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Subject: ‘Sporting Heroes’

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The new dirt track dare-devils rode the reliable Rudge

Posted in Australia, Engineering, Historical articles, History, Sport, Sporting Heroes, Transport on Friday, 14 March 2014

This edited article about motor-cycles first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 589 published on 28 April 1973.

Dirt track racing,  picture, image, illustration
Cornering on the dirt track

In the mid-1920s the Rudge Whitworth motorcycle catalogue advertised a rather unusual optional extra. This was the canoe sidecar – a canoe-shaped passenger carrying body which could be detached from the motorcycle and launched on a river!

Such ideas were typical of the factory which was always coming up with new ideas – and a surprising number of them worked; for right from the earliest days the engineers at the Coventry works seemed to have an instinct for doing a job well.

In 1911 the TT races in the Isle of Man were moved to the mountain circuit – so-called because it climbed to nearly 1500 feet going over the shoulder of Snaefell. This climb posed a great problem to the single gear belt driven machines of the day and some of the riders who had entered their Rudges asked the factory if it could produce a variable gear.

The gear ratio of a belt driven machine is fixed by the relative size of the pulley on the engine shaft and that on the rear wheel. As early as 1909 the Zenith firm had introduced its Gradua gear in which a large hand lever opened or closed the flanges of the pulley on the engine shaft, thus varying its effective size. This change in the pulley altered the tension of the belt, and this was compensated for by moving the rear wheel backwards or forwards! Although the idea of shifting the back wheel about while the bike was in motion does not seem very pleasant, the arrangement became quite famous.

The Rudge designers felt that something better was needed and it took them just one week to invent and produce the Rudge Multi gear. As the engine shaft pulley was made smaller the belt rim on the rear wheel was made larger and vice versa so that the belt was kept at a constant tension. There was a clumsy looking arrangement on the rear wheel, and the variation in gearing possible was not very wide, but it gave a considerable advantage over a single geared machine and the Rudge Multi became a great favourite before World War I.

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Racing heroes of the TT course on the Isle of Man

Posted in Historical articles, Sport, Sporting Heroes on Thursday, 13 March 2014

This edited article about motor-cycle racing first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 587 published on 14 April 1973.

David had slain Goliath and the crowds in the stands roared their approval. Howard Davies, riding a 350cc. AJS, a machine that was much smaller than all those ridden by his rivals, had just flashed across the finishing line to win the Senior TT race. Once more “Ajays” had triumphed with their technical superiority

The TT course on the Isle of Man is 37¾ miles long soars from sea level to over 1,300 feet. Spectators have to make the difficult choice between going to some point on the course or taking a seat in the grandstand. At one of the famous corners you get the thrill of watching a distant dot grow into a famous rider and then seeing him swirl round the bend at the limit between safety and calamity, but as the riders are sent off in pairs at 10 second intervals you cannot tell who is leading. At the grandstand you only see the riders start and then flash along the road on each lap, but you can keep in touch with progress by means of giant scoreboards which show the six fastest riders and also record the times of the others. Nowadays loudspeakers give details at some points round the course, but in the early days it was only at the grandstand that you could get a proper picture of the race.

At the 1921 Senior race those who chose the grandstand certainly had the thrills. At the end of the first lap, iron man Freddie Dixon was leading – a brilliant tuner of engines he punished them brutally on the circuit so he usually led till something went wrong! But what caused the tongues to wag was that in 2nd place was Howard Davies on a 350 cc AJS which beat the whole pack of riders on machines 150 ccs larger. This was the first time that this had happened – and to this day the feat has not been repeated.

The AJS was no upstart. Joseph Stevens and his five sons made an internal combustion engine in 1897 and later went on to make frames and other parts for motorcycles. Twelve years later they had made the first complete AJS machine. Perhaps because they were in Wolverhampton, away from the main body of motorcycle manufacturers in Birmingham, they often tackled problems in a different way from the general run of thought.

