Motorcycle Racing and the Manx Line – Peter Duke……18.5.11

Peter Duke began his illustrated talk to the crowded theatre by sketching in the background to his illustrious, world-famous father. Now 88, with failing eyesight, Geoff remains in good spirits, forever linked to his remarkable achievements.

Geoff Duke’s career appears to have been set when he joined the Royal Signals as a motorcycle rider in WW2. He and a number of his group became very accomplished and made names for themselves as off-road competitors. The army bikes were challenging to ride, with their rigid back ends and girder forks.

As Peter spoke, whole screen pictures appeared behind him. This was cunningly low-tech in the capable hands of Sam knight.

The secret of Geoff’s success lay in meticulous preparation, walking and then cycling the course before mounting his bike. Even this didn’t save him on one early practice session at Milntown when he hit a fresh cowpat in the gutter. The marshal apologised, later, after the ensuing ‘tank slapper’ and recovery. He said that it never occurred to him that anyone would ride so close to the kerb! From then on, the course has been meticulously cleared.

He was offered but declined to attempt 300 mph on water at Lake Coniston, in Bluebird. Sadly, of course, Donald Campbell was killed in the attempt.

Geoff invented one-piece leathers, proved to improve lap speeds by 1mph. This was in 1950 and these soon became standard wear. Many awards followed, including a TT win on Norton in 1952 – I remember it well! This was my first year of motor- cycling, so I was madly impressed. I’m still impressed and still riding.

As Norton wouldn’t produce a multi-cylindered bike, Geoff went to Gilera. He introduced great improvements in handling so that by ’54, ’55 the handling was as good as a Norton. Who can forget that unmistakeable sound as the Gilera screamed round – unassailable! At this time he was earning from national advertising – Brylcreem, he didn’t use and for Senior Service cigarettes. The ad. was modified for him, as a non-smoker. He opened a case and said that he always offered his friends Senior Service!

Experiments with fairings took him from 130 to 155mph. The statistics are amazing, including winning 52% of all races.

Peter then moved onto the Manx Line, a shipping company that Geoff helped to found. It was more comfortable and cheaper than the Steam Packet and earned a dedicated following. Clearly, the Packet fought this, backed, says Peter, by politicians of the day. Peter has provided material for Stan Basnett’s recent book, Manx Line. Many of the illustrations were used from this book. Given still current concerns about links with adjacent isles, this book is well worth a read and sharing.

Where did it all go wrong? The book should make some people feel very uncomfortable.

Peter, a splendid presentation – thank you!