an erstwhile friend of mine was, and perhaps still is, a big fan of a heavy metal band, a band which i will not sully these pixels by naming. it's a not inconsiderable undertaking to travel from islay to either glasgow or edinburgh to attend concerts of any kind, but such was his fandom, he would literally drop everything to be present at or near the front row of any concert promoting this un-named band.
though likely a generalisation on my part and somewhat of a cliche, members of the musical institute of heavy metal are not averse to drinking vast quantities of liquid refreshment, though reputedly only to excess. in the process of both my, now removed to the mainland, friend and the singer of this anonymous band enjoying an apres gig pint, they happened to bump into each other, in a manner of speaking. surprised and overjoyed to come face to face with his long-time hero, he attempted to engage him in deep and meaningful conversation.
recounting this story to me some weeks later, i had expected the story to be one of unbounded joy, since rare are the meetings between acolyte and the worshipped. however, there is a well-worn phrase to the effect that one should never meet one's heroes because they may not live up to the lofty heights that years of adoration have constructed. in this case, the epithet held up its side of the bargain. "he was a total p**ser" was his final word on the subject.
hero worship is all well and good provided it is tempered with the knowledge that such is generally based on the hero's/heroine's achievements rather than their personality. the only musician hero that i have wanted to meet is bill bruford, and on the one occasion that we did meet in person, he was very polite and gracious, though i confess we did not spend more than a couple of minutes exchanging pleasantries. if i shift the conversation to hero worship within the realm of cycling, and i am happy to admit to being of an age at which such has a tendency to be a mite unseemly, i would dearly like to meet robert millar, but i have a notion that is very unlikely to happen.
the mighty dave t, a man of stature and lengthier heritage than my own, held brian robinson to be the hero of the day when dave were a lad. they too have never met, but on the evidence of graeme fife's superb biography recently released by mousehold press, and this unstintingly comprehensive documentary by ray pascoe, any meeting with brian robinson is likely to be a most gentlemanly affair.
though modern day top professional cyclists are cossetted, supported and feted worldwide, things were considerably different in the 1950s, particularly for an englishman in france. britain was not, and likely is still not, regarded as one of europe's great cycling nations, therefore any rider foolhardy enough to relocate to the velocipedinal heartlands had not only an uphill struggle to carve a career in the professional ranks, but in the case of someone from uk shores, the need to prove one's mettle all the more. that brian robinson achieved this without seemingly compromising his personality or ethics, is one that could be well learned nowadays.
though professional riders of the fifties often received contracts, unless you were the cream of the crop, these were unlikely to be as lengthy or as watertight as is currently the case. thus a rider who participated in the tour de france as part of a national team of mixed nationalities had not only to look after his own well-being, but be sufficiently strong to gather a palmares that would promote automatic entry to the post tour criteriums. this is how money was earned.
brian robinson was a member of the first british team to take part in the tour de france in 1955 and the first brit to win a stage (1958), reprising such with a solo 150km ride in 1959 to win at chalon-sur-saone. ray pascoe, famed for his cycling nostalgia series of dvd productions, has a fabulously neutral, transparent production style, allowing his subjects to speak for themselves either through contemporary interview footage, or rare archive footage that likely no-one has seen for many a long year. though perhaps less relevant to the brian robinson story, there is also film of brian participating in the phil and friends ride with phil ligget, local rides with the tint and during his duties as president of the dave rayner fund at the annual dinner.
while it is his racing exploits on the continent that many hold in high esteem, and which ultimately carved his name in stone, it is salutory and endearing to see that he is still the gentleman his past reputation foretells him to be and that cycling is still as much a part of his life today. many a cyclist of the era, dependent on earning a crust by how fast he could ride a bicycle, has maintained a less than colloquial connection with the sport when theracing career has ended. it was a masterstroke to have writer graeme fife read the appropriate chapter from his book, detailing robinson's solo victory in the stage from annecy in 1959, accompanied by some incredible black and white footage of the stage. pascoe has also managed to include colour footage taken by mr cycling, ron kitching, of the tour's atmosphere in the late nineteen fifties. it is all too easy to forget, in these modern times of internet race coverage, that even the tour de france was far less well documented on celluloid.
much has been said and marketed regarding cycling's luxurious heritage, and it is not only the exploits of individuals such as brian robinson that have added to the panoply, but the obsessive nature of men such as ray pascoe. he has ensured that cycling's heritage remains more than an intangible marketing ploy, preserving and enhancing the careers of the brits who had the temerity to throw themselves mind, soul and body into the maelstrom that is/was european professional cycling.
this is not what might be regarded as a blockbuster in movie terms, but there is no doubt that this superb dvd should be filed under essential.
ray pascoe's 'brian robinson; a gentleman cyclist' is available direct from bromley video at a cost of £17.99.
posted wednesday 30th march 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................