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Captain Webb founded a new sport – English Channel swimming

Posted in Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Sea, Sport, Sporting Heroes on Saturday, 8 March 2014

This edited article about Captain Webb first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 586 published on 7 April 1973.

Captain Webb,  picture, image, illustration
Matthew Webb, the first man to swim the English Channel in August 1875 by John Keay

The vicious seas slammed into the flank of the little sailing boat, and spray covered the men peering anxiously to starboard in search of a tiny black dot in the water.

It was an important dot – a human being, struggling to be the first man ever to swim across the English Channel.

Nowadays the Channel is swum every year, with a fleet of escort boats with strong engines which can bring them alongside in a matter of seconds if a swimmer gets into trouble. But the only escort for Captain Matthew Webb on 24th August, 1875, was one cockle-shell of a boat, which was in almost as much danger from the rough seas as Webb himself! Even the men aboard the boat thought Webb was a madman. They were there because they had been paid by a London newspaper, but they fully expected to return to Dover carrying the body of a drowned man.

Webb had begun with a spectacular dive from Dover Pier. He was a short, strongly built man, already the holder of a Royal Humane Society Medal for trying to rescue a sailor who had fallen from a ship in the Atlantic. Later, as a test before swimming the Channel, he had outswum a boat full of oarsmen on the Thames.

Now, with his body smeared with grease as a protection against the cold, he was fighting his way across against weather which grew steadily worse with every hour that passed.

He swam breast-stroke, as most swimmers did in those days. It took him more than three hours to cover the first four and a half miles, but even so he was in good spirits. A cup of beer was handed down to him, also beef tea, and a spoonful of cod liver oil.

He grinned up at the men in the boat, handed his cup back to them, and kept on.

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The Twenties and Thirties were the Golden Age of Motor cycling

Posted in Historical articles, History, Sport, Sporting Heroes on Friday, 7 March 2014

This edited article about motor cycle racing first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 585 published on 31 March 1973.

Motor Cycles,  picture, image, illustration
Motor Cycles by James E McConnell

The motor cycles made before World War I were spindly affairs that looked like bicycles with engines fitted into their frames. Many still retained their pedals because the feeble engines could not climb any severe gradient.

But in the 1920s came engineering developments which produced really powerful engines, and as speeds increased the frames became heavier and brakes and steering improved to cope with the increased speed.

From the mid 1920s to 1939, British machines were supreme. On the racing circuits the Nortons, AJS’s, Velocettes and forgotten makes such as New Imperial, OK Supreme, Rex Acme and Zenith swept everything before them. To pilot them came a stream of riders – most of whom started as amateurs and then graduated to professional status. The stars were all individualists who broke many records – and machines – by their furious riding.

It was the Golden Age of Motor cycling.

Young Tim Hunt crouched flat over the tank of his Norton as it thundered over the finishing line of the 1931 Senior TT race on the Isle of Man – and the roar from the crowd in the grandstand nearly drowned the lusty bellow of the engine.

He had already delighted the crowds by beating all the aces in the Junior 350cc race on Monday. Now he had repeated the feat in the Senior 500cc race which has always been regarded as the most important event of the week. It was the story book tale of the young hero triumphing over the experts – although Tim Hunt was not a complete novice because he had won the Amateur TT previously.

By winning both races in one year he earned a special place in motor cycle history for it was the first time that the feat had ever been done. Equally noteworthy was the fact that Norton machines had come 1st, 2nd and 3rd – a clean sweep in the Senior race that had not been done since the far-off days of 1911 when the American Indian machines had come over to show the then rather amateurish British makers how races should be won. The enthusiasts certainly had plenty to talk about as they crowded into the steamer to make their way back to England.

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Henry Segrave broke the speed record in his Sunbeam ‘Slug’

Posted in Cars, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Sport, Sporting Heroes on Thursday, 27 February 2014

This edited article about motor racing first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 573 published on 6 January 1973.

