Caught having a crafty fag behind the bike sheds

Time to take another trip back in time and find out how young Robin Ace Reporter coped as the 60s came to an end.

The first of my block release training courses in Cardiff came to an end and it was time to head home, not just for the weekend but for the next 10 months.

It was good to be back at work and not to feel like a schoolboy any more. Mind you we had been given “homework”.

Our English teacher had set us the task of researching and writing a feature piece on any subject we fancied.

Themed work like this reminded me of a punishment I was given at school after being caught smoking on school premises.

I was actually caught out by the biology teacher who, instead of marching me off to the headmaster’s office, decided I should benefit from my misdemeanor and told me to write a 1,000 word piece on the links between smoking and lung cancer.

In a way he did me a favour in that he had set me the task of researching what in my journalistic future would be considered a form of investigative reporting.

At the time, however, I was still a contrary, bloody-minded teenager and I scoured the school library and the town library for everything that disproved any connection between the two.

Nowadays it is easy to find the information you need online. It is also easy to find the information that suits your agenda online.

It was not so easy in the 60s when your best friend was a card file index and you had to hope you would find what you wanted.

Nowadays there is so much information that you drown in the stuff.

The pros and cons of smoking were still in their early stages at this time and the teacher in question did allow me access to papers he had collected when they were published.

I can’t remember the full details of that school essay but basically I centred it on research that had looked at cases of lung cancer in industrial or heavily urbanised areas as opposed to rural areas.

In part this research indicated that it was possible for a non-smoker to live for 50 years in an industrial or urbanised area and die of lung cancer.

It also indicated that a smoker could live for 80 years in a rural area and not show any signs of lung cancer.

It satisfied me at the time to present my findings, which went against what the teacher had hoped for, and highlight that this came from his own research papers.

The point is that I could just as easily have done a Boris Johnson and written an essay putting the totally opposite viewpoint.

Getting back to my journalistic “homework” – I chose to do a feature on the rise of the Hells Angels and their effect on motorbike groups in Britain in the 1960s.

At the time, late 1969 into 1970, the Hells Angels were known about but had not yet made the break into Europe although many British motorcycle gangs were beginning to adopt a pseudo Angels’ look.

Research material on the Angels was readily obtainable as they had been operating for over 20 years by then (the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club was formed after the Second World War, initially by bikers who had served in USAAF fighter squadrons, and traditionally St Patrick’s Day 1948 is considered the founding date).

I was more interested in finding out whether the Angels had an influence on the British bikers and in this I was in a perfect position in Rhyl during the summer of 1970.

The seaside town had more resident motorbike riders than fashion-conscious scooter fans (known in the 60s as Mods).

These young bikers were often the siblings of the 1950s Teddy Boys and were heavily into rock ‘n’ roll and the cowboy music of “outlaws” such as Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson.

On evenings and at weekends my old mate Roger Steele and I would go down to some of the favoured haunts of these guys and over a few drinks it was easy to turn the conversation to the bike fraternity; the seaside battles between Mods and Rockers earlier in the 60s; and the rise of Hells Angels in America and their influence on British biker gangs.

By the end of that first summer of the 70s I probably had enough research to fill a book.

That’s when I had to start the real work of condensing it into a feature length piece.

After all the work I put into it the reaction from the English teacher was very satisfying.

“Robin has produced a racy yet readable article on a subject which encapsulates the 60s for many people.”

It certainly gave me a grounding for some of the feature work I did later in the 70s when I moved down south. In another way it was useful on advertising features and others on the Rhyl Journal.

Published by Robin

I'm a retired journalist who still has stories to tell. This seems to be a good place to tell them.

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