The Legend of the Raleigh Chopper

I was fortunate enough to own an orange Raleigh Chopper, bought only a few days after they began emerging from the production lines at Raleigh. As you may know, Nottingham was the home of Raleigh bicycles but sadly no more.

After the marvellous initial chick-pulling opportunities for a thirteen-year old with a Raleigh Chopper waned, along with the ever more common sight of the revolutionary looking machine on the roads, I slowly went back to my original love, my home made racing bike, constructed over time from an aluminium frame and complete with three optional back wheels.



      It was difficult not to be a success with the ladies on a Raleigh Chopper

The Chopper was actually pretty hopeless really, apart from offering great scope to anybody wanting to throw a heavy pose, (obligatory). The bike had been a long haul up however in the Frew household from the days of the BSA with one pedal that dad proudly brought home for me one day, after paying ‘someone down the pub’ the princely sum of £1. That trusty machine did not prove to be cost-effective however – effortlessly wearing out the left sole of around six pairs of Clarkes shoes where I had haplessly attempted to grapple with the problem of propelling the bike by twisting my left shoe around onto a bare pedal-less crank. Cheers, dad.

On a more serious note the great and glorious past of Raleigh bicycles and their association with Nottingham’s heritage of many and varied light industries ended very sadly. There was a time when practically everyone in this city knew someone who worked for Raleigh or one of it’s related companies, Sturmey Archer, (gears), Carlton, BSA, Triumph, and others.

When I was a youngster, the sight of the Raleigh workforce emerging down Triumph Road at ‘knocking-off time’ was quite awesome to my wide young eyes – like a vast army of workers pouring out into the streets and off home for their teas or an after work pint with the boys. Latterly that torrent of workers became a slender trickle, all very sad after a glorious past. Eventually and almost inevitably, the grand old company that had been part of the life-blood of Nottingham had withered and died.

These images were captured in the novel, ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning by the excellent local author Allan Sillitoe and converted to celluloid with great success. Indeed the film is still very much a cult classic with it’s tale of local, Radford working class hero and general bad boy, Arthur Seaton, played wonderfully by Albert Finney. The only minor criticism I would offer about the film was that, like many before and after him, Finney, and other cast members failed to capture the true Nottingham accent, rather more sounding like a native of south Yorkshire than displaying the guttural sounds of the East Midlands Lace City.

That book and film depicted industrial Nottingham of the 1950’s and 1960’s more accurately than most examples. I would certainly urge anybody looking for a gritty read to seek out the book, even more so in the case of Sillitoe’s prime other work, ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner and other short stories’, also turned into an excellent film starring that great actor Tom Courtney. Every single story in that little book is an eye-opener and I would recommend it wholly, probably more than almost anything in my entire book collection.

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