Henry Segrave,  picture, image, illustration
Henry Segrave was the first man to break the 200mph barrier

“No car will ever reach 200 mph!”

That was a widely held belief in 1927. It was quite clear to so-called experts that wind resistance at that speed would make it impossible, even supposing tyres could stand up to the terrific strain imposed on them.

Two men at least thought differently, the Sunbeam’s chief designer, Louis Herve Coatalen, a mechanical genius who was also a great craftsman, and Henry Segrave – Henry O’Neal de Hane Segrave – an American-born adventurer, whose parents were Irish, and who had served Britain in the 1914-18 War, reaching the rank of major.

As Segrave sailed the Atlantic to race at Daytona Beach, Florida, his mind was doubtless on the job in hand, yet it must have also strayed to a very recent tragedy, the horrible death of another racing champion, J. G. Parry Thomas, a Briton like Segrave.

Thomas had got the land speed record up to 171.02 mph in April 1926, but the following March his car skidded at high speed and burst into flames. The off-side driving chain – not unlike a bicycle chain – had snapped and literally cut his head off. Only the valiant take up motor racing. It has always been so and it will always be so.

The Segrave racing story, which was to reach its climax in a knighthood for the driver, then a tragic death after winning a water, not a land, record, had begun seven years before that voyage to America in early 1927. Born in 1896, he was driving a 4 ½ litre Opel in 1920 on the famous Brooklands track, winning several times in his first racing season, and the next year his career really began when he became a member of the Sunbeam-Talbot-Darracq racing team. He had the right blend of dare devilry and technical knowhow without which a racing driver cannot succeed. And, on top of everything, he had the will to win.

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Tottenham Hotspur paid £21,000 for Alf Ramsey in 1949

Posted in Historical articles, History, Sport, Sporting Heroes on Thursday, 27 February 2014

This edited article about football first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 572 published on 30 December 1972.

1966 World Cup,  picture, image, illustration
Bobby Moore collecting the football World Cup trophy from the Queen in 1966 by John Keay

He is the one hundred per cent professional, a chunky, determined man, ruthless if need be. When he took over as England’s soccer boss, the game – which Britain had given the world – was in a poor way in its homeland. But Alf Ramsey, now, rightly, Sir Alf, changed all that from the moment he made his electrifying announcement, which seemed to his many critics like so much hot air: “We shall win the World Cup!”

He uttered those fighting words a full year before the 16 leading nations of the soccer world assembled in England for the 1966 World Cup finals. It was Alf Ramsey’s job to build, control and inspire England’s team, and to anyone who asked him his object, he went on repeating: “We shall win!” That was his mission.

As even football-haters know, England did win, beating West Germany 4-2. Alf Ramsey’s critics crawled away and hid, or joined in the cheering! July 30th, 1966, was the day of days. Everyone knew Alf Ramsey’s leading part in the triumph, but when England’s captain, Bobby Moore, received the Cup and he and his team gathered on the Wembley turf, England’s soccer Supremo was nowhere to be seen.

One hundred thousand fans made their feelings plain. “We want Ramsey!” they roared, and the man who so typically had stayed in the background in his finest hour came out to join his boys. The crowd erupted even more than before.

Ramsey is a fighter. He has needed to be, for his dictatorial methods provoked storms of controversy at first. He is famed for his belief in his own judgement and flair, and, being a man who believes in action, not words, he was often regarded as unfriendly and “difficult.” The fact that he was such a professional in contrast to too many of the men who had bossed English soccer for years made no difference. The critics were out for his blood, and even some of his fellow club managers refused to accept his modern outlook on the game.

Not so his players, men like Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton and Alan Ball and the rest of the team. They respected him and admired his fairness, understanding, honesty and complete dedication to the game. Ramsey has always demanded – and got – co-operation and discipline from his men – and they have never complained. When he was knighted in the New Year’s Honours of 1967, he remained the same as before, not only because it was in his nature, but because he had been a player himself and understood his men as only an ex-player can.

