I’ve frequently commented in this space about how often the CRTV crew hears some of the best stories about the café racer heyday from veteran rockers long after the taping has finished for the day. Maybe it’s the glare of TV spotlamps or perhaps it’s regular riders forgetting some of their best stories when the cameras are rolling, but it’s usually when we’re relaxing in some small, cozy British pub, hours after the shoot has concluded, when the genuinely jaw-dropping tales start to emerge. In the interest of recalling some of these conversations not captured on tape, I’ve started keeping a diary during our frequent overseas travels, and I find myself paging through the entries every so often for a good laugh.
One of my favorite stories came from Steve Paulson, a grizzled old Rocker who, today, lives in the South English seaside town of Southend On Sea. The annual Southend Shakedown run reaches this destination point each April, and that’s when we met Steve, smoking hand-rolled ciggies and leaning on his vintage café racer. He explained that, in the 1960s when mods and rockers made boxing arenas out of tidy Victorian vacation towns like Southend, two distinct differences were apparent. “There weren’t many birds (girls) around, and what of them we saw was usually with some bloke who would take a swing at anybody who looked at his bird.”
“Second, the Rockers all was together as mates, but you had to keep an eye on your motor if you had a really mint bike, because they could and did get nicked,” he explained.
Steve went on to explain that, while hanging out at the Cellar coffee bar and café in what was then his hometown of Windsor, a few days before the annual Southend run, his prized AJS 7R café racer was stolen while he was inside playing pinball. The 7R was one of the fabled, and very fast British racing singles produced in the 1950s and for a young man like Steve to own one was a feat only achieved by working long hours and borrowing as much money from friends and relatives as possible, he explained.
Though most of the rockers in the Cellar knew each other quite well and had ridden and raised hell on the rods between London and Windsor for months, Steve says there was always “a few dodgy characters about” who everyone suspected of being thieves of one sort or another.
Word quickly spread to be on the look-out for the stolen AJS and by the time the weekend arrived, Steve had arranged to ride pillion down from Windsor to Southend to keep and eye peeled for the missing motorbike. All the blokes were ready to find the bike and do whoever nicked it in the first place,” Steve explained. “While we was passing a café on the way down, we spots the AJS parked up outside. It was painted a very distinct red and white and I knew the moment I saw her. I start yelling like a madman when I spot her, so we all pull in, and off come our belts and the chains we used to secure the bikes, ready for a dust-up. But then I remember that I still had me key on a chain around me neck, so I just slips it into the ignition, kicks here over, gentle-like and off we go. I never did find out who nicked my AJ, but the bastard had a nice, long walk home.”
– Mike Seate