When Nigel Winter takes time off to follow in the tyre-tracks of one of England’s greatest engineers on his way from Land’s End to John o’Groats, he finds far, far more than he expects. For Mr Turner designed the motorcycle that powered Marion Brando to fame in The Wild One, and on which Steve McQueen tried to jump the wire in The Great Escape. As the author travels north you begin to feel the ghost of Mr Turner and his larger-than-life personality, peering out of the pages. Behind him looking on, are the multitude of ordinary working people from the 1950s and 1960s, their fears and hopes, and the weird and wonderful class prejudices and management styles of the day.
While the American market was enjoying the results of the government’s edict: “Export or die”, Britain lived in austere and functional times and motorcycles sold on economy and reliability. To demonstrate both, Mr Turner selected his smallest model from the production line and proposed to ride it from Land’s End to John o’Groats. He would ride a motorcycle designed by him, made in a factory run by him, over 1008 miles
Thus on Monday, October 5, 1953 three Barbour-suited riders - Mr Turner, managing director, Robert Fearon, works director and Alec Masters, chief designer - left the Meriden works on smart new 150cc Triumph Terriers. Behind them was Cohn Swaisland, a cameraman on a 500cc Speed Twin, Mr Turner’s long-suffering driver, Frank Griffiths, behind the wheel of a Sunbeam-Talbot and the ACU’s official observer John McNulty. Although a publicity stunt at the time, it got good press coverage under the title the ‘Gaffers Gallop...’ under observation the little Triumphs averaged 38.85mph and recorded 108.8mpg.
Accurately taking us along the original route on his 900cc Triumph Thunderbird and revisiting some of the places they stopped at, we encounter the bizarre history of Triumph motorcycles — a history so completely off the wall, that it simply has to be true.
As you would expect from a practising lawyer, Winter has a most erudite style that is both witty, satirical, sometimes self-deprecating and also thought provoking. Well researched, he uses period press coverage, anecdotes and biographical details to good effect.
Review by Jonathan Hill in The Classic Motorcycle, September 2011
Travelling with Mr Turner book review by Anne Elke
My first impression upon receiving the small paperback Travelling with Mr Turner by Nigel C Winter was that this should be a quick and light read. Opening it, I found that a smaller than normal typestyle makes the book’s slim 160 pages a quite lengthy read. It’s not light, but light-hearted; and while physically small it is thick with substance
TWMT chronicles the author’s replication of renowned designer and Triumph executive Edward Turner’s 1953 ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats.Turner rode the famed route from Cornwall to the farthest reaches of Scotland aboard a Triumph Terrier with a full entourage, while the present-day author rode alone on his modern Triumph Thunderbird.
Rather than giving a rehash of pubs and vistas along a route that any of us could ride, Winter weaves together his trip report with Turner’s own chronicle. He includes biographical insight into Triumph’s famous designer and leader, along with a history of this most iconic of motorcycle companies. And yes, he does mention the pubs and vistas along the way, but incorporates them with rich local history and culture.
Not being a student of Triumph history myself, I had to augment the book with a stack of RealClassics and other reference material; I would expect a true Triumph devotee to be familiar enough with the company’s models, milestones and men to be able to drink the story in without pause. I had some difficulty following the story line in places, because of somewhat unnatural breaks in the chapters and prose. But what slowed down my reading was easily overcome by the substance of the narrative - Winter is a good story-teller, writing with detail, wit and self-deprecating humour, and the book is peppered with classic quotes and poetic clauses that elevate the tale.
I can heartily recommend TWMT to a number of different audiences. Triumph fans will enjoy the fresh anecdotes; Turner admirers will look deeper into the man himself; distance riders will appreciate the locations and lessons discovered along the way; and classic motorbike nuts will delight in the references to a time when the old British bikes we treasure now were the best the world had on its platter.