The Passing Of An Old School Journalist

Those of you that know me and therefore a bit of my past, will know that I have been writing about trials for about 38 years, give or take a few months. Much of that time was as a full time journalist when I enjoyed numerous trips to World and British Championship trials and enduros, both in the UK and abroad.

A colleague for many years on the rival weekly Motorcycle News was Peter Howdle, and it’s with sadness that I have to report that Peter died two weeks ago aged 83 after suffering from cancer in recent years. Peter was a journalist of the “old school” and worked for MCN for many years, certainly from the mid 'fifties until his retirement in 1989. During that time he carried out all the tasks associated with production of a national weekly newspaper and at one time was even the editor.

I knew him as the Trials Editor and many a time I would be at a major trial or enduro, when Peter would wander up in his typically casual manner and ask what was going on, as though he knew nothing about the sport, and knew nothing about what was happening.

The reality of course was that Peter knew everything and knew everybody, and he was always one step ahead of everybody else at international events for he spoke fluent French and acceptable Spanish, which endeared him to the foreign riders who were able converse in their own tongue. Peter had been brought up and had even worked in France so was the staffman on MCN entrusted with anything foreign, from trips to the big road races, to factory tours, in fact anything where his linguistic abilities held him in good stead.

Peter started as publicity manager for James Motorcycles, prior to joining MCN where perhaps his big claim to fame in the eyes of the reader was his superb photograph of Gordon Jackson taking a dab on Grey Mare’s Ridge in the 1961 Scottish, which of course was Jackson’s only mark lost through the trial.

As I was a relative newcomer to the journalistic scene, and a youngster, Peter was ex ceedingly helpful in guiding me around the press offices of trials and enduros at foreign events, and though I had to find out the news on my own, he always asked if I knew about so and so, which was his way of telling me there was a story to be had if I had not already found it for myself.

When he retired at 65, one of the last events he covered was a British Championship enduro in Wales (the Brechfa or Isca I think) and I took a picture of him with Geraint Jones, then the British Champion. He told me then that when he retired, that would be it, no more motorcycling, he was away for a quiet life.

I never spoke to him, nor saw him again after that day, but he was a fine person, a genuine man, and I know that the news of his passing was indeed sad news to those that knew him in his professional capacity.

Bike journalism these days tends to be a passing phase. I can name tens of journalists that have been on the various bike papers over the past 30 odd years, most of whom have stayed awhile before moving on to (presumably) bigger and better things. The long termers are few and far between, but there are some regulars around, both full time and freelance, and whilst it’s easy to blow one’s own trumpet, between John Dickinson, Barry Robinson, myself and several others, much information is stored.

It’s a pity there is no easy way of extracting it all for posterity!

Judging by the many comments posted on this site since Hawkstone last weekend, the subjects that hold a great deal of interest for everybody is the response to the event as a whole, where the sport is going in the future and who the future top riders will be.

Unfortunately I have no inside information (in fact I don’t think there is any!!), but without reiterating what has been said over the past few weeks, there is no British world trial in the immediate offing. But, I expect somebody, somewhere, will eventually bite the bullet and organise future events, and who would bet against Jake and Martin returning after a couple of year’s break?

So come 2010, possibly a year later and we could be traipsing off to ??, well who knows where, so much depends on the way the sport and its requirements develop over the years.

Much has been written about a world trial being held at Low North Park, home of the Scarborough Club. It’s years since I’ve been there – in fact the last time was back in the late 'eighties when the venue was the base for a British Championship enduro, (where, if I recall, Dave Willoughby was the best Clubman rider, or at least was very well up the final rankings). Getting back to LNP, my first thought concerns the location. It’s miles from anywhere, and you may recall that one of Jake’s uppermost criteria was a CENTRAL location, one where as many heads as possible could be enticed through the gate. With the best will in the world, Scarborough is hardly central!!

Enough of the future, let’s just reflect on the recent past, Hawkstone. Most of you have said all that there is to say, so without repeating all that has been written, Hawkstone has been an unqualified success for three years; L and M Promotions have done a fabulous job, and the support from the trade, riders, the Bradford club and YOU, the great British trialing public, has been without equal.

So let us give ourselves a pat on the back, for one without the other can’t succeed.