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Harry the Swede
By Dave Gifford

Torbjorn Harryson

It's a given fact that the Swedes are not noted for their sense of humour. If you think I'm wrong just name one Swedish comedy act, apart from ABBA. See what I mean, there aren't any. Gee, I hope Bob Ferry isn't an ABBA fan! There are always exceptions to every rule though and in this case the exception is one Torbjorn Harrysson who came over to Britain to ride for Newport about 1967 or 68. The stylish Gote Nordin who had been the favourite with the Newport faithful had retired and in an inspired move Mike Parker brought Harry over from the frozen Tundra to ride in the British League. Mike, with his usual organizing brilliance, dumped him on our doorstep in Manchester when he first arrived and asked my wife and I to "look after him till he gets settled" and before I could bring up the question of "who's paying" Mike was gone and we found ourselves with a Swedish lodger.

To put it mildly Harry's English was not good, but it never stopped him from talking even if he was the only one listening and he laughed a lot which made him good company. A few days after he arrived I received word from Briggo that my new Jawa was ready to be picked up from Southampton and so I rushed south to pick up my first new bike, three hundred quid for the bike and an extra three quid if you want a manual, Briggo was all heart and a true Kiwi!

Now, in those days we lived in a semi detached house owned by promoter Mike Parker on Upper Chorlton Road. The house was made into four flats, Ivan and his family had the flat above ours and next door were Graham Coombes and his family and for a time Gordon Guasco and his wife were also there. Mike Parker had his offices about six houses further up the road where Goog Allen had a flat and at the back of the building Mike had four or five lockups built for us to use as workshops although Goog and Ivan had their workshops in the basement beneath the building. So when I returned with the new Jawa I was about to wheel it down to the workshop when Harry insisted that we take into the house and put it in the kitchen so we could stare at it while we had our evening meal. Following the meal Harry took the bike into the living room so we could polish all the shiny bits and do a bit of imaginary cornering around an old apple box that served as a coffee table. Ah, such simple pleasures, and such simple minds too!

I think Harry had one of the lock up garages behind Mike Parker's offices but to be honest I'm not sure. You see Harry had never been told that you had to work on the bikes to keep them going properly and accordingly never did any maintenance at all. He would drive his old Merc diesel into the yard with his bike on the rack and get three buckets off the back seat which he would then fill with water. Then with as much theatrical aplomb as he could muster he would empty the buckets over the bike, "one for Ivan, one for Ole and one for Geefy," and that was all the maintenance he ever did.

Actually Ivan couldn't figure Harry out and Ole, who used one of the lockups, didn't like him as he disliked all the Swedes, they always gave him a hard time when he had to race in Sweden in a time when he was the only Danish rider of note. I remember one time when Harry actually took the bike off the rack to clean it and used soap powder too, I was impressed. "Phoo," I said "This looks a bit serious Harry, is it your birthday or something?" "No" he replied "Tonight we race against Swindon and I must be beating the blutty Bricko so I do all this extra tuning to make sure." It must be said that Harry did have a bundle of natural talent and like all shortish riders was good to watch on a bike. I don't know if he thumped Briggo that night but if memory serves he down the great man a couple of times at Newport in his short British career.

Harry and Ove

I remember one time he came round to the house with his head all covered in cuts and bruises which I took to be the result of a track accident but the cause was far more sinister.

Ove Fundin was riding for the Zoo at that time and he and Harry had gone into town for a quiet drink or two and after a pretty good session Harry had taken Ove home but on the way to his own place he had decided it might be best to park and sleep off the effects of the night. Of course the plod had to arrive on the scene and charge Harry with being drunk in charge of a parked car which didn't go down to well with my little Swedish mate so he told them what he thought of them in no uncertain terms and then they responded by beating the crap out of him and chucking him in a cell for the night. Where were these wonderful English Boppies he'd heard so much about, he wanted to know.

Harry the Newport Wasp

Harry qualified as Newport's representative at the League Riders Final at Belle Vue, the meeting that Briggo just about owned in those days, and he was worried that his motor wouldn't be quick enough to compete so he asked if he could borrow a motor off me for the night. That makes it sound like I had a bench covered in spare motors but I didn't, most of us only had the one bike in those days and even one spare motor was a rare luxury that very few riders had. So I pulled the motor out of my bike and gave it to him and he came up with a novel way of payment for the use of it. "Geefy" he said " before I give my bike back to Mike Parker you can take all the good bits off it and put all your old worn out yunk on it".

Mike had given him a new bike at the start of the season as part of his deal but he had to return it at the end of the season and his offer seemed reasonable so I agreed. After the Riders Final he came round to my workshop with the bike and said rather grandly "help yourself Geef, all the good bits are yours". Well I looked at the bike all over for about five minutes and I finally asked him "which bits do you think are the good ones Harry?". I could see his feelings were hurt but the bike was really in a dreadful state. "Look mate," I said "even my yunk is better than anything on your bike but don't worry you've had the loan of the motor for nothing." He did exactly the same thing the following year and I ended up getting paid exactly the same. I really was a slow learner.

Unfortunately Harry joined that long list of talented riders who were forced to quit after receiving severe injuries and I never saw him after 1970 which was a great shame, speedway lost a fine rider and I lost a Swedish mate with a sense of humour. Harry was a neat Swede!




This article was first published on 1st June 2006


  • Bill Reynolds:

    "What a wonderful article. I remember Toby at Newport and some of the stories {not printable}, but here again we digress to the past, but anyway Toby thanks for the excitement, God bless."

  • Bill Elliot:

    "Sorry to learn of the passing of Toby Harryson. saw him at Glasgow White City when he managed the rare achievement of beating Charlie Monk round the old track. His lack of height seemed to make him all the more exciting to watch, as he seemed to be at odds with the law of gravity and I'll always remember him for that."

  • Mike Western:

    "I was very sad to hear about Torbjorn Harryson's death. He was a great character, swore like a trooper, and a 100% speedway man. He had his problems with alcohol and anyone who has driven with Torbjorn after he had had a few will never forget the experience! I was lucky to count him as a friend and I shall miss him. So will Swedish speedway."

  • Robin Tremblin:

    "I was lucky enough to get to know Toby really well through my association with Jimmy Nilsen and Per Jonsson in the 80's and 90's. He was massive influence on both their careers and was always there to support at important meetings. Dave has captured the way Toby talked perfectly It was like hearing Toby all over again. I will always remember when he came to our hotel room during the 2 day world final in Amsterdam. We had a box of beer in the room and over the space of an hour Toby opened about seven separate cans as he forgot where he'd put the last one so opened another. We forgave him for that as his stories of his life and riding career had us laughing he was great company. He died much too young."

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