The Vincent story informed by the individuals who had been there in new documentary

A brand new documentary follows the life and profession of legendary bike designer Philip Vincent, informed by the individuals who had been there. Alex Bestwick speaks to director David Lancaster about bringing the Vincent story to the display screen.

David Lancaster grew up round Vincent bikes. “My dad and mom toured Europe on their Vincent, my father did the identical up till he handed away in 1990, so I’ve all the time recognized Vincents and been round them,” he tells me as we chat about his new documentary Velocity is Costly, which explores the lifetime of legendary bike designer Philip Vincent.

The documentary might be available for purchase as a DVD and digital launch on September 25th .

Vincent’s story has all the time been of curiosity to David. “He began off primarily very rich, from a really privileged background I suppose you possibly can say, however having made these fantastic bikes ended up just about in poverty, residing in council lodging.” In Feltham, in actual fact, not too removed from the place David lives now. What’s extra, David’s father knew each Philip Vincent and Phil Irving.

The non-public contact may be felt all through the movie, which isn’t simply in regards to the bikes, but additionally the individuals who made them. “Even on the early phases, we needed it to be a narrative about human endeavour as a lot because the bike itself,” says David.

Philip Vincent’s household labored carefully with David and co-producer Gerry Jenkinson, together with sharing house movie shot by Vincent himself. It was additionally vital to David to listen to the tales of the women and men who labored on the store ground.

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“We thought it was a great way to inform the story of a machine by way of the people who constructed the machine. We additionally needed to get the voices from the store ground as a lot as the 2 Phils, Phil Irving and Phil Vincent – each sensible, pushed, presumably you possibly can say geniuses, however after all it takes lots of people to construct and design a motorbike.”

A black and white over the shoulder shot, showing David Lancaster talking to John Surtees.
In one in all his remaining interviews, John Surtees talks to David about working on the Vincent manufacturing facility in Stevenage as his first job.

The making of the documentary was clearly as a lot of a workforce effort as constructing Vincents, and David usually makes references to the workforce behind the scenes all through our dialog. “A whole lot of the individuals who helped with the movie had are available as a result of their ardour is Vincents,” he tells me.

This ardour comes by way of in each facet of the documentary. Vincent bikes had been comparatively short-lived, but have a permanent legacy. I requested David extra about why he thinks that is, and the making of the documentary:

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Why do you assume it’s that we’re nonetheless speaking about Vincents at this time?

Vincent had a genius for design, however he was additionally a advertising genius. He gave them these actually cool names: the Black Shadow, the Gray Flash. It actually captured some folks’s creativeness. But additionally they’re actually good bikes, and for those who journey a Vincent at this time, you possibly can nonetheless journey together with visitors, you possibly can sit on the motorway at 75mph, actually the V twins, the 1000s. There’s not many British bikes – I’ll in all probability upset a load of individuals – however actually solely a Norton Commando might try this kind of lengthy distance, 2 or 3 hundred miles a day. I imply stuff goes unsuitable with them, as a result of they’re 70 years previous…

Additionally, I believe they’re simply objects of magnificence. Each time I see one I nonetheless assume it’s essentially the most stunning bike engine. I simply assume the stream of the exhaust, the way in which the 2 cylinders sit on the good 50-degree angle… And so they’re enjoyable to journey. For the time, they will need to have been superb. The Sequence B Rapide got here out in 1946 and the nation had simply gained the warfare. The phrase is ‘they misplaced the peace’ as a result of rationing endured till the early 50s, meals, petrol. So I simply admire the ambition of Vincent and Irving to launch a 110mph bike into a rustic that was actually on its final legs, every part drained and worn out, together with the folks. Most producers put a lick of paint on a pre-war mannequin and so they carried on roughly as they had been. Vincent got here out with a totally new design – clearly the Sequence A V-twin was simply earlier than the warfare, however there have been solely 78 or so made.

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You’ve simply received to admire the imaginative and prescient that they thought ‘that is what the world wants. It doesn’t want a plodding, go-to-work 350. It wants a 1000cc bike that prices some huge cash and does over 100mph’. I believe the world wants folks like that.

So what went unsuitable for Vincent?