Alf Ramsey was born in 1920 at Dagenham in Essex. His first job was as a grocer’s boy, but while he was in the Army in the war, his football prowess became clear, and when he was demobbed in 1946, he became a professional with Southampton, first as a centre-half, then as right-back. Two season later he was playing for England, then, in 1949, he was transferred to Tottenham Hotspur for £21,000, a big fee at that time, and his great days as a top footballer had begun.

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Flying cars can cause dangerous problems in a Grand Prix

Posted in Cars, Engineering, Historical articles, Sport, Sporting Heroes on Wednesday, 26 February 2014

This edited article about motor racing first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 569 published on 9 December 1972.

Grand Prix Problems,  picture, image, illustration
Wings were attached to cars in 1969 to improve road handling, but the wing on Graham Hill's car collapsed in the 1969 Grand Prix, and he crashed; Jochen Rindt, with a similar fault, struck Hill's car, by Graham Coton

Every motor race is a succession of heart-stopping thrills for the fans at the track sides as one breathtaking escapade follows another. Cars gyrate, find their true course and tear off for the next dangerous manoeuvre, only to skid or even soar into flight after hitting a bump in the road. Sometimes they flounder helplessly if a wheel spins away from its mounting.

Simultaneously, the drivers caught up in these risky mishaps are fighting fluttering hearts and rising temperatures as they struggle to master their fractious mounts. Every machine, every component, every strip of metal has its breaking point. And in the desperate striving for victory, the cars are driven daringly close to the point of disaster.

Even drivers who began their careers as mechanics and know exactly what they can ask of their car, are tempted to push the vehicle too hard in the excitement of the competitive atmosphere.

It was a temptation which Graham Hill encountered before he became the world’s champion driver for the first time in 1962 – he won the title again in 1968 – and it occurred during one of his first Grand Prix races. He found that during his first experience of the Belgian circuit, he was scared stiff when his car reached its greatest speed on the straight. As it went faster and faster, the road seemed to be getting narrower, and the margin of safety became minute.

Luckily, Hill had the sense to slacken speed and to go into the pits to think things over. Then, he went back to the track to do a few more laps. But this time, he was the car’s master and the speed worried him far less.

Of course, Hill had his share of trouble, but usually these were caused by unpredictable mechanical faults. These have varied from leaking brake fluid to a collapsed tyre. A worn tyre which went flat once sent his car sliding out of control at speed. The crash which followed broke one of his legs, dislocated another and put him out of racing for many months.

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Mac the tyre-kIng – best of the race track backroom boys

Posted in Cars, Historical articles, History, Sport, Sporting Heroes on Tuesday, 25 February 2014

This edited article about motor racing first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 568 published on 2 December 1972.

D-type Jaguar forced off track,  picture, image, illustration
The D-type might have won, but for the fact that it was forced off the road by a French Talbot by Graham Coton

Row and rows of black tyres ranged on racks practically fill the building. Before them, at a long bench, tyre wrenches in their hands, stand a mechanic and his assistants.

They are waiting, tensed, butterflies fluttering in their stomachs, while all around them they can hear the roar and feel the ground-thundering rumble of cars shooting around the track, during a practice session at one of the world’s big racing circuits.

At intervals, a car screeches with a spluttering exhaust into the servicing area in which the tyre depot is situated.

While other mechanics are filling its tank with petrol, checking its oil and cleaning the windscreen, the tyre team is already jacking up the vehicle. In seconds, they have the wheels off, and new ones in their places, with fresh tyres inflated to the right pressure. The whole job has taken two minutes flat, and with an adjustment of his goggles, the driver is off.

The old tyres are given a swift check over for wear, and then the men stand ready for their next quick change job.

Behind every speed ace there is a squad of backroom boys like these, and one of the most famous was David McDonald who headed tyre-changing teams at practically all of the major race tracks over a period of fifty years.

