Here at Trials Guru we have been allowed access to an article or two from the back copies of Trial Magazine UK.
We bring you the story of one of Britain’s best known trials photographers who has been pointing lenses at riders all over the country for many years. He is also a good friend of Trials Guru’s John Moffat.
One who has been around a long time but who remains as keen as ever is Colin Bullock, the man from the Midlands who has been covering motorcycle sport since the early seventies.He is also a ‘Silver Surfer’ – read on!
Words: John Hulme
Pictures: CJB & Yoomee Archive
Colin’s introduction to motorcycling came in his last year at school, when, walking home one day a classmate pulled up on his Honda 50cc step through and offered him a lift. Despite the poor little thing being flat out at 30 mph he was taken to two wheels, much to his parent’s horror.
After some weeks of constant badgering for a similar machine one came up for sale locally. The lady who owned it had forgotten to unlock the steering head security lock and a trip into someone’s garden when she was trying to turn right put her off the whole idea. The cost was thirty pounds but it was not his idea of a motorcycle, but it was a start and despite the parental objections, they thought he would grow out of the fascination, like many he never did.
From the 50cc to the first of the 500cc Honda fours, he got hooked on road riding and then motorcycle sport but it was not trials but road racing that grabbed his attention. It was off to the Leicestershire circuit at Mallory Park for every meeting followed up with regular trips to Oulton, Cadwell Park and occasionally Brands Hatch. The 1971 Race of the Year with John Cooper and Ago was probably the standout of them all for Colin and he remembers the sight of Mike Hailwood in his heyday which was just magic. As you will have noticed there is still no mention of a camera or off-road events at this point in his life. His first camera was a little Agfa which he started taking to all the meetings, taking many pictures which he still has, but they are in the old size printed format and need a magnifying glass to see who they were.
His first off-road event was a Grandstand International Scramble at Clifton in Derbyshire which he remembers for the wrong reasons. He and a friend had seen the TV series which the BBC used to run and thought they would go and see one live. The machine he owned at the time was a Honda 150cc (always Honda) and he managed to cook the spark plugs when they were within a mile of the circuit which required them to have a fifteen minute wait while it all cooled down. He soon decided that the 150cc was insufficient for his needs and bought a 450cc twin cylinder he named the ‘Black Bomber’. This was much more fun for getting around and for the fortnightly trips to watch Luton Town FC on a Saturday (he laughs about this) and then a motorcycle meeting on Sunday. All of his machines came from his local dealer, Sherwood Garage, which was owned by Peter Rose. Peter was indirectly responsible for a couple of things that changed his activities for the next forty years. First, whilst mooching around the workshop area he found a strange looking machine that was in fact a BSA C15T that was being sorted for the Aston Auto trial that coming weekend. Peter Rose suggested he went and had a look at a trial and as they say, the rest is history. He took his camera and found that he could actually fill the frame of the little camera with a machine and rider due to the slow speed action of trials. Secondly, Sherwood’s often advertised in the Birmingham Mail and somehow he talked Colin into letting him write the advert. Seeing his ideas in print for some reason made him quite excited. Around that time he upgraded to a fixed lens range finder for the camera, still nothing special but light years ahead of anything he had previously owned. Another road racing moment he members well is when he took a Paddock picture of Barry Sheene and then asked him to autograph it and much to his shock Sheene’s father, Frank, asked him for a copy of the shot. This prompted him to purchase a better camera. One of his early jobs was selling photographs of the Birmingham Speedway riders though one of the officials down at the Perry Bar Stadium who he told him he wanted a head and shoulders shot of the Captain Arthur Browning. Knowing Browning’s reputation as a fierce competitor, Colin panicked. The track official said, “Right after his next race, in the pits you go”. Arthur promptly fell off, had an altercation with the opposing rider and then Colin had to take his picture, which fortunately turned out fine.
They know each other well these days and always have some friendly banter and if you ever meet up with him his tale of how to get a round of drinks in a crowded Isle of Man bar is classic according to Colin.
