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Wild Bill Deegan
By John Hyam

'WILD BILL' Deegan's greatest claim to speedway fame was that he helped to set Eric Hockaday on the way to a distinguished career in the sport at Aldershot, Coventry, Exeter and Stoke in the late 1950s and 1960s.

For his part, Deegan was a pre-war rider on amateur tracks like High Beech, Rye House and Staines. In 1946, he turned up at Second Norwich and the following year had a spell in the Third Division with Plymouth. But legtrailer Bill never found the racing success he sought and turned to being a motorcycle stuntman - something akin to the pre-war American favourite Putt Mossman.

At the start of the 1950s, Deegan formed his 'Hell's Angels' troupe who were a popular attraction at various showgrounds in the south of England. Two of his stunt riders in 1951 and 1952 were Hockaday and Eric Jolly - the latter the nephew of another Eric, the immortal Eric Langton of Belle Vue and England fame.

It was as a result of their earnings with Deegan that Hockaday and Jolly earned enough to buy their first speedway bikes and join the Aldershot training school run by former West Ham, Norwich and Aldershot favourite Ivor 'Aussie' Powell.

Hockaday once recalled one of his stunts in the 'Hell's Angels' act. "I had to ride a motorcycle through a sheet of plate glass which was framed by flames. It was more a spectacle than dangerous but always thrilled the crowd, " he once told me.

For his part, Deegan made an abortive bid at a come-back in the Southern Area League with California early in the 1954 season. But after some practice rides and a disappointing second-half race he decided that he was more suited to motorcycle stunt work than speedway.

After that, Deegan faded from the speedway scene. Jolly never progressed very far, but as the record books show Hockaday was a top-line rider for many seasons in the late 1950s through to the late 1960s.

 

This article was first published on 15th December 2011


 

  • Marshian:

    "Saw Bill and his troup in 1967 or 68 at the showground in Rapheals Park after the Romford Carnival. They did various tricks including riding through a tunnel of fire. I was so impressed I applied for my provisional bike licence the day I was 16 in 1968 and I've been riding bikes ever since. Off to work on my Varadero in a few minutes (and I'm 60 Now!)"

  • Dan Hicks:

    "I was riding with "Demon Bill Deegan's Hell's Angels" in '67 and '68, after riding the Wall of Death at Southend Kursaal. I'm also still riding and will be making my first ever trip to the Isle of Man this year on my 1150 BMW."

  • Claudia:

    "I'm making a short film about motorcycle stunt riders and am looking to find out more about Bill Deegan's Hell Riders - especially their last years in the late 70s I believe. Does anyone know anyone who was with them, or can direct me to any descendants of Bill, or perhaps knows where I can find photos or videos from the shows? Thank you!"

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