With little to write about in terms of current Scottish racing we’re staying on the Retro Trail; going back a little before even my time – to the 60’s and Mr. Tony Mills who’s still involved in the sport, helping Dave Rayner Fund riders find their feet in La Belle France.
Tell us about your amateur career please, Tony.
“I started racing at 16 as there were no schoolboy events in those days, probably my best result was seventh in the British Junior Championship at Goodwood.
“I had thought I would do better but due to the Seventh day Adventists complaining there was no lap bell for final lap so results were just given to the riders as they crossed the finish line.
“I was fourth in the London Centre junior champs in ‘57 won by a certain Alf Engers.
“I turned Senior in ‘58 and started winning the longer senior races such as the Orpington Carnival which was an Olympic selection race, the Esoteric race and the Fred Cowley.
“I had about eight or 10 wins, I think.
“I then joined the Army on my national service in September 1958.
“The following year I won the army Cyclo-cross Championships.
“In 1960 I was still in the army but took out an independent licence for Fred Dean Cycles.”
You turned pro in ’61 but no sponsor?
“I was actually an Independent but rode mainly in Normandy, France.
“I won my first race out here [Tony lives in France, ed.], the Grand Prix Deauville (that’s the race they show in the Poirot TV series – I have attached that photo).
“We had to return to the UK due to a team mate’s illness.
“On my return I won the first stage of Brighton London into Crystal palace, then was third in the sprint in the afternoon stage, that gave me the overall win.”
You were second to ‘Iron Man’ Dave Bedwell in the National Championship in ‘61, any ‘what ifs’?
“Not really, no ‘what ifs’ – he was one of the best sprinters in the country, he had been a pro for a long time; he was always really friendly and helpful to me so no regrets but of course it would have been nice to win.
“I was sixth in the ‘62 round National at Rochester hill, ‘63 I had good form having been third in London Holyhead but had a mechanical.
“In ‘64 I was fourth, it ended up two groups of two, Keith Butler won from Albert Hitchen and Ged Vole outsprinted me for third.”
Season ’62 and riding for Ryalls’, tell us about how the deal came about and what the team was like.
“Ken had approached me and Mick Coward to ride for Ken Ryall and Raxar clothing.
“It was a good set up and Ken looked after us.
“Ken had been manager for teams in the Peace Race and he was really helpful.
“Back in those day when you didn’t receive much kit he always made sure we had enough kit and spares.
“Doug Collins joined the team from Condor Mackeson in about ‘63 or ‘64 as did Alan Jacobs in ‘65 and he had about 14 wins that year.”
What was the UK professional scene like in the 60’s?
“Most of the UK based lads were Independents with the continental based lads like Barry Hoban, Tom Simpson, Alan Ramsbottom and the like having a full Pro licence.
“Being an independent you could ride the bigger amateur races along with professional only races.
“We had some good sponsored races such as the ones sponsored by Corona and Mackeson with £100 first prizes which was probably around five or six weeks wages – so it could be quite lucrative.”
Who were the ‘men to beat’?
“Falcon cycles had a good team with Albert Hitchen and Billy Holmes; Quinn Everyman with Bill Bradley and Kenny Nuttel; Carlton with Pete Chisman and Arthur Metcalf and of course Condor Mackeson with Colin Lewis, Hugh Porter and Dave Bonner.
“Johnny Perks and Bernie Burns were top riders as were Peter Gordon, Derek Harrison, and Dave Bedwell.”
And I believe you raced in Belgium?
“I only raced there a few weeks at a time, I spent more time in the first few years in France.
“I also rode the Tour of Switzerland, Circuit de la Sarthe and the Tour of Yugoslavia.”
Tell us about your training.
“It was nothing like today just a lot of hard work and miles; mainly I worked with an early start so used to go out early afternoon.
“I used to try and get in a few long rides each week or around six hours or so.
“It was difficult as I was married with a young family.”
And your bikes – what was your favourite?
“Probably my Condor, it rode fantastically.
“Probably better than most in that era but my Fred Dean and my Ken Ryall were also good; I was always just grateful that people let me have good equipment to ride.”
You were third in London-Holyhead in ‘64, what are your memories of that day?
“It was always a week after the Tour of the West so you had good form after a week-long race.
“Also living in Battersea, Marble Arch for the start was easy to ride, being only a couple of miles over the Thames.
“The long race suited me and that year instead of the normal 265 mile due to the roadworks that year it ended up being 275 miles.
“I had a mechanical early on and the neutral service gave me a wheel with a huge fat tyre on it and he knocked my break blocks out so I had to get a repair and get back on (there’s an old video on Youtube somewhere showing that…).