Although going to all types of meetings was a huge part of his weekend’s interests, he was heavily involved for many years in the RAC/ACU training scheme for learner riders. They used to run twelve week courses covering theory, basic maintenance and road riding. Everyone was an unpaid volunteer and the schemes, which were held all over the country, were hugely popular and great fun to be a part of. Colin found it very rewarding to see the riders actually pass the test and go out on the roads a safer and more competent motorcyclist. By the mid-seventies he came across a character well known to trials, one Alan Wright, who besides being a very good national runner used to do work for the now defunct Motor Cycling Weekly. Alan lived half a mile from Colin and he got him some commissions for the paper and the dye was set. It was a different world back then though. There was none of the digital nonsense and often he would come back from a meeting, develop his rolls of films and then have to drive down to deliver them to Oxford, the home of staff member Nick Harris, who would then take them in on Monday morning. When Trials and Motocross News, the weekly off-road paper, went into colour pages he would head down to Jessop’s camera shop very early on Monday morning, pick up the prints at lunch and then take them to the post office for special overnight delivery. As all photographers will agree, life is much easier these days with digital equipment where you can take as many pictures as you like and then play around with them at home on the computer. The one bit of advice he always remembers though is from an old army man, who was more than a bit useful with a camera, who told him to make every shot count and he has never forgotten the advice, although sometimes it never quite happens of course. In 1979 ‘Wrighty’ was freelancing for TMX and he got a job covering the opening national of the trials season, the Vic Brittain. On his own admission though he almost completely messed it up with a shocking set of negatives and no picture of John Reynolds, who, if memory serves him correctly, came home second to Chris Sutton by just a couple of marks. Colin admits he still gets nervous in case he misses ‘The Shot’ at the major events.
The Social Side
The one thing that sold him on trials over everything else was the riders and the social side of the sport. He had heard of the top riders and often taken pictures of them but considered himself as accepted amongst the ‘Pro’ riders when after a few events, Malcolm Rathmell said ‘good morning’ to Colin. He was becoming part of the scene in a small way. This is something that is still important today as you go out to a meeting, whether a club or a current British Championship event, and the riders whatever the age difference talk to you.
In what other sport would you get that? In the mid-eighties a chance of something completely new came along with the Coventry local radio station deciding to put in a ‘Motorcycle Slot’ in its Tuesday night ‘Rock Show’. Somehow or another they heard about Colin and he did that for around three years, during which time he got to meet Barry Sheene again at the NEC Car Show of all places. He had a twenty minute interview time slot that ran over to forty five minutes, Sheene was superb. You will note that we have said nothing at this point about riding a trials machine himself. Well he did, but it was nothing short of abysmal. ‘Wrighty’ tried to teach him but to no avail and he has watched all the training films he has made and taken advice from Mick Andrews and Dan Thorpe but without success. The only thing he ever achieved was breaking his leg and ankle at the Frank Jones Pre-65 in the late eighties and he did it properly. He was two miles from the nearest road and had to be carted back in the rear of a Land Rover. The local farmer told him to swear a bit to ease the pain! In the early nineties, with his videos getting well received on the trials scene he would diversify and started in at the deep end with the Weston Beach Race.
The following year he filmed the Scottish Six Days and British World Round events, as well as producing their first training film, ‘How to Ride Trials’ with Mick Andrews. Further training films with Steve Saunders and Dan Thorpe gave him more than an insight into why these riders have been so successful. He noted that the riders were completely different in that Mick just looked like the machine was an extension of himself, whereas Steve was the total perfectionist, ‘let’s do that again’ was his motto. Dan on the other hand would quietly analyse everything.
The second DVD with Steve was very successful but after two days of filming down at Joe Baker’s patch in Lynton they looked through the footage and he put so much on the cutting room floor that they had to go out and do it again. It was certainly not a problem but an indication of Steve’s commitment to having everything spot on. Near enough was not good enough and ten adult British Championship titles did not happen by accident. Thorpey is also the main man for the commentary work on the DVD’s these days but he has found it fascinating to sit down with so many people over the years and listen to them talk trials for a few hours. Messrs Saunders, Wayne Braybrook, Colin Dommett and Martin Crosswaite have all kept Colin entertained with their wise words and humour. Colin thinks that they ought to get ‘Crosser’ on the Strictly Come Dancing panel as he would knock Bruno Tonioli on the head for sheer enthusiasm. He and the Archer family have always been good friends and without their support, especially at the ‘Scottish’, it would have been very hard work to say the least.
He will openly tell you that his favourite events are the Scottish Six Days trial, Scott trial and the North Berkshire Super-trial. He considers the latter to be a photographers dream with so many interesting and accessible hazards available to take some superb action shots. His first encounter with Scotland was in 1979 and he has been back every year since, except 1982 when his daughter Elaine arrived in late April, many weeks early.
Over the following years she would travel with him all over the UK as she also became keen on trials and he enjoyed these dad and daughter trips. She is now married but still keeps an eye on the trials scene. Colin’s wife Barbara has also shared his passion for trials, travelling in the back seat to many events. Away from trials and photography he still plays the drums a dozen times a year in a ‘silver surfers’ band. It’s mainly classic covers stuff but he still finds it very enjoyable.
Sincere thanks to John Hulme, editor, Trial Magazine UK for the use of this article and to Colin Bullock of CJB Photographic for providing the accompanying images.