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Book Review:
Fay Taylour - Queen of Speedway

The exploits of the legendary Fay Taylour have been chronicled many times, but this book seems to get closer to the truth than anything that preceeded it. Author Brian Belton was fortunate enough to have access to letters, diaries and manuscripts written by Taylour herself recounting her various adventures over the years and chunks of these are included throughout the text. Incidentally, the documents came into Belton's possession after passing through the hands of both Ian Hoskins and Reg Fearman, two well known gentlemen who have assisted this website in recent months. Fearman has also provided a foreword for the book.

Taylour had long harboured ambitions of turning her life story into an autobiography or screenplay and now, twenty-three years after her death, her story has been told in full, and partly in her own words, for the first time. Perhaps Belton's most difficult task was separating the fact from the fiction in Taylour's writing. She often romanticised her view of events and moved events around chronologically in order that her story would flow better. Belton attempts to get at the truth by combining her memoirs with contemporary reports of her exploits.

The biography concentrates on the early part of Fay's life and all but ends upon her forced retirement from speedway. The last chapter of the book covers her later years in brief, including her internment during the war for her pro-German sympathies. Belton hints that a second volume covering her post-speedway exploits may be a possibility at some point in the future.

Although Taylour is the main focus of the book, it offers many insights into the sport's early days both in the UK and Australia. Many of the characters involved in those pioneer days feature in the book and we get to know a little more about the likes of Johnnie Hoskins and Lionel Wills. There are also lengthy sections on Eva Askquith, a contemporary rider of Fay's but seemingly not quite in her class, and Sig Schlam the famous West Australian rider that Taylour once defeated round the Claremount Showground. In retrospect that was probably her finest hour on the dirt-tracks.

She was clearly an extraordinary lady and her story makes for excellent reading. This isn't simply a book that recalls who-did-what-and-when. The author attempts to understand the lady and the events that defined her. We find out about her childhood and how that influenced her lust for danger. We share in her romantic liaisons with several potential suitors, relationships that in Taylour's romanticised view always seemed to end in heartbreak for one or other party. There's also enough detail of machines, meetings, races and results to keep any historian happy, though that detail merely adds to the story rather than drive it.

It's an excellent read that will be of equal interest to those inside or outside of the speedway community. It's unusual approach, of quoting text verbatim from Taylour's memoirs and then correcting her recollections, works surprisingly well. It offers us an insight into her self-image and we can tell that she lived in a slightly different reality to most of us, perhaps shielding herself from the harsher aspects of life. Belton is to be commended for breathing new life into a story that has been told many times before, though never in this level of detail and never as free from hype and hyperbole.

We know that speedway book collectors will purchase a copy of this biography, everybody else should as well.

 

This article was first published on 29th June 2006

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