A Trials Guru ‘section’ dedicated to Britain’s most famous of trials photographers, Eric Kitchen.
This is a special place of honour for a self-made individual who at heart is a trials enthusiast, who was a keen competitor, son of a famous racing motorcyclist, a businessman and an accomplished photographer.
Trials Guru is extremely proud and privileged to have been permitted to display Eric Kitchen’s photographic work in articles and features. Eric’s photographic work dates back to the late 1960s. Please remember that every image of Eric Kitchen is his property and should not be copied or used without his express permission. Every image taken by Eric that appears on Trials Guru has been used with his full knowledge.
Words: John Hulme
Picture credits at end of article
The sport of motorcycle trials is not just about the riders and their machines, it’s also about the people who support the sport in whatever way they want, to enjoy their day out. Eric Kitchen had competed in trials, grasstrack and scrambling in the early fifties, but had always returned to trials. As a hobby he began taking pictures of motorcycle events, starting with the Isle of Man TT in the sixties and was soon noticed by the ‘Press’. In the early seventies he would start to attend trials events on a more regular basis producing some excellent ‘shots’ for the motorcycling papers.
Trials and Motocross News was launched in late May, 1977 and a visit to see the new paper in production at their headquarters at nearby Morecambe would see him and his wife Ellen spend the next thirty odd years travelling around the globe taking pictures of trials for the world to see and enjoy.
Young Eric entered the world in early January 1933, joining his sister Edna (born 1931) and later Muriel who would arrive in 1939. His father Bill Kitchen went to Australia to pursue a career in the world of speedway and he would attend Galgate Infants School which was situated four miles south of Lancaster. In the early days the family was based on the main A6, Glasgow to London road at Mainstone House living above his grandfather’s butchers shop with three families sharing the four bedrooms. With the outbreak of war in 1939, it was a case of keeping your head down and helping in the family with the daily chores through those dull and sometimes difficult times.
On the 29th July 1949 he started his first job working at the family garage in Galgate where he would serve his apprenticeship. The garage was a Triumph Motorcycle agents and one of his first jobs was working on JAP speedway engines and cylinder barrels, where he had to learn the correct procedures for fitting cylinder liners and then to bore them to the correct tolerance before finishing the process off by honing the bore to perfection.
Eric’s first introduction to the world of photography happened in 1952 when he visited Wright Wood Cameras in Ashton under Lyne near the home of Belle Vue Speedway. The proprietor, Mr Wood, was the chief photographer at Belle Vue and so this was quite interesting as Eric already had speedway connections. He duly purchased his first camera which was an Agfa Isollete 2.1/4” square format and so the ‘camera’ adventure had begun.
The sporting side of motorcycling was beginning to play a major part in his life and in 1953 he had purchased a Norton 500T for the princely sum of £60.00. His first competition on the Norton was the National Red Rose trial which started at the famous ‘Towd Betts’ Public House high above the Lancashire market towns. He rode the fifty miles to the event and won a First Class award for his efforts. Riding to the events was the normal thing to do back then and events as far away as the Bemrose at Longnor near Buxton in Derbyshire would be attended. In 1954 at the event he once again picked up a First Class award.
As the family business were Triumph agents he rode in both the 1953 and 1954 Scottish Six Days trials mounted on a 500cc Triumph Trophy TR5 and gained treasured First Class awards.
These were fantastic times for motorcycling and as he was part of the Westmorland Motor Club, their riders rode in convoy to the start in Edinburgh where he left his machine overnight outside on the street at a hotel on Princess Street. Around this time he had caught the eye of a good looking girl called Ellen at the local Galgate football dance and started to ‘court’ her and on the 23rd June 1956 he and Ellen were married.