The extra folks we spoke to, the extra it emerged there was this pivotal bike accident which he had within the winter of 1947, which was a very dangerous winter when it comes to climate. He fell off testing a Rapide at about 80 mph with out a crash helmet. As I believe maybe generations post-war had been susceptible to do, it was moderately ‘nicely, I misplaced my sense of stability and took a few months off…however brush your self down and press on’ nevertheless it turned out he was in a coma for fairly some time. So the extra folks we spoke to, notably John Surtees, stated there was a persona change, that he wasn’t fairly the gregarious evangelist for his bikes, he grew to become a bit extra withdrawn; much less collegiate.

Then Phil Irving left a yr or so later, and the later fashions had been fairly controversial, as you might know, the enclosed fashions with the fairings. So you possibly can see this peak of engineering and design with Phil Irving and Phil Vincent working collectively, in some methods it didn’t really final that lengthy, and the manufacturing facility stopped producing bikes on the very finish of 1955. They produced extra bikes than folks assume, 11,000 had been produced.

Then speaking to Philip Vincent’s daughter and his grandson Phil, who’s fairly an enormous a part of the movie, we started to take a look at his later profession, which was actually one in all frustration. He by no means received one other automobile put into manufacturing, however he had this superb artistic thoughts and he was all the time considering of issues. He developed a rotary engine which appeared to have a whole lot of potential however he couldn’t fairly increase the cash to get it put into manufacturing or get a bigger producer . And rotary engines are actually fascinating, however Mazda have kind of ploughed their very own furrow, there aren’t that many in the marketplace, there’s been a few bike ones, the Suzuki RE5… However as a result of Vincent might complicate his designs, it was an advanced rotary engine, and he needed it to be made out of ceramics.

Anyway, this was all fairly unhappy. At first, on leaving his personal firm, he ran a storage in Lincolnshire, then they moved to London and he did some constultancy work for British Rail, he did some journalism, however primarily his artistic life peaked within the late 40s and 50s. Then after a collection of strokes they moved to this council flat out in Feltham, which is kind of close to me, as a result of he couldn’t rise up the steps within the flat they had been in.

It was fairly unhappy, and I believed that is actually fascinating. Then in 2018 – so we’d been engaged on the movie for an excellent whereas – a Black Lightning, which was the Australian land velocity report machine, offered at Bonhams for 1.2 million Australian {dollars}. I began, as you’re always doing on a documentary, making an attempt to hitch the dots:  that Vincent died in ’79 just about penniless, and right here we’re 30 odd years later and one in all his machines has turn into the most costly bike ever offered.

Ewan McGregor narrates the documentary. How did that come about?

Throughout lockdown, our American producer, James Salter, who’d been on board for the reason that early days, stated ‘I believe I’ve discovered a method that we are able to put this undertaking in entrance of Ewan McGregor.’ Which he did, after which as a result of the emails went in to my SPAM folder, I simply received a cellphone name from Ewan McGregor at about three within the afternoon, fully out of the blue, as a result of I hadn’t checked the emails.

He stated, ‘this sounds nice, I’d like to be concerned.’ It was a kind of cellphone calls the place you stand as much as reply the cellphone and go, ‘oh, it’s Ewan McGregor.’ And I stated, ‘the script’s all prepared’ however after all it wasn’t fairly.

He stated, ‘ship me the script subsequent week’, so Gerry Jenkinson and I spent a really intensive interval doing the voiceover script. I’d achieved objects on tv and written objects for TV, nevertheless it’s actually completely different whenever you’ve received this longer type narrative. It’s sort of like writing a novel. Anyway, fortunately he favored the script – he wasn’t going to do it if he didn’t prefer it, I believe that was fairly apparent.

Then every week or so later he recorded the voiceover from his house studio, and James Salter, our American producer, was within the recording studio in Los Angeles and I used to be in West London on FaceTime video, directing Ewan McGregor, which was essentially the most weird expertise of my life.

American tv host Jay Leno additionally seems within the documentary to debate his love for Vincent bikes.

Did you need to slender down what you possibly can match into the documentary?

Inevitably. There’s a lot that we needed to omit. I kind of regretted what we not noted, however you actually must concentrate on the story. One man stated to us, ‘I might have thought you’d achieved extra in regards to the pre-war Vincents’. Clearly, they’re within the movie, however I believe he nonetheless had the concept it was going to be a mannequin information to Vincent bikes with some speaking heads and I attempted to say, ‘no, we need to inform the story of this man and Phil Irving.’ So in the DVD that’s popping out there’s an hour of additional content material, after which we’ve received a great deal of different content material as nicely. However after some time you need to concentrate on getting the movie launched, you’ve received to undergo the Movie Censors Board, get certification. There’s a lot concerned, you possibly can’t preserve going again and what you possibly can have achieved or what you not noted.

