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They Called Me Darling!
by Dave Gifford

A Norton Dominator Cafe Racer

Yes, it's true, they really did, even some of the girls! It happened when I became involved in showbiz back in the winter of 67. Grim times they were, I'd like to say we were poor but happy, but we weren't, we were poor and bloody miserable. Now I have many old friends in Manchester whom I wouldn't dream of offending, but lets face it, there couldn't be many places that were less appealing than that great old city in the middle of winters icy grip. Reading springs to mind, or Sunderland, but that's about it.

Grey skies, grey people, grey buildings, still dark at nine in the morning and dark again by three and I was depressed. I should have been lying on one of our fabulous beaches here in New Zealand having sand kicked in my face by big guys, but instead I was eking out a living working as a mechanic for a trucking firm while waiting for the next season to begin.

But one day a tiny glimmer of light, a message from my promoter Mike Parker, could I meet him at his office to discuss something that would be to my advantage as soon as possible? Well the next chance I got to road test a truck I called in to see him to find out what was so urgent. Now Mike had a mate by the name of Tommy Mann, an ex pro wrestler turned night club owner, who also worked as a stunt coordinator for Granada TV and at that time they were filming a series that called for some motor cycle stunt work to be done and Mike had thought of me. "There's a crash scene in it Davey ludd, so I thought of you immediately, you're a bluddy natural, so I want you to get yourself geared oop and get down t'studio to meet t'head of casting" I asked what was in it for me and Mike assured me that I'd be well paid "there'll be brass, ludd" so I decided to give it a punt.

Three of us went down to the Granada Studios so they could pick someone the right size, Australian Allan "Skippy" Paynter who rode for us at Newcastle a few times was one, but I can't remember the third person. Actually Skippy was the hairiest guy I ever saw, when he took his leathers off it was like he had another set on underneath. Some people do say that evolution travels at a more sedate pace in Australia.

Well I got the job and was given instructions to meet the film crew in the car park of a certain restaurant, somewhere near the East Lancs Road, at lunchtime the following day, which I duly did. I wandered over to the group that was gathered around some Granada TV vans and asked who was in charge. "I am" said one of them, "I am the Director, and you are?" "I'm the stuntman" I replied. "Oh, how simply super" he said. "We're all going to have lunch and then we'll go and have a look at the location". Being a Kiwi I asked the inevitable "Who's paying?" and he laughed. "This is Television" he said "we pay for everything, it's called expenses, darling". It had taken just five minutes for me to become one of the "in" crowd, free meals and I was a darling already!

Lunch took about two hours and over a few drinks for medicinal purposes, the plot was explained to me. The story was about an escaped convict on the run who needs transport so he takes a mirror (standard kit for blokes on the run) and waits for a motorcyclist to approach at night and then he reflects the bikes headlight glare back into the rider's eyes with the mirror and the guy loses control and crashes and our fugitive steals the bike.

The guy who was Betty Turpins' son on t'Street played the main character and the series was a follow on of "The Man in Room Seventeen" and that's all I can tell you about it.

The location was a road on a private estate and to set the scene for the crash the props guys had built a dummy hedge that they placed diagonally across the road and we built and concealed a small ramp at the base of the hedge. The idea was that I would become airborne on the ramp and just prior to landing I would apply full lock on the handlebars, the front wheel would bite on landing, and the bike would flip creating a realistic accident.

The director came over and asked "where do you think you'll land, we need to position the cameras for the shoot". Well I had no idea really, so I waved my arm in an arc that covered most of Lancashire and half of Cheshire and said "about there", hoping that would do. "Do you think you could be a bit more specific, darling, we don't want to have shoot it more than once do we?" he said putting me on the spot. Well I pointed to an area about forty feet past the hedge and said, " I don't think I'll go past about there" which seemed to satisfy him. My heart sank though when the floor manager got one of the drivers to park the huge generator and control room truck across the road about twenty feet past my hoped for landing place. It was a case of fall off or ride straight into the side of the truck so there was no chance of turning chicken at the last moment.

It was bitterly cold and wet as night fell and the director, being a well meaning sort of a bloke, kept my coffee cup topped up with whisky from a bottle he seemed to be permanently attached to "can't have you catching a chill can we?" he said. Broken legs and arms are OK but not a chill?

The time finally came for my big moment and the guys who were supplying the bikes fired up an old Triumph twin and got it warmed up while I put on the ill-fitting crash helmet and clothes I had to wear. I would like to be able to say I charged down the road at seventy miles an hour but I didn't, I was only doing about forty when I hit the ramp and sailed off into night. The whole thing went off perfectly, the bike flicked me off on impact with the road and somersaulted to a stop and I hit the deck pretty close to my intended target area. I could hear the old bike still running as I lay on the ground as I had been told to and then the director yelled "cut" and it was all over.

I picked myself up and did a quick check to make sure no body parts were missing, while the crew offered their congratulations with calls of "well done darling" and "super crash sweetie." I had hoped that some of the dolly birds that were there for decoration would come over and whisper "you're ever so brave" but they didn't. Still, the guys seemed to be impressed which was a start I suppose.

The next day I had to ride at high speed down an old abandoned railway cutting, as part of "the fugitive on the run" section, while they filmed from an overhead bridge. The rails and sleepers had been removed and the whole floor of the cutting was as rough as guts and to add to my woes the bike I had to ride was a Norton Dominator cafe racer with clip on handlebars which would make for an interesting ride. The director wanted me to come towards the cameras at sixty miles an hour, so I cruised up the next bridge, turned and commenced my run. Well, I managed to hold on to the bike and make the run, I guess my time riding at Brough Park gave me an edge, but it was pretty scary trying to dodge the worst craters. The run proved to be acceptable and that was the end of my brief time in showbiz.

There was another job I tried to get which would have meant jumping off a six story building into one of the Manchester canals. I don't think it would have been too hard to do as the building wouldn't even be moving, but I didn't have an Equity card and without one there was no chance. Equity was the Showbiz Union and I couldn't join unless I was a stuntman and I couldn't be a stuntman without an Equity card, the ultimate catch 22. Still, it had been fun and I'd moved in a different world for a time and pocketed a hundred and fifty quid for doing something that Mike Parker only ever gave me abuse for!!

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