“I got away with Billy Holmes at about 100 miles to go and managed to pick up a couple of late primes in the Welsh Mountains somewhere, so I knew I was going well.
“Coming into the finish with Albert Hitchen and Billy Holmes I had to settle for third.”
Season ’66 and you’re with Condor Mackeson. Why leave Ryall and go there, and what was the team like?
“The UCI scrapped the Independent licence so across Europe we all had to become professionals, the Condor Mackeson team were offering a more favourable contract and having a young family it seemed more secure.
“I think we had Dave Bonner, Barry Jones, Billy Perkins and John Aslin.
“It was a really good set up arranged by Monty Young at Condor and Frank Westell; I think we were the first team in the country to be on a full Campagnolo groupset.”
The following season and a move to EG Bates – why, and what was the team like?
“I was in the team with Ron Pannell, Barry Jones and Frank Stonham.
“It was a nice team of lads but on a smaller budget.
“I was riding ok.”
Season ’68 and Chris Barber, tell us about that move and what the team was like?
“Chris headed a well-known Jazz band in the 60’s.
“Stu Morrison the Banjo player (who took over from Lonnie Donegan in the band) was a friend of Ron Pannell’s suggested to Chris Barber about having a team.
“We had a reasonable budget but I was winding down by then as we had three kids so I was really rider/manager.
“I spent more time on domestic life and trying to put together deals for the team.
“I really had too many commitments at the time so had to make some decisions; I became just the team manager, a role in which I signed riders like Roger Claridge, Peter Chisman, Brian Tadman and Roger Newton who all did well for us.
“I had been on the Pro Riders Committee with Wily Bilby and also was serving on the Surrey Division Committee.
“I thought the pros were not really getting will represented with the BCF so I approached the TUC to form a union to allow the pro class to race in a bigger field than 40 riders.
“I phoned the TUC and I went to meet a Labour peer – whose name I can’t remember – he advised we were going to be the second smallest union after the London Jewish Bakers union!
“He advised that limiting the field would be a restriction of trade so that scared a few bureaucrats at the time.
“It was a few years later that I started our first shop, Emperor Sport with my old team mate Mick Coward, we started out in a small shop in Sutton before moving to a larger premises in Cheam.
“That was when we had Sean Yates’ dad come in to buy a second hand bike for his son.
“I could see he was going to be pretty special and we helped him out.
“We had a fax machine which was unusual then.
“I had a number that I had found for an organiser in France and a few phone calls and faxes later we got Sean a ride in the GP de Nations and the GP of France.
“After this I set up our next shop, Dauphin Sport and we had a great lot of customers some of whom we helped out and they went onto to get decent results, such as Steve Douce, seven times National Cyclo-cross Champion; a young Roger Hammond and Chris Lillywhite who went on to win the Milk race and National Criterium Championship.
“Then there’s Neil Hoban, the National Criterium Champion, Steve Sefton, a Milk Race stage Winner, Simon Cope who was another National Criterium Champion – most of whom we’re still are in touch with.
“Our first mail order customer was a certain Mr. Eddy Hood!”
You did a bit of ‘cross too?
“I won the Army champs but I wasn’t a specialist.
“I always thought it was a branch of the sport to encourage and was great publicity in the winter, when we had Dauphin we became agents for Alan bikes and through that ended up helping out Paolo Guerciotti riders.
“Stars like Mike Kluge, Roland Liboton, Vito Di Tano – and they reciprocated with riders like the Douce brothers getting into Italian and Belgian ‘cross races.”
Which performances do you look back on with most pride?
“I was always happy with my ride in the Isle of Man pro race when I was 10th in a top class field; and one year I won the Winchester Olympic Grand Prix by six minutes around Watership Down.
“I won the most aggressive rider in the Circuit de La Sarthe, I won a whole central heating system which went down well at the hotel we stayed at in Caen.
“For years later the owner, Edmond would accommodate young UK riders and help them find clubs in France from it.”
You live in France now, is that because you raced there and fell in love with the country?
“Yes, when we retired I bought a camper van and we used to go away in it.
“At the Worlds in Plouay in 2000 my wife saw a house she thought was lovely and later that evening we saw it was for sale in the local estate agents and decided to buy it.
“So 20 years later we are still here and all the family followed us out here.
“My Grandchildren now go to school here and take the mick when we speak French.
“I still go out to races most weekends when they are on.
“The last few years we have helped out young riders from the Dave Rayner Fund find teams in France; it’s great to see some of them progress on to pro teams…”