His career began in the days when only the wealthy could afford to become racing drivers, when a car which cost thousands of pounds could be smashed in its first race. If that happened, McDonald, whom all his friends called Mac, was among the first at the scene, wondering if the tyres were responsible.

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The 1882 Test Match which gave birth to the Ashes legend

Posted in Australia, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Legend, London, Sport, Sporting Heroes on Tuesday, 25 February 2014

This edited article about cricket first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 567 published on 25 November 1972.

The Ashes,  picture, image, illustration
The first Ashes Test: W G Grace, England's dismissed opening batsman, looks on as his partner's wicket is shattered by the Australian fast bowler Fred Spofforth. Inset: the original urn containing the ashes of a burnt stump, by John Keay

The Crowd of some 10,000 at Kennington Oval in 1882 settled down, confident that they were about to see England give Australia another lesson in cricket, England needed only 85 runs to win and the great W. G. Grace was opening the innings. All present expected him to repeat his performance of 1880 when he slashed 152 runs and took three wickets to contribute to Australia’s five-wicket defeat in the first Test on English soil.

But in 1882 shocks to English pride came in short order in what has been called the greatest Test Match of them all. The Australian “demon” bowler, Spofforth, bowled the English captain with the score at 15, then got another wicket with the next ball – and the first moment of doubt swept through the crowd. Spirits soared again, however, as W. G. Grace and Ulyett took the score to 50. Only 35 needed to win. Could there be any doubt that England was still supreme?

Then Ulyett was dismissed at 51. But the greatest cricketer of them all, W. G., was still there to sweep all opposition to the boundary. Two more runs were added then Grace opened his mighty shoulders to a ball, mis-hit and was caught – with 32 still needed to win.

Nerves became tauter as six, 10, 12 overs were bowled without a run being scored. “This thing can be done.” Spofforth had said at the beginning of the innings – now he was showing how. He had a word with his fielders, a hit was purposely misfielded and Lyttelton was facing Spofforth. Four more maidens then suddenly Lyttelton was out. The rout had begun. Wicket after wicket fell until the score stood at 75 for nine.

Excitement was at fever pitch. The visitors from “down under” were giving England a cricket lesson.

With 10 runs needed to win, Peate, the show bowler came on to take the bowling. He struck wildly at the first ball and they ran a shaky two. Tension was so high that one spectator dropped dead and another chewed lumps from his umbrella handle.

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A Scot won America’s toughest race, the Indianapolis 500

Posted in America, Cars, Historical articles, History, Scotland, Sport, Sporting Heroes on Tuesday, 25 February 2014

This edited article about motor racing first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 565 published on 11 November 1972.

Jim Clark Wins America's Big Race
Jim Clark wins America's Big Race by James E McConnell

Jim Clark’s hands were red and raw and his arms ached with agony.

One thought haunted this Scottish racing motorist as he strained to keep his lead in the American Grand Prix in 1962. Would his gearbox hold out under the abnormal strain of clutchless gear changes at over a hundred miles an hour?

Seconds before, while he was battling to keep his slim lead over Graham Hill’s B.R.M., Clark’s clutch had given way under the terrific hammering it was taking.

The relentless Hill was almost on top of him now. With the end of the race in sight, ominous sounds came from the exhausted gearbox of Clark’s Lotus.

Sensing that defeat was about to overtake him on the brink of victory, Clark willed the engine to stay in one piece. The gearbox did hold out, and Jim Clark won the race just 8.8 seconds ahead of his rival.

Of such stuff are champions made. Clark was to glitter in many more races, and in all he was to win a total of twenty-five Grand Prix events, to become world champion and the fastest motor racing star of his time.

It was a meteoric career that began on a Berwickshire farm when Clark, at the age of nine, decided to ride over the fields in his father’s Austin Seven. An angry father kept Clark out of the driver’s seat until he passed the driving test at the age of seventeen and got a Sunbeam Talbot.

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