Vincent bikes broke a whole lot of world data – which to you is essentially the most iconic?

They’re all nice as a result of going these kinds of speeds on bikes, it’s actually troublesome, you actually have to hold on. However essentially the most iconic one is the Rollie Free report bike, as you noticed within the movie. We didn’t know there was really cinefilm of the occasion till the chap who owned the bike tell us about this. In order some folks know, he received very close to to attending to 150 mph on a Black Lightning prototype at Bonneville Salt Flats, however he determined his leathers, which had been ripped every week or two earlier than, had been flapping round. So he determined to do the runs mainly in swimming trunks and a pair of trainers. And also you assume ‘what on earth is occurring in that man’s head?’ A lot of bike fatalities, they will fairly often be infections of the pores and skin moderately than damaged bones, so if he’d have come off at any kind of velocity on salt, he would have died virtually instantly or he actually would have been at risk of dropping his life as a result of your pores and skin is your largest organ, isn’t it? So the bravery of the man, the foolishness… I imply that’s what I wrote within the script, no one had achieved extra earlier than or since or was extra dedicated to a report than Rollie Free on that afternoon. And I used to be fortunate to fulfill him years later, he was at a Vincent rally in Canada and he was nice enjoyable, he was actually fascinating. I used to be solely 11 or 12, however I sat and listened to him discuss these adventures, and also you simply assume ‘wow’. Even at that age, I believed, ‘that is superb.’

Rollie Free famously went the additional mile for the world report – stripping all the way down to his swimming trunks.

What affect have Vincents had on the bike scene?

I believe they do have a permanent legacy, as a result of if somebody sees one, it’s evidently greater than an previous bike. I believe anybody who’s inquisitive about automobiles in any method, not in any deep method, you simply have a look at it, and I see this after I’m out on my bike, folks do flip their heads and so they do with a lot of previous automobiles. So I suppose there’s a way by which is it the final word basic bike? I believe it in all probability is. Due to the efficiency, due to the person endeavour. It wasn’t designed by a committee, it was designed by Phil Irving and Phil Vincent, and so they pushed by way of a motorbike that BSA or Triumph simply would by no means have put into manufacturing with. They’d have stated ‘we don’t want to do this, the market doesn’t want it’ whereas Vincent and Irving had been of the opinion ‘we’ll construct the perfect bike doable and we’ll discover some patrons afterwards.’

John Surtees makes the purpose that he labored for Vincent and that was his first job, after which he drove for Honda and he drove for Ferrari and he rode for MV Agusta. So it occurred to me, the place does Vincent are available that pantheon? And it was nice, John Surtees stated, ‘nicely, he’s up there with these pioneers.’

Despite the fact that one might speculate on the worth and the costs of this stuff, the truth that they’re nonetheless wanted and so they nonetheless promote for 30, 40 thousand kilos for a fundamental mannequin, is kind of testomony. And that’s the identical with Ferraris and MV Agustas and all of these stand-out producers, a lot of which haven’t lasted. Bugatti can be one other instance, and Bugatti presumably is a more in-depth parallel to Vincent as a result of these had been pushed people and each of them needed to make the perfect automobile for the highway, which was completely different with Ferrari who was obsessive about racing and to a level MV Agusta.

For those who might personal or journey any Vincent, which wouldn’t it be?

Effectively, I actually just like the one I’ve received, as a result of it was my dad and mom’ bike within the 50s and I tracked it down. That’s a really early post-war bike, a 1947 bike.

The Gray Flash is a very fascinating mannequin, it’s the racing 500cc. There’s not a lot of these; about 30. I’ve all the time favored these, and so they had been constructed with this very stunning palette of gray. As I say, Vincent was nice, he would give them these sort of Boy Personal names: Gray Flash, Black Knight. They’re all good, really. All Vincents have gotten one thing going for them. The later ones, the enclosed ones, are very comfy, they’re excellent within the rain. They’re not mild and nimble bikes, however they’re what my dad had for the final 30 years of his life, which he actually liked as a result of he simply favored to sit down on a motorcycle, go lengthy distance, and it was a bit like being in a Rolls Royce, simply cruise alongside.

David Lancaster along with his earlier Vincent, a 1939 Sequence A Comet.

You talked about monitoring down your dad and mom’ Vincent. What’s the story there?

The Vincent Homeowners Membership have entry to the manufacturing facility data and I’d been asking my mom about it after my father died and he or she stated, ‘oh, I don’t know what the engine quantity was or something’ after which I discovered the registration in an image. And I did discover the engine quantity, it was a little bit of detective work, in an previous handbook of my father’s. So I appeared on the engine quantity and I believed ‘oh, possibly that’s the Rapide which they used within the 50s.’ After which I received by way of to the registrar on the Vincent Homeowners Clublub and he very kindly stated, ‘I believe the bike’s in Germany.’ He wrote to the proprietor. I went to see the bike, it was in a museum.

Then it got here up for public sale at Bonhams, and I managed to boost the cash so as to purchase it. I offered a few different issues, however I’m very glad I did as a result of it’s a motorcycle which means rather a lot to the household, and it’s additionally one in all my favorite fashions, the early post-war Rapides. In some methods, they’re the purest instance of it as a result of that’s what they launched in 1946 and, like most automotive trajectories, the bikes received heavier and taller and the early Rapides are fairly good and fairly low and a bit old school, nevertheless it’s an previous bike. I don’t see the purpose in altering this and altering that, you may as nicely go and purchase a ten yr previous BMW for those who’re going to do this.

Are there another tales within the bike world you need to inform?

I believe there are. I’ve began one other documentary – foolishly – nevertheless it’s not about bikes, it’s a couple of meals author. I imply there are some nice tales in motorcycling. Joey Dunlop lived an fascinating life, multi-TT winner. On the Bonneville Salt Flats yearly there’s some very compelling folks constructing their very own bikes and going at 2 or 3 hundred miles an hour, they’re actually fascinating.

I believe like all of this stuff, the automobile is what runs by way of the movie, however the human tales behind the automobile, that’s the place the curiosity is. Someone giving up a job to construct one thing or sacrificing practically every part – sacrifice is all the time fairly an fascinating human endeavour, and Vincent made sacrifices. He might have labored for an enormous automotive producer, however he went his personal method. He by no means actually labored for anyone, Vincent. He had his personal bike producer on the age of 18 or 19, and possibly that was his downfall. Perhaps 6 or 7 years working at Triumph or Norton would have taught him extra about costing and constructing one thing to a finances. However as Jay Leno says within the movie, the legacy is the truth that they didn’t have bean counters all around the bikes, particularly within the early post-war years, and that is to our profit. The bikes had been constructed to be pretty much as good as they may very well be moderately than constructed down to a price.

The place can our readers watch the documentary?

The documentary might be obtainable to purchase on DVD and Digital Obtain from September 25. That’s received a 24-page booklet with a number of the interviews we’ve achieved, some further info. Additionally there’s an hour’s further content material, which is all good things, it’s extra interviews with the manufacturing facility folks, further footage of Jay Leno who talks brilliantly in regards to the bikes extra on US racer Marty Dickerson and the US-drag bike, The Barn Job.

On the identical date, it will likely be on digital obtain, which might be on Apple, Virgin, Amazon. Extra information to return quickly too on different actions – control our Fb and Instragram accounts, and important web site

The rest so as to add?

There’s rather a lot individuals who helped make the movie occur. Our monetary supporters have been fantastic. They’ve supported us, they’ve helped us with flights, they’ve helped us with filming, so I have to do a shout out to these folks. A documentary like this, you actually do it since you need to see the story informed, and so they’ve been as vital an element as myself or Gerry our co-producer or Russell Icke and Liz Deegan, our sensible editors. So due to the folks like Kris, Harvey, Peter, Tim, Colin and others who supported us. Plus some stand-out moments and nice folks comparable to Peter Bender (proprietor of the world’s most costly bike) who transported the bike lots of of miles throughout Australia, so we might movie it again on the identical highway it set the Southern Hemisphere land velocity report on, in Gunnadah, in 1953. With Peter, we managed to trace down, and movie, two aged gents who watched Jack Ehret set the report, after they had been younger schoolboys, 70 years in the past now.

Velocity Is Costly might be obtainable on Digital Obtain from twenty fifth September. 

Pre-order your digital copy right here and your Collector’s Version DVD right here.


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