DVD Review: British Finals
The British Final is the subject of this latest DVD box set from Retro Speedway. The annual 'Best of British' showdown has been separating the men from the boys since 1961, traditionally acting as a qualifying round for the World Championship as well as a chance to prove yourself the best in the country. This box set covers the period from 1961 up until 1999 and is split over three discs with a total running time of six hours.
The film available from the sixties is limited, though the producers have found footage from some of the events. There's a particularly nice piece where we see riders turning up at Wembley for the big event, including Jack Young, Ronnie Moore and Mike Broadbank(s).
Barry Briggs is shown in a specially filmed recent interview and looks as fit as ever, certainly not your typical Octogenarian. He won six of the first nine British Championships, so who else could be better placed to comment on those early finals?
Mention of Briggs, Young and Moore highlights the fact that the British Final also included Commonwealth riders for many year. Indeed the only British born rider to win it before 1973 was Peter Craven, the remaining titles were split between those famous Kiwis - Briggs and Mauger.
Briggo sheds some light on the infamous riders' strike that threatened to disrupt the 1967 event. To this day he believes the riders backed down too easily and a chance to advance the power held by the riders was lost.
As the sport moved into the seventies, the "new wave" of English riders started to make their mark and Ray Wilson, John Louis, Michael Lee and Peter Collins clinched titles. Others went to the more experienced Eric Boocock and Malcolm Simmons. The 1974 win for Eric Boocock was (surprisingly) the only time that either of the famous Booey brothers lifted the title. Elder brother Nigel had made it to the lower steps of the rostrum four times, but it was the "young un" that finally reached the top.
Eric recalls that his preparation for the final wasn't ideal, being waylaid in an encounter with an arithmetically challenged traffic cop earlier in the day.
The producers caught up with John Louis at his Ipswich home and asked him to review film from the 1975 final. The footage re-affirmed to 'Tiger' that his riding was fair as he clinched the title, despite what may have been claimed at the time. This kind of retrospective analysis of the sport's controversies is what these DVDs do so well, even though the passing of the years often does little to change long held opinions.
Some of the most remarkable British Finals were staged during the 1980s. Who can forget the unsung Grahame brothers finishing first and second in the 1982 final? Younger brother Andy edging out Alan by a single point in one of the biggest shocks in the sport's history. In a contemporary interview, Andy is interviewed immediately after his final race and has calm disposition makes it difficult to determine if he's remarkably composed or completely bewildered.
Kenny Carter won consecutive titles in 1984 and 1985, with the first of these triumphs being particularly well remembered. The Yorkshireman rode to victory with a broken leg, making light of the wet conditions at Coventry that day. A pre-meeting conflab between the riders found that many did not want to race, but Carter adopted a positive attitude and deservedly lifted the title in a show of courage that earned him great respect at the time. He won the title again the following year, but tragic events dictated that he wouldn't defend the title in 1986.
His Bradford team mate Neil Evitts lifted the crown that year instead. Evitts is interviewed on the DVD and is always worth listening to. His laid-back demeanour disguising the fiery determination that any national champion requires. He also shares details of the modest (even for 30 years ago) cash prize he won and how he'd incurred a suspended fine for the same amount before he'd even packed away his kit.
Other winners from the eighties that are interviewed are Stevie Bastable, Chris Morton and Kelvin Tatum.
The nineties aren't remembered as a golden era for British Speedway, with Gary Havelock's 1992 World Final win being one of the few bright spots. Looking back now, it's remarkable just how many world class rides the UK could call on during that period. Seeing the likes of Loram, Havelock, Louis, Dugard, Screen, Wigg, Tatum, Cox, Smith and Doncaster in action once more reminds you just how much talent there was around. Certainly an embarrassment of riches compared to the current lack of depth in the Lions' strength.
Those finals in the nineties were notable for some competitive racing, perhaps driven by the fact that there wasn't much to choose between the top few riders. Indeed the rider that won the most British titles during the decade was the perennially unfashionable Andy Smith. A remarkable character who could raise his game when it mattered most, winning three titles back-to-back from 1993-96 and later proving himself the ultimate survivor in the Grand Prix challenge.
The '97 final is well remembered for the run-off between Chris Louis and Mark Loram, brothers-in-law and long term friends, though there was no room for friendship when the title was on the line. The DVD captures the spectacular moment that Loram blasts past Louis to clinch the title. Loram concedes on the DVD that this was the "hardest we'd ever ridden against each other".
As ever, these DVDs are partially constrained by the original film footage that can be traced, thankfully the British Final is quite well represented in the archives, particularly from the mid-seventies onwards. The source material itself tells the story of the sport's decline during the period under review, with ITV television footage giving way to speedway's own video companies as the sport moves through the eighties.
Producing these DVD boxsets is obviously a labour of love for the team at Retro-Speedway, picking out the best of the action and the main talking points from 39 years of finals. Archive material from a wide variety of sources is beautifully combined with specially created content into a cohesive documentary. Although the subject matter may lack the glamour of the World Final or the local appeal of a club history DVD, there's plenty here for the keen speedway fan to enjoy. A classic "nostalgia fest" that takes us from Jack Young to Scott Nicholls in six enjoyable hours.
Watch a trailer for the DVD
How To Order
By Phone : 01708 734 502
By Post : Send a cheque for £20 (payable to Retro Speedway) (add £2.50 if outside UK) to:
103 Douglas Road
Online : At Retro-Speedway.com
This article was first published on 24th January 2016
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