Thursday, May 29, 2008


By Dennis Quinlan
In a letter from Ivan Rhodes (in the Australian Velocette Owner's Club magazine - FTDU #319), reference was made to Ted Mellors; he is considered to be the 'forgotten man' of motorcycle racing, having died tragically by asphyxiation while working on his car in a closed garage (there's a lesson for us all...).
As well as a good racer, he was a dab hand with the pen and had written a manuscript about his exploits racing as part of the 'Continental Circus', a group of mostly British and Commonwealth riders, who followed the GP races around Europe. Mellors was part of this gang from 1929 until 1939, riding Nortons, New Imperials, Benellis, and Velocettes, to name some. He became a factory Velocette rider in 1936 and raced them all over the continent at numerous events, until 1939.
On Mellors' death, his manuscript was unfinished, but in 1949 Geoff Davison (publisher of the TT Special - devoted to the races during TT week), took on the project, and added some stories from earlier times, publishing 'Continental Circus' as part of the 'TT Special' series of books on motorcycle racing. The series includes 'The Story of the TT', 'The Story of the Manx', The Story of the Ulster', 'Racing Reminiscences', and 'The TT Races - Behind the Scenes'. Long out of print, these books can be found on ebay or via British dealers for around £25 each, and the 160 pages are nicely illustrated with period photos.

Pictured - Ted Mellors at the start of the 1936 Junior TT; he finished 4th on the new dohc works Velocette.

Back to Ivan's letter; reference was made to Mellor's grave site, which remained unknown to motorcycle historians until recently. Its discovery came about by an unusual chain of events. My business, KTT Services, restored and sold motorcycle instruments and my shop was filled with memorabilia, posters, etc.
A chap came in one day, unknown to me, but I found he was a member of the Australian Velo O/C, and spying a poster on the wall, (one well known to Velo folk - 'For Learner and Expert' - see small pic), he said, "Do you know who they are?"... "Franz Binder, the Austrian Velo racer, and Ted Mellors, the Velo factory rider", I replied...."Mellors is related to me", said Derek Deacon who had introduced himself by then. I was a little skeptical of these facts, but didn't show it. Derek returned soon after with a trophy of Mellors' and further expanded on his relationship; seems his mother was a cousin, relatives were still alive in Birmingham, and yes Ted's burial site was known. I related this to Ivan Rhodes, who quickly followed it up and took the photo shown below which is in the Robin Hood Cemetery, in Birmingham, England.
In 'Continental Circus', both Mellors and Davidson paint a fascinating tale of the effort needed to compete in racing events of the day. In 1929 (the year he started), the Great Depression had taken hold; jobs and money were hard to come by, and travel to the continent usually entailed taking trains, wheeling your racing bike (with a tool kit, leathers, and a clothes bag, all balanced on the seat), onto the guard's van on the train, and repeating the exercise at the other end, often pushing the bike and kit miles to the circuit or nearby hotel.
(second photo; Mellors receives the Lightweight TT trophy for 1st place on a 250cc Benelli. The presentation took place in the Villa Marina, Douglas, IoM)
The races were usually of at least 100 miles length, although the TT was usually 6 laps (over 220 miles), as was the Ulster GP. Fuel and accessories were often supplied by the trade 'barons' and so were available at the circuit. Riders were usually much older than today when they began their careers; some in their late 20's, most in their mid 30's. A youth of those days simply didn't have the money, nor could his family help out due to financial hardship. This meant that only relatively well-off people succeeded in getting a ride on a good machine.
Motor homes as we know them were nonexistent. However, if you made it to the top, you could make a good living. Take Stanley Woods for example; in the '38 TT, after winning the Junior TT and coming 2nd in the Senior, prize money plus trade bonuses netted him £940 for 2 weeks' work. If you consider that a new MkVII KTT cost £105, he did pretty well; at a guess, around $200,000 in today's money.

[What I find best about these books is their anecdotal style - they offer a first-hand account of the racing personalities you have read about (Woods, Serafini, Meier, etc), their handlers and mechanics, the strange encounters with hotel managers and the police, the machines from factories in England, Germany, France, and Italy, and how they are developed over the years, etc. Good stuff! - Pd'O]

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