An interview with Edwin Vernon ‘Chum’ Taylor by Ken Duperouzel
Chum Taylor’s speedway career last a quarter of a century. He was the only West Australian rider to ever score points in a World Speedway Final (1960) and also qualified for the 1961 World Final at Wembley. Chum was Australian Champion in 1966 and 5 times WA Speedway Champion, known as ‘The Master of Claremont’.
Chum, tell our readers about your childhood growing up in Perth? I was born in 1927 in a small cottage at Mounts Bay Road opposite the old Swan Brewery adjoining the Swan River in Perth. My father was employed by the Brewery looking after the horses and was chauffeur for the Brewers Olly and Hilton Wood in the late 1920s. He was also head stableman for Bob Burns senior (horse trainer) at Belmont track.
How did you get the nickname “Chum”? A favourite auntie of mine on her regular visits to our home used to say, “how is my little chum today” and it has stuck with me ever since.
Tell me about your schooling? I went to Nedlands Primary School until 1939 and was an average student.
When did you go to Boyup Brook in country WA? It was 1939. World War II had broken out, and the Australian Federal Government was encouraging capital city residents (for safety reasons) to go to the country. My father deceased soon after the family made the move.
What year did you obtain a job, and with whom? I was 14 years of age and took a job in the local flax mills doing general labouring. Then in 1944, we shifted back to Perth City, and I was able to obtain work as an apprentice Cooper at the Swan Brewery. (a Cooper makes wooden barrels for beer or wine use. Ed)
Did you complete your apprenticeship? Yes, I did. It was a 5 year Apprenticeship in those days.
What was your first motor cycle? It was a BSA x 500cc – 1930 model I think. I do recall it had a hand oil pump fitted in the petrol tank. I used this machine to ride to work and home again. When I could afford something better, I bought a 1937 BSA x 350 Empire Star.
Which motor cycle club did you join first? It was the Harley Motor Cycle Club. Sunday morning members would assemble outside Mortlock Bros Sales and Service (motor cycle dealers) and about 10am on Sundays we would ride out of Perth city in a line of bikes to various vacant paddocks in the metro area to enjoy a ‘Club Run’. Once there, the Club would conduct events such as Point to Point races of either 3 or 5 laps in a straight line (about 100 metres apart) marked by wooden peg markers with a red flag on the top. Also Triangular Point to Point races and Minature TT’s being the main events of the day. The timing of all events was by hand held stop watches. All the popular Clubman stuff of Post World War 2. Lots of simple fun was enjoyed in those days. The ladies would provide lunch and drinks, and everybody knew everyone else. They were good social occasions.
Did you try road racing and scrambles, trials etc? Yes, the BSA Empire Star was used by me to road race at Mooliabenine and Goomalling, and Yanchep National Park. I also used the same machine for scramble events such as the Harley Scramble and Brooklands Scramble at the old Subiaco aerodrome. No, I never really tried Trials competing.
What year did your Speedway career start at Claremont WA? 1948. I had some success on Lionel Jones’ Rudge after he retired on the basis that any prize money was split three ways. The first 1/3rd of any prize monies was to cover maintenance of the bike and the balance was split between Lionel and myself. In 1950, Ossie Michelsen (who was a a Shareholder in Claremont Speedway and a motor cycle dealer) offered me a 500cc JAP to ride on a similar arrangement. I had some good Match Races against Wally Higgs – and then later in 1950 bought a bike of my own – a JAP previously ridden by Ron Johnson. It cost me one hundred and fifty Australian Pounds.
This was the start of some very busy years for you when you resolved to race Speedway in England in 1951? Yes, I travelled to England on the old ‘Moreton Bay’ ship (previously a war raider vessel) which took six weeks to get there. The cost of the trip was sixty Australian pounds. The Promoter of Ashfield Speedway (Scotland) was Johnnie Hoskins who said he ‘would give me a go’.
Chum you mentioned THE Johnnie Hoskins, who is credited with starting Speedway at Maitland (NSW) in Australia first, then England some time later? Yes, the one and only Johnnie Hoskins, a real Speedway Legend he was. Some months later in 1951 I was on loan to Cardiff in Wales. I had a good year, then returned home to Perth for the 1951/52 Claremont Speedway season.
With your overseas experience, how did the year 1952 go for you? I had some great rides and wins against Ron Johnson, Wally Higgs, Jack Sharp, Mick Geneff, Harold Gasgoigne and many other good riders. Then a month before my scheduled marriage to Dulcie Illingworth, I had a big crash at the Claremont track where I suffered a fractured neck, and was advised by the doctors to stop motor cycle racing and just ‘kick the pickets’ as the expression goes. It was many months later after treatment in a plaster cast before I rode speedway again. Dulcie and I were married, and we both departed for England by ship arriving in time for the beginning of the speedway season.
When did you make “A” Division Speedway in England? I stayed with Cardiff through 1951 and 1952, when I was invited to transfer and join the Bristol ‘A’ Division team. First Division racing was tougher than third division, the riders never gave an inch. The small Bristol track was a challenge, not like the longer length tracks (640 yards) that I was used to.
Chum, I would like to refer you back in history (1952) by quoting this report from The West Australian newspaper.
“After a successful season in England – Chum Taylor returned to Perth in late 1952 as a local idol – ‘Chum Taylor had arrived’ .
“Then came the nights that stunned the speedway world and would delight fans to a point of hysteria. At the Claremont track, Chum Taylor downed the mighty World Champion Jack Young in Match Racing. Young had been undefeated since winning the World Title in 1952, when Chum Taylor held off repeated challenges by Young, and went on to some great wins. Not just once, but three more Match races over two weeks, to give Speedway fans one of their greatest moments of all time. Amidst a wave of speedway ‘ boilover’ of excitement, excuses were made by everyone but Young, who realised he had lowered his colours to a rider out of the ordinary.
