Tom Whalley’s Cycling Podcast: Raleigh, Sillitoe and an impressive Chopper.

I think I might be the only person in Nottingham not to have been bought a Raleigh bike for Christmas. Back in the day, Raleigh was a badge of pride for Nottingham and up there with Brian Clough, the chap in green tights, and Torville and Dean for civic pride. This was handy because everything else about my 80s childhood was pretty miserable, what with a milk stealing PM, the Falklands, and the fear of imminent nuclear annihilation.

Everyone had a Raleigh, but I ended up with a Daytona. If you’ve never heard of Daytona, don’t worry. Neither had I. Neither had anyone. Consequently, I had the piss taken out of me constantly. In hindsight, this was my ‘A Boy Named Sue’ moment, teaching humility and resilience. But at the time I had a right proper strop.

My stepfather was a tight bastard. He chiselled a mark in the bath to ration out hot water, and all of our identical shoes came from Jonathan James. I could put with the DIY basin haircuts because everyone else had them. But a Daytona? Come on.

Mining communities thrive on wit and sarcasm. The more upset I got, the more imaginative the insults. But when random strangers started to point and laugh at me as I cycled by, enough was enough. I asked if I could sell it. My mum, having a good heart and all that, suggested I give it to a straggly youth at school who looked like he got fed and washed once a year. I agreed because I’d been to his house, and he had nothing. He was delighted with the offer and came home with me after school. He peddled off with a silly grin on his face and for a brief moment, the world felt like a good place.

There wasn’t much time to feel smug. A few days later he came into school covered in chocolate. ‘Sold that bike for £20 quid’, he said. ‘Want a scoff?’. I learned an important lesson that day: Don’t buy a Daytona and don’t give one away.

I mention this because I was recently a guest on Tom Whalley’s The Cycling Podcast: Service Course. The theme was Raleigh, and we had a natter about Alan Sillitoe’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning which features 21-year-old lathe operator Arthur Seaton. The episode also features Chris Matthews, a historian and author of Towns in Britain, and a man with a very impressive Chopper.

Tom is an award winning sound designer, audio producer and presenter. Best known as T-Bone, the producer of The Huey Show on BBC6 music, he also produces The Wire Stripped. He’s recently returned to Wollaton with a young family, and I guess this episode was partly driven by a desire to reconnect with his roots. We did our interview via zencastr.com which runs in your browser so you can record anywhere without installing anything. Being able to see each other during the interview was really helpful and helped create a natural flow of conversation.

The show is co-hosted by double Giro Rosa stage winner Lizzy Bank. Bet she wasn’t riding a Daytona…

Series 10. Episode 3: All the Rest is Propaganda. https://thecyclingpodcast.com/episodes/service-course  

Further reading

Alan Sillitoe documentaries

The following four films discuss Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Alan Sillitoe’s 1958 novel about a Raleigh worker from Radford. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is deeply embedded in Nottingham history and culture and stands as testament to a working class world now long gone. The film adaptation was broadcast in 1960, directed by Karel Reisz and stared Albert Finney. BFI have acknowledged it as the 14th greatest British film of all time, despite Finney’s Manc accent…

When I was asked to do a bit of filming about Sillitoe I thought it was going to be a quick Vox Pop to be collated with other commentary to be used in workshops. But it turned out to be a 10 minute documentary. I mention this because these things live on for ever and I should have been a bit better prepared, particularly given the emotional and eloquent testimonies from Henry and David. The interview was done on my lunch break in between teaching, so it was always going to be a bit raw. This is just what happens when you’re juggling lots of things at once. TV and radio both require chunks of well focused observations. You need to pick out a relevant quote or a point and then unpack it a bit. But any sane human can’t bear to hear or see themselves in such things, so if you’re currently doing similar, don’t be too hard on yourself. Just don’t watch it…

The following information is taken directly from the City Arts website:

David Sillitoe on his father

This film features interviews with Alan’s son, David, who talks about his father’s work, upbringing and inspirations. He explains his father’s distaste for being described as an ”angry young man” and discusses what it was like for him to grow up as the son of a famous writer.

Me on Alan Sillitoe

Writer, academic and former LeftLion literature editor James Walker discusses the cultural context of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. James speaks about life in 1950s and 60s Nottingham and explains the themes that the novel touches on – the relationships, social life and working life of our city’s communities.

Henry Normal on Alan Sillitoe

Henry Normal is a writer, poet, TV and film producer, and patron of City Arts. He tells us how Sillitoe’s work influenced his own writing on acclaimed TV programmes including The Mrs Merton Show and The Royle Family. Henry also speaks passionately about how Nottingham, his home town, inspires his work, the same way it did Alan’s.

Raleigh workers on working at Raleigh

This film features appearances from former Raleigh workers, some of whom knew Sillitoe personally. They speak about what it was like to work at the factory around the same time the novel was set, explain how important the business was to the local community and compare Nottingham back then to Nottingham today.

These films were directed and produced by Tim Chesney on behalf of City Arts. We have been using them as inspiration in writing workshops for Nottingham residents aged 55+, part of our Words of Wisdom project. The films acted as a launch pad for people to tell their own stories, both real and imagined, drawing on their personal lives and exploring similar themes to the novel.

City Arts is working with Nottingham UNESCO City of LiteratureNottingham City Libraries and Nottingham City Homes on Words of Wisdom. The project is funded by Arts Council England and the Baring Foundation’s ‘Celebrating Age’ fund. You can see some of the poems produced for the project here.

Photo credit: Mark Gerson

Used with permission