In October 1954 he served his two years National Service in the RAF 30 MU, based at Stoke Heath (Tern Hill) in Shropshire which was literally on the doorstep of the famous Hawkstone Park motocross circuit. During this time his main priority was fitting reconditioned engines to Bedford military vehicles which was a laborious task, but one he would learn so much from. In 1956 he finished his National Service but before he was demobbed the family garage was sold but the engineering side was kept. This is where Eric would return to operate a Cincinnati vertical milling machine producing back axle balance beams for Atkinson Vehicles at Preston. In 1957, now married, he started to look to the future as with a young family planned he wanted more security for them. Around this time he was converting the Triumph to scrambles trim which included the swap from rigid backend to a swinging arm with shock absorbers fitted. He came into contact with Telamite Friction Products who would convert him the oil lubricated clutch plates into dry ones. When he picked up the plates he asked about a job with the company. He was offered a job and started as a sales representative with a van, working from the Preston depot which allowed him to sell his Ford Anglia 100E and with the money he purchased a new Ariel HT 500.
Son Anthony was born in 1958 and during this period he still managed to compete in events and modified the Triumph to include Tiger 100 pistons to give it higher compression. He competed in the odd grasstrack event but soon realised that even though it only cost £6.00 to enter it cost £25.00 to compete after all the expenses. Riding in a scramble, the throttle stuck wide open on the Triumph and suffered a massive crash which broke the frame and finished the machine off for good. He would make a move to two-strokes when he purchased a 250cc DOT which was then fitted with a modified fly-wheel courtesy of Blackie Holden in 1959.
In the early sixties the family holiday would be taken in the Isle of Man and yes it was always during the TT celebrations. Daughter Beverley was born in 1961 and later another motorcycle joined the family which was a brand new Triumph Tiger Cub.
Now with a young family to support and the job at Telamite going very well, in 1962 he was offered promotion and a move to the Bolton depot. Always one to seek advice and most importantly listen to it, he was advised by a good friend never to turn down promotion at such a young age and especially with such a good company. With this in mind he decided to accept the new position and moved the family to Bolton. A nice three bedroom detached house was found and a deposit of £14.10s was put down on the £2,300 property. He started the new position, which he enjoyed, but it meant a seventy-mile round trip every day until they could move into the new residence at Bolton. On a December day he made a decision which would change his life forever. He was aware that the profit margins at Telamite were attractive and he decided he could do the job of distributing the products they produced just as well.
That December day in Bolton was overcast by smog and when he drove out of it into the brilliant sunshine up Belmont Road he made the decision not to move to Bolton and instead start his own company providing a brake relining service to the automotive industry. His uncle Jack was the next port of call as he needed some premises to operate from and so he agreed to give him some floor space in the new engineering shop which was being built and also the use of the company van to deliver his parts. Eric agreed to work two mornings each week delivering machined parts to Atkinson’s in Preston in return for the floor space he required to run the new company and ‘E K Brakes‘ was born. Over the next few years he would build it into the empire it is today, EK Motor Factors, headed by son Anthony as Managing Director.
Life Behind a Lense
With all that had happened around him in 1963 he made the decision to stop competing in motorcycle competitions and focus on building up the company. He needed a new hobby and in 1966 he purchased a Pentax SV. He continued working every hour under the sun with no family holidays for four years. It was in 1970 at the TT that he bumped into Brian ‘Nick’ Nicholls on Crellin Street; he was covering the event for Motorcycle Sport and Weekly publications and was a very well respected figure in the motorcycle industry. Eric showed him some of his action images. Nick quietly enquired who was he taking pictures for, but then soon realised that Eric and the family were there just for a holiday and the picture taking was just a hobby.
Nick would be one of many known photographers/journalists that Eric would come into contact over the years including Malcolm Carling, Barry Robinson, Peter Howdle, Gordon Francis, Jack Burnicle, Mick Woollett and Vic Willoughby to name a few. He would soon be supplying images to all the mainstream publications himself.
As he had competed in the SSDT, in 1970 he returned to attend the event in a spectator role to take pictures, which would start a love affair with the ‘Highland’ event that endures to this very day. In the early seventies and with so much interest in trials he purchased a Bultaco, registration number MEN 7H, and competed in a few local events and in 1974 he also sponsored Mike and Chris Myers, the sons of Cumbrian scrambles ace, Zeke Myers, on the Spanish machines. His working life took another turn in 1976 when he purchased a car garage in Morecambe and became a Honda car dealer until 1990, but once again an interruption in 1977 would change the course of his life.
