After years of waiting and having to make do with a dodgy pirate copies hastily recorded when it makes an all too rare appearence on TV, the classic speedway film "Once a Jolly Swagman" finally gets an official DVD release this month.
The storyline may be a bit flimsy, but this largely forgotten film captures a real slice of British speedway history and shows just how popular the sport was at that time. The racing scenes are the highlight of the film for me and were filmed at London's famous New Cross stadium, which was home to speedway from 1934 to 1963. New Cross Rangers' stars Ron Johnson and Ron Howes are amongst the riders performing the action scenes, Howes being the stunt double for Bogarde.
Staring Dirk Bogarde, Bonar Colleano, Thora Hird, Sid James and Bill Owen, this British gem was nominated for a BAFTA in 1949. Bogarde, in only his second film, plays the role of Bill Fox, a bored factory worker who becomes a famous speedway star. He meets a glamorous society woman who introduces him to a new and exciting social circle and Bill quickly forgets his working class roots. Bill eventually becomes disillusioned with the Mayfair scene and marries Pat, the sister of his team mate, Lag Gibbon. Back at the track, he tries to form a riders union to ensure families are financially secure should an accident occur on the track. Pat tries to get Bill to pack up racing and open a garage, but Bill refuses and she leaves him. WW2 arrives and Bill enlists as a motorcycle despatch rider but after the war Bill is left with a dilema, should he make a racing comeback or get back together with his one true love?
Some trivia about the film - The original novel was written by Montagu Slater; The film was released as "Maniacs On Wheels" in the USA: Dirk Bogarde did not like motorbikes; a speedway track complete with pits was built at Pinewood Studios as a replica of New Cross Stadium; the title of the film refers to the charachter Lag Gibbon (played by Bill Owen in the film), an Australian rider who is heard whistling the tune. He is the rider featured in the clip above who crashes and has to retire from racing.
MotoFreako gives this film the thumbs up just for the nostalgic racing scenes and the sound of 500cc JAPs at full blat. The DVD is due to released on January 24th and you can pre-order your very own copy right here.