With Team GB in Rio for the Olympic Games, the blog looks at the Balham CC men with links to the greatest show on earth – a cyclist who made it to the 1920 road race squad, a frame-builder who’s bikes were used at the 1932 games and the man in charge of entertaining the world’s cycling dignitaries on 250 quid in London, 68 years ago.
1920 Basil’s brush with the Antwerp Olympics
Balham CC’s Basil Bragg was born in 1900 and grew up at 60 Barrington Road, Brixton with his mother Edith and father William, a building contractor.
According to a newspaper report, Basil only took up cycling seriously in 1919 and yet by 1920 was named in the Great Britain Olympic squad. A report on the Tunbridge Wells meeting in the 28 May 1920 edition of the Kent & Sussex Courier encapsulates the buzz around Basil at this time:
“The outstanding feature of the sports was the fine riding by B Bragg of the Balham Cycling Club, who won all the cycling events, viz., the mile handicap, the mile scratch, and the half-mile handicap. He displayed fine judgement and proved a great favourite with the crowd. His future career will be watched with great interest in the cycling world.”
A snippet from the Kent Courier states he then entered the 50 Mile National Championship at Herne Hill. He must have done well as he was picked for the British Olympic road race squad soon after. Basil didn’t make it to Antwerp though, being named road race reserve along with another star name from South London, Charlie Davey.
There are few clues as to what he did next but two newspaper articles suggest he moved on to a successful career in motor cycles. The 1939 Register describes him as a motor engineer living with his parents at 35 Abbotswood Road, Wandsworth. One reason for the change of address could have been a burglary 12 years earlier. The 23 August 1927 edition of the Gloucester Citizen reports of 34 stolen cycling and motor cycling medals (see cutting).
As an aside he also earned a mention in the 19 June 1925 edition of the Surrey Mirror for going over the speed limit which got him a £4 fine.
The 1949 Balham CC Handbook lists Basil as an honorary life member.
1932 Butler makes marque on LA games
Balham CC club member Claud Butler was a bicycle dealer and builder. From the late 20s the ‘CB’ marque came with a reputation for quality and in 1932 his cycles and tandems were used at the Los Angeles Olympics.
Claud understood marketing and wasn’t shy at letting the world know of his five-ringed connection, something that would have had the Olympic brand police knocking on his door today.
For a number of years he sold his cycles ‘as used in the Olympics’ and even named the tandem ‘The CB Record Olympic Model’.
Other models used in LA were the DSH World Championship ‘CB’ Path Model and the EHC International ‘CB’ Path Model, both of which were used in the sprints (see brochure).
The initials ‘EHC’ stood for Ernie Henry Chambers who rode in the 1928 and 1932 Olympics winning a silver on the tandem in each. He was a permanent member of Claud’s staff before eventually starting out on his own.
We’re gonna party like it’s 1948
In 1948 Len Vanner was a Balham CC Vice President and an active member of the National Cyclists Union. In June of that year he also found himself in charge of the London Olympics Cycling Entertainment and Reception with a budget of £250.
In the April 1949 issue of the club magazine Balham Gazette he looked back at some of the challenges of being a 1948 Games Maker:
…“Entertainment and Reception – a phrase which caused more than one uplift of eyebrows among the rank and file – was another problem that had to be overcome. The main organising committee of the Games was not prepared to do homage to the governing powers in the same way as foreign bodies do on the occasion of the World’s Championships etc, and so the Union was compelled to make this provision.”
“Of that Committee I was appointed Chairman and I must say that but for the efforts of my committee…we should have had a sad and sorry face to show the International representatives.”
When London hosted the 1948 Olympic Games the people of post-war Britain were still surviving on food and energy rations, unemployment had reached 2 million and their was a chronic housing shortage. Len was keen to highlight to members the financial prudence that underpinned the entertainment itinerary.
“I would like to make it clear that the cost to the Union was £250 for all the arrangements which included the opening ceremonial function presided over by the Mayor of St Pancras, a river trip (expenses by Brooks Saddles), a Trip over Dunlop’s (at Dunlop’s expense) and various other items through the medium of which the International Presidents and Vice Presidents and Competitors from abroad were introduced to London and other places of interest. No member of the Union (other than competitors) received a free invitation and all Union members, including Press and the various committee men had to foot their own bill for the festivities. Thus did the Union play its part in advertising Britain for the purpose of inducing a ‘dollar’ entry!
The road race event held 13th August 1948 at Windsor Great Park was deemed a great success. No evidence has been found as to whether the trip to Dunlop’s was a triumph or not.
Do you have any more information on Basil Bragg, London’s efforts to host the Olympic cycling road race event or Claud Butler? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, drop me a line in the box below or add a comment on the BBC Facebook page. I would love to hear from you.
My very own copy of The Bicycle, 23rd July 1952 which was the basis for an earlier Claud Butler article on this blog
Information from The Balham Gazette and Balham CC Handbook was from the Johnny Simcock collection.
Wikipedia was used for Ernie Chambers and 1948 Olympics information
The 1939 Register was a critical tool in coordinating the WW2 effort at home. It would be used to issue identity cards, organise rationing and more. Description and B Bragg details from FindMyPast