“With his future and reputation assured, Taylor returned to England with his pretty wife Dulcie and took his place in the First Division Bristol Team in England. His transfer cost a cool 800 English Pounds.
“As if inspired by marriage and the birth of his son Glynn in Wales, Taylor rode and matched the cream of England’s best to become a ‘bobby sox’ idol of English fans”.
Chum, what countries did you race Speedway in? I raced in the British Speedway League for 15 seasons. My Speedway career totalled 25 years riding in Australia, England, New Zealand, Holland, Sweden and even Venezuela. Speedway was my ticket to travel the world over and I have met some very wonderful people, many are now personal friends.
The likely pinnacle of your career was the year 1960 when you rode in the FIM World Speedway Championship. Tell us about those times please? I can tell you that it was necessary for a rider to ‘qualify’ through a series of race meetings at various tracks all over England. Then the usual process of eliminations through quarter, semi and finals in order to represent their countries. The 1960 FIM World Speedway Championship was held at the Empire Stadium in Wembley – England. The riders were lined up on the edge of the track, and a Parade of the Standards of the competing nations was borne by Troopers of The Household Cavalry Royal Horse Guards in full escort uniform was provided. My given race number was number one (1) and there was 18 riders plus two (2) reserves, all intent on winning the World Speedway Championship. There was twenty (20) race heats each, of four riders. Ove Fundin (Sweden) won the first race, and I was second. Fundin won the 1960 World Speedway Title. It was an especially exciting night when there there is 70,000 speedway fans in the grandstands at Wembley Stadium (England) all cheering their heads off. Then four days later I was selected to Captain the Australasian Test Team of Ronnie Moore, Jack Young, Barry Briggs, Aub Lawson and myself.
I was looking forward to competing in the 1961 World Speedway Titles, but had a bad accident and broke my shoulder at Southampton on 3rd June that year. I wondered how I was going to tell Dulcie and son Glyn what had happened. With the World Championship nearing I was determined to ride. After two weeks I managed to get myself back on the bike by bending the right hand side of the ‘bars’ at an angle to accommodate my damaged right arm. This enabled me to continue my way through the British Final of the WSC / Wembley 2nd September 1961. The final was in Malmo, Sweden where I was a reserve rider.
I resolved not to return to England in 1962, and work through our winter in Australia, employed by Coca Cola Bottlers until Claremont Speedway began again.
The years 1963/64/65 you stayed in Australia I think? Yes, I was happy competing at Claremont. I also knew that Speedway in England was having numbers of problems with low attendances, regulations etc. It was during this period that I committed myself to purchase a home for Dulcie and I. You may be interested to know I still live at the same address.
Tell us about 1966 when you won Australian Solo Championship? This was my biggest Australian success. It was held at Rowley Park (Adelaide) in January 1966, I had never been there before as WA riders were never invited to ride at previous Australian Speedway Championship meetings. It seems that we were regarded by the controlling body (ACCA – Auto Cycle Council of Australia) as “not good enough”. Rowley Park suited me very well as it had a track length of about 400 yards, and I was using an ESO motor in an Arthur Hurst (WA) special frame. Among the top riders was Jim Airey, Neil Street, Roy Trigg, Charlie Monck and Jack Scott. I believe that winning the Australian Solo Championship in 1966 was important for all West Australian riders as it proved conclusively that we could produce a rider capable of winning the Australian title. WA had never previously been given the opportunity to do so.
During 1967 – 1973 you only raced in Australia I understand? Yes, I competed at Claremont (WA) almost every Friday night over these years, and won five (5) West Australian Solo Championships. I beat two reigning World Champions at Claremont in Ove Fundin and Ivan Mauger, and other riders who later became World Speedway Champions Ole Olsen, Anders Michanek and Peter Collins. I also competed in1969 – 1970 as a member of the victorious Australian Test Team which beat England at Claremont Speedway WA. Jim Airey was Captain and scored 17 points whilst I was Vice-Captain and scored 16 points.
Your only son Glynn also had a career in Speedway? Glynn started Speedway when he was 17 years of age and by 1973 he was doing well at Claremont. Glyn was in his first year at Crewe in England and going OK so I thought I should go with him as general help. I was offered a casual ride on a speedway bike, but unfortunately I hit a hole mid-track and the heavy crash resulted in a fractured shoulder blade. That was my last ride in England.
Your last Speedway ride was quite emotional in 1973? Claremont Speedway fans gave me a great farewell that night. I had just won my last race at Claremont Speedway and everybody poured on to the track, officials, competitors and a huge number of fans. Everyone was emotional, worst of all – me. I still recall the Frank Sinatra song playing “I did it my way”. Then the crowd gave me three huge cheers amidst all the clapping too. Yes, very emotional for me.
Later in 1973 after 25 years riding speedway, I resolved to retire. I felt that my eyesight was not as good as it used to be and I needed to wear glasses. I was happy enough to retire. I have always tried to give my personal best in competition and life. There is a great deal of pleasure and pride for me to know that I have rewarded speedway fans all over the world with excitement from my riding.
What did you do following speedway retirement? I had worked on and off for the Coca Cola Bottling Company in between Australian and English speedway seasons for many years. Now I was employed full time, and later made Transport Supervisor for the Company. Retiring from the commercial world, I spent some years in a voluntary capacity with a number of charitable Institutions, liasing with the W.A. State Government to improve the housing and general conditions of older persons in our community.
Well that’s the Chum Taylor story. On 4th April 2007 Chum Taylor celebrated his 80th Birthday in the company of his family and many friends. We salute him for those of us who remember Friday night was Speedway night.
• Credits: Geoffrey Miller QC, A Dangerous Life; Colin Philippson, Speedway Historian