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Backwords: Wall Of Death

Mike Shaw recalls the thrills of the fairground Wall Of Death shows.

The lure of the revving motorbikes and the spiel of the fairground barker was an irresistible combination.

“Come on in and see for yourself the death-defying feats on the Wall of Death,” bawled the man outside the gaudily-painted structure at Huddersfield’s Easter Fair.

The entrance fee was expensive -- I don’t recall exactly how much but even a tanner (2½p) was a lot 60 years ago -- so my mate and I hesitated before splashing out.

But when one of the leather-clad riders appeared with his bike the temptation was too great.

So up and up the wooden steps we went and inside at the top. To look down on the huge wooden cylinder whose vertical walls looked an impossible prospect for men and machines.

It seemed an age before the two riders and their machines appeared inside the arena, watched by scores of pairs of eyes peering over the parapet high above the ground.

And, to impatient youngsters like us, the preliminaries also seemed endless as the riders warmed up the bikes and made minor adjustments.

In retrospect, I suppose it was all part of a carefully worked out plan to build up the atmosphere and the tension. With lots of noise and fumes for good measure.

Then, with a final warning from the rotund barker about the dangers of leaning over the parapet, they were off.

Slowly, ever so slowly, at first, one of the riders eased his bike on to the foot of the wooden wall and began circling a few feet from the ground.

That was interesting enough. But a sudden burst of the throttle signalled a climb up until he was racing round the boards almost within touching distance of the gaping onlookers.

Spectacular though the manoeuvre was, the best was yet to come as the biker began zooming up and down from top to bottom.

And the thrills were stepped up even more when he was joined by his partner to become a pair of whirling dervishes, swooping and soaring amid a cacophony of engine roar.

When it was over the riders duly took their bow. And the applauding watchers were invited by the silver-tongued barker to show their appreciation of the show by tossing coins down from their elevated perch.

Many did, and I wasn’t at all surprised. For me and my mate it was thrill-a-minute value for money.

In another corner of the Canker Lane fairground was a good old-fashioned boxing booth, where challengers were sought from among the crowd for the resident fighters.

Real bruisers they looked, as well. So it wasn’t really surprising that they had difficulty in finding opponents.

In any case, having splashed out on the Wall of Death, pocket money certainly didn’t stretch to a seat in the boxing tent.

Nor a ride on the awesome looking Shamrock, a swing boat of enormous proportions that held dozens of screaming, shrieking youngsters.

Instead, we had to be content with trying -- without success -- to make a profit on the roll-a-penny stalls.

And saving a few coppers for a bag of fish and chips before reluctantly dragging ourselves away from the glare and blare -- to catch a trolly-bus back to the peace and quiet of Marsden.


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