Being There: Hugh Anderson’s autobiography
THE QUIET ACHIEVER
In the prologue to this genuinely excellent addition to motorcycle literature, Hugh Anderson is recovering from a crash during practice for the New Zealand Classic two-day event at Pukekohe in 2008. He is 72 and has been looking forward to beating local hard man Dave Cole, again. His much-loved wife, Janny, is again tending to his injuries.
“During our 52 years of marriage, there have been two occasions following race accidents when she has been told that I was dead.
“There have been many less dramatic, non-life threatening incidents including a broken back, shoulders, legs, arms, feet, hands, dislocations, a fractured skull and other things including what is now hurting – ribs, lots of ribs.
“While Janny is not always pleased about it, being a trained nurse and a person of courage, character and common sense, she copes well and would never ask me to give up the sport I love. And so, after breakfast on this particular day, I made a commitment to write this book.”
For those who live under a rock, Anderson was born in 1936 and raised in Ohinewai, near Huntly, in New Zealand. He joined the Continental Circus, as European racing was known in 1960, and had a spectacular career, rubbing shoulders – literally, and often at 200km/h – with the likes of Mike Hailwood, Tom Phillis, John Surtees, Bob McIntyre, Jim Redman, Derek Minter, Luigi Taveri, Phil Read and just about everyone else of note from that golden era.
The result was around 100 wins and places in international events including four world championships (50cc and 125cc in 1963, 50cc in ’64 and 125cc in ’65) and eight podiums at the Isle of Man, including two TT wins. All this was on top of his NZ successes before he left and after he retired from the international scene in 1966. He was awarded an MBE in 1994 for services to motorcycling.
In achieving his greatness, Anderson acknowledges he wrestled with demons. It came to a head at the 1962 IoM TT when fellow NZ racer Colin Meeham was killed, along with Australian champ Tom Phillis. Anderson took himself down to the Isle’s Douglas Bay, lit a cigarette and reflected: “Since my first ride at the Austrian GP back in May, 1960, of the six riders who finished in front of me, only one, John Hartle, was still alive.
“Dave Chadwick, Peter Ferbrache, Bobby Brown and Dickie Dale had all gone. My pirate mate, Ralph Renson, Ronnie Miles too, and now Tom. There had been many lesser-known names who had copped it. Really, what chance was there of me staying alive?”
The seeds of an answer had already been sown by Anderson’s professional approach to his racing. The chapter dealing with how he learnt the IoM circuit is riveting reading and explained to me for the first time how it was even possible.
While others who rode there, including Australia’s Peter Jones, say they survived because they treated it as ‘fast touring’, Anderson wanted to do the right thing by his sponsors. He wanted to win.
“If I were to follow my heroes, then I had to face the risks they had faced and accept the consequences. There were no alternatives.”
Anderson arrived in England with his brother Gordon and a pair of Manx Nortons (350cc and 500cc) which he raced with mixed success, but certainly enough to startle the locals and attract the interest of both the media and potential sponsors.
He bought a Ford Thames van (hint from Hugh: don’t trust what the salesmen at Dagenham Motors in Woolwich tell you!) and slept in it for months on end following the ‘Circus’.
Money was tight. Anderson tells of how his racing helmet was not just rejected by IoM officials in 1960 but actually confiscated.
“I picked up my gearbag, struggled to thank the well-intentioned man and set off on the long walk back to the garage. There was no need for a pen and paper to work out my financial position.
“It was just 15 pounds, including all the small change, less the price of a new helmet at five pounds and 10 shillings.” A British motorcycle newspaper writer noted Anderson had arrived without having eaten breakfast and that it had been a choice between food and petrol and petrol had won.
Anderson’s successes, however, led to the offer of race bikes and he spent much of his international career on an AJS 7R as well as riding Matchless 650s in production races.
His big break came at the IoM in 1961 when he was offered a contract by the fledgling Suzuki race team to pilot its 125 and 250cc twins. The contract didn’t exclude him racing his own bikes in the larger classes but it opened the door to what eventually became four world championships for Anderson and the beginning of the great success story of Suzuki.
After he ‘retired’, Anderson helped Suzuki develop its motocross bikes, which led to more world championships for the company.
Being There covers arguably the most interesting time in the history of motorcycle racing.
Don Cox’s excellent book Circus Life follows the Antipodean racers in this period in broad strokes but Anderson’s work delivers an intimate insight into one man’s amazing adventure.
It’s the story of a small-town New Zealander with the drive to be his best against the backdrop of the Japanese flexing their muscles for the first time in an industry previously dominated by the British and Europeans.
Anyone who thinks the eventual success of Japanese two-strokes was an easy path needs to read how Anderson learned the hard way to always ride with his fingers resting on the clutch lever. Being There is also, surprisingly, a love story.
The way Hugh presents Janny, if he hadn’t married her I would have done it myself. The early relationship wasn’t without complications but the story weaves effortlessly into the racing narrative.
The style of writing is humble, self-effacing and honest. Such is Anderson’s nature that there isn’t much gossip.
Almost everyone he met liked him and he liked them in return.
The astute reader may pick up, however, that Anderson wasn’t impressed by Phil Read’s racing ethics.
In contrast, Ernst Degner, the East German rider and designer who escaped to the West in spectacular fashion before teaching Suzuki how to make race-winning two-stroke engines, taught Anderson how to beat Read on race tracks. It was an era of gentlemen.
This is a true, DIY autobiography to the extent that Hugh picked up the books himself from the printer in late November in his Toyota HiAce van and a covered trailer.
You can buy it from motorcycle shops in all centres. You can also buy it directly from Hugh and, if you ask politely, he may even sign it.
I couldn’t put Being There down and if this issue of MT is late, Hugh Anderson is to blame. The writing is absolutely gifted and this is a must-read book. The title is prophetic: I genuinely felt like I was ‘There’.
Availability: From motorcycle stores, bookshops, web stores, direct on (0011647) 853 2711 or via email at HughAnderson@Clear.net.nz