlebars at speed; he survived, and remained an active competitor into his 80s. The Brough was sold to a Japanese collector when the international interest in historic machines was moving prices up. His sons Roger and Stephen followed him into racing, which brought tragedy when Roger stopped to help a fallen rider in an Isle of Man event and was killed when hit by another rider.

Allen's achievements were recognised in 2004 with an OBE. He spurned the presentation at Buckingham Palace, explaining: "I didn't want my mates to have to pay the congestion charge to go down there; in olden days they used to hang you for highway robbery." Instead, Lord Lieutenant of Leicestershire, Lady Gretton, made the presentation in Donington Park racetrack's Grand Prix Collection hall.

He still contributed a keenly observed column to his club magazine up until his final weeks. When he invited those who preferred old motorcycles as their transport to gather at the Hog's Back in 1946 and possibly form a club, he could not have imagined the size of the movement that his enthusiasm would spawn. The Vintage Motor Cycle Club today boasts more than 16,000 members worldwide. Spares availability for classic machines is such that you can order a brand new 1972 750cc Norton Commando or a 1955 version of the legendary 998cc Vincent Black Shadow, while the hobby and its industry in the UK alone are served by at least eight commercial magazines specialising in their interests. The interest has spread globally, with strong markets in older machines in every continent; all those involved today owe a debt to a man who stood only 5ft 2in tall, yet was a giant in his accomplishments.

Jim Reynolds



Charles Edmund Allen, motorcycling enthusiast: born Cotgrave, Nottinghamshire 6 May 1915; married 1937 Jess (died 2002; one son and one daughter, and one son and one daughter deceased); BEM, OBE; died Leicester 18 March 2010.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £38,000

£16000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Parts Sales Advisor - OTE 18k-23k

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of Ford's leading Parts Who...

SThree: Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Do you want to learn ...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders