Thursday, March 29, 2007

Damn kids, Damn Priests: Rev Bill Shergold, Father Graham Hullett and the The 59 Club

From the

"Whereas Bill Shergold was very much enjoyed the media spotlight as the face of The 59 Club for the Church of England over Curate John Oakley, the original founder of the London youth club ; for the rebel rocker element, the real heart and soul of The Fifty Nine Club was Father Graham Hullett. Graham was hands on with The Club from 1962 until 1970 staying involved to at least 1973. Yup, it might surprise you to discover that The 59 Club was a church run youth club intended to save the souls of errant yobs - but it was!
Graham was a biker from even before he went into the Army in Germany and a genuine friend to the young rockers. Bailing them out of trouble, enjoying a laugh on the Isle of Man, seeing them through hard times - often out of his own pocket and to his own personal risk - and sharing their love of motorcycles.

We are dedicated to the ongoing memory of Father Graham Hullett, a real biker, and the real story of the rebel rockers of the 59 Club. Although it was certainly the time of their lives for all parties, there were always two sides to the 59 Club. The nice boys who came in from polite suburbs with helmets and all the latest gear to be part of a scene; and the greasy yobs that rode in hatless and gloveless on whatever hardware they could string together from local estates for the birds."

That cohort, that made up what was remembered as " The Rockers ", were the scene;
" ... a leather jacket did not a Rocker make. "
So then , who was Rev Shergold?, let the padre tell it in his own words:
"A newspaper reporter once accused me of buying a motor bike and a leather jacket as a kind of gimmick to attract teenagers to my church. That is quite untrue. I had a motor bike long before leather jackets had become the rage. In face, my outfit when I first started motor cycling would certainly raise a laugh among the young motor cyclists of today. It consisted of a green beret, long blue police mac, riding breaches and DR boots, all bought at the local surplus stores. As for my bike -a BSA Bantam- I got it simply to get around my parish which at that time was in a new housing area near London Airport.
I was taught to ride by a member of our youth club, Eric Hall, who allowed me to practice on his brand-new Douglas Dragonfly. We used to go out in the late evening so that no one could see my escapades. Eventually he decided that I was ready to take my test. I went to Ealing and failed.

The examiner was a woman and I'm convinced that her pet aversions were vicars and motor bikes. In any event, not only did she fail me but, as if to twist the knife in the wound, she informed me that I was a menace to the public. Perhaps I was. But I passed next time-only just, for I ran out of petrol on the way home!
This stage in my motor cycling career could hardly be called successful. The bike was a dead loss. I can't remember how many times I pushed it from Hanworth to Twickenham for the dealer to tackle the latest fault. One day I was vainly kicking it outside the house of a parishioner. The milkman was chatting on the doorstep and remarked to the woman: "What a pity vicars aren't allowed to swear." Little did he know.

Twice it broke down on the way to a wedding and I was so embarrassed at conducting marriage services with greasy hands that I decided to sell it and go back to my old push bike.

I was so completely fed up with motorcycles at this stage that I vowed I would never have another one. This resolve I kept until 1959 when the Bishop sent me to take charge of the Eton College Mission at Hackney Wick. This is a big and busy parish and it soon became clear that I must have some form of transportation. Since I had never learned how to drive a car, I decided to take a chance and buy another bike. This time it was a secondhand C15 BSA. It was almost like starting to learn to ride all over again. I used to get up about 4 am and ride around the empty streets. The C15 was a dream after the Bantam, but I wasn't entirely certain that I had done the right thing in buying a bike.

Perhaps it would have been more in keeping with dignity of a middle-aged vicar to have bought a car and learned to drive. Then my mind was made up for me. I remember the incident quite vividly. We were having lunch in the Clergy House when the phone rang. A little boy in our Sunday school had been playing in a bombed site and a huge piece of concrete had fallen on his head. He was badly hurt and his parents wanted a priest wanted a priest to visit him at once. I knew I should have to use my bike. It sounded simple enough. But Brentwood was a long way from Hackney and it would mean going along the notoriously busy Eastern Avenue.

There was no time for hesitation and I set off at once. It was a nightmare ride for one so inexperienced, but I got there and was able to pray with the little boy. Incidentally, he made a remarkable recovery. Safely back at the Eton Mission, I was filled with a strange sense of elation. Not only had I conquered my fear of traffic, I had been able to use the bike for doing my work as a priest.

Next morning in church I deliberately offered my bike to God and asked Him to make use of it in His work. It was a prayer which has been answered in a way I could never have dreamed of.

For the next two or three years I used the bike for pottering around my parish, but the thought never entered my head that one day I would start a club for motor cyclists. Most of my time was taken up with the youth club, which had just been launched by the Revd. John Oates. Perhaps I ought to say a word about this club because it answers the question of why the club is called the 59."

Its a great site, check it all out and learn some Cafe Racer history. Warning: you will be tested on it later.

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