Motorcycle News and Motorcycle were the main stay weekly motorcycle newspapers but the off-road world had always longed for its own publication. In 1977 ‘The Morecambe Visitor’ launched Trials and Motocross News with the enthusiastic Bob Clough as MD and Bill Lawless as Editor. It changed the way that the off-road scene would be covered forever.
Dave Dewhurst, who at the time was the photographer for the Morecambe Visitor publication and also a trials rider, suggested to Bob Clough and Bill Lawless that they should approach Eric Kitchen with a view to him supplying images for the publication. It was a resounding ‘yes’ from Eric and he still provides images to this day. This position has taken him all over the world covering events, but mostly trials. He became a master of trials images and in 1982 moved to Nikon camera models FA (flash synchronization speed of 250 sec) and then the F4, F5 and D1.
His interest in trials machines and riders though continued and in 1986 he purchased two of the four-stroke 250cc Honda/HRC RTL trials machines from the first batch, one for his son Anthony and the other for his sponsored rider, Chris Myers. He continued to travel to the World rounds and some European ones where he could be found in the paddock in his motor home with his wife Ellen.
He will always tell you how much he enjoyed witnessing Dougie Lampkin taking his first World crown in 1997 and watching him become the most successful trials rider ever. His highest accolade came in 2000 when he was asked to become the official photographer for FIM World trials, a position he held until 2010.
He and his wife can still be seen at most major trials, especially the Scottish and the Scott, where you can witness him with his Nikon’s still looking for that ‘ultimate’ image.
Article copyright: John Hulme / Trial Magazine UK
- John Hulme / Trial Magazine
- Eric Kitchen
- Kitchen Family Archive
- Ray Biddle, Birmingham
- Jimmy Young, Armadale
- Jean Caillou, France
Click on link for details of back editions of Trial Magazine UK & Classic Trial
Trials Guru’s John Moffat has known Eric Kitchen for many years and has like many trials enthusiasts, admired EK’s photographic handiwork since T+MX emerged in 1977.
Moffat has had numerous conversations with ‘EK’ about trials and the sport of motorcycling and in particular the Scottish Six Days. It was during one of these conversations that Eric mentioned the name ‘Johnny Clarkson’, a name well known to Moffat as Clarkson had been a life-long friend of the family.
Eric’s first SSDT had been in the company of said John N Clarkson in the 1953 trial as they had consecutive riding numbers in the event and as was the custom, became life-long friends as a result. Eric regularly visited John whenever he was in the Brora area of north Scotland.
Eric’s motor business were Honda dealers in Morecombe as indicated in the article. EK was a very proud supporter of Honda products and told Moffat: “I believed in what Mr. Honda was doing. The company had a strong philosophy and I truly believed in the direction they were taking, manufacturing well-designed and innovative products”.
Bill Kitchen was a top class speedway rider, Eric’s father, a man of whom he speaks highly of and is very proud of – and for good reason.
William Kitchen was born in December 1908 in Galgate, Lancashire and commenced his racing career in 1933 with the Belle Vue Aces, where he remained until 1939 when he moved to the Wembley Lions until 1954.
In 1946, ninety-thousand fans at Wembley Speedway witnessed a Mr. Archibald’s rocket-powered speedway machine being tested in the skillful hands of Bill who gave the bike rave reviews, praising its smooth acceleration!
In the period 1933 to 1953, Bill Kitchen was a member of the National League Champions eleven times.
Capped thirty times, Bill Kitchen amassed over forty appearances as an England International rider and rode in the Isle of Man TT four times from 1930 – 1933.
Prior to racing speedway, Bill had been a contracted racing motorcyclist for the Scott Motorcycle company of Shipley.
In 1950 Bill was Australian Three Lap champion in Melbourne, Australia. He passed away in May 1994, aged 85 years.
Celebration of Eric Kitchen images: