An hour with Jim Redman MBE: The life of a world champion. Be inspired.

Jim Redman’s name was revered in my childhood home. Like many Englishmen of his generation, my father was besotted with motorbikes and passionately followed the stars who raced them. During the sport’s golden era in the 1960s, no star shone brighter than six time world champion Jim Redman, a Londoner who emigrated at 17 to spend most of his life in Southern Africa. Now 85, Redman is back in the land of his birth so last week I got the opportunity to spend quality time with him. Redman’s story has everything – an emotional start to life when, orphaned at 17, he was left to care for three siblings; a penniless arrival in Africa; a long racing career at a time when on average more than one rider was killed monthly (Redman lost 60 friends on the track); and incredible talent skill reflected not just during his prime but a victorious return to the track at 63, after 26 years out of the competitive saddle. “Jammy” Jim Redman also owned one of South Africa’s most successful thoroughbred stallions, 11-time champion sire Foveros. He is truly one of a kind. Settle back with us into an inspirational story of courage, determination and fulfilled ambition. – Alec Hogg

I’m here in the British countryside with Jim Redman, World Champion Motorcyclist six times. Jim, what impressed me most about your life story was how tough a life you had to begin with. You lost both of your parents when you were young after being forcefully separated from them during World War Two. What got you through – many would go into a hole after those kinds of experiences?

When I was a kid I was evacuated up into Shropshire and because I had passed the 11-plus exams, I think I was about eleven or twelve, I had to go to a grammar school. They actually sent us to Shrewsbury instead of Dewsbury, so we were in the wrong place anyway. My young brother and sister (twins) were very young about five. They got to stay in a nice place out in Dewsbury, a village outside Shrewsbury. They were very happy there and stayed there for the rest of the war and they also called their foster parents mother and father, they were there for so long, so they said they had two mothers and two fathers.

I got billeted with a horrible headmaster of a school, who only took me in because everybody was taking somebody in. He took me because I was the only kid from the grammar school, the others were from the techs. So I was in with this lousy family, and they didn’t know where to send me to school. I went out and got a job helping a guy delivering bread because I had been taught by my dad delivering milk and I knew how to run the books and everything and I had this guy that didn’t know anything about his job. So I actually did his books for him and he paid me magnificently. I used to get two shillings and he’d pay me five or something like that, fantastic. I used to go to work every day until noon. The headmaster found out that I had been lying to him, so he sort of said, “I’m going to sort this out”. While he was sorting it out, I left and got on the train and went home.

Did you go back to London?

Yes, I’d already sent a letter to my mum to say I’m going to come, but she was actually reading the letter as I walked through the door and that was the start of my run-in with the people above me and then when my dad did what he did –

He committed suicide……

Yes, it was quite strange, I was already holding down two jobs, I was working during the day, but I wanted to buy a motorbike and my wages were about 35 Shillings a week, so my mum gave me five Shillings pocket money and she used the rest of the money, she needed it and that’s why I left school at 14. I wanted a motorbike because a guy gave me a ride on a Rudge Ulster and “Whoa, this is something good” and I  said to my mum, “I’ve got to get one,  I was too young to get a bike licence but I could start getting the money together, so that when I get old enough to ride, I can get one. So I did a deal that if I delivered newspapers, do the newspaper round before work, that money can be mine, put away for the motorbike.

My dad came back from the war, with what they call shell shocked in those days and because he was from the country, from Kent, they sent him out to Bath funnily enough where I am now, and he came home now and then. They sort of tried to bring him back to normal because a peculiar thing happened and it repeated itself as we come to, in that he did motorcycle riding, dispatch riding, and you were only allowed so many missions, they called them, because it was so dangerous and the snipers would catch you.

So you’d do your missions and he saw many of his friends killed. Then he managed to finish his missions, and so they put him onto driving ammunition lorries, taking the ammunition to the front. They used to spread out on the desert so that a plane couldn’t come down and machine gun all of them and blow them all up, but you’re driving along and hear one go boof, and you know that a friend’s gone because when the truck goes, you go. He did his required missions on the lorries and then finished the war unscathed and that got to him in a big way. He didn’t think it was fair that he got through two lots and he had no friends left by the second mission. It worried him to death and to death.

So he would come down and be okay and work and then he would get tough and my mum phoned the people that she had to phone and then they took him away again. He got angry and violent and all that, I hated him, but not for him, but for what he was doing to my mum. I was doing my paper round and I was almost home and a policeman said, “Where is Enmore Road?” and I said, “That’s it, you’re in it” and he said, “But I want the higher numbers”. I said, “It goes round the corner and it’s still Enmore Road” and off he went and I thought, “Shit, it’s me” and I went running down and I caught him just as he knocked on the door and I said, “What’s up?” He ignored me because my mum opened the door and I was only a kid coming up to 17.

He just blurted it out, but all he said was, “Your husband has committed suicide and we need you to come and identify the body”, so I said, “I’ll go” and he said, “Are you over 18?” and I didn’t think quickly enough to lie. They took my Mum and me down there, both of us, we went to Bath at their expense, and you know, it was a big thing that they paid for us to go or we couldn’t have gone. They said, “Is this him?” and we said, “Yes” and that was fine, we went home and oh well, he’s gone for good now, press on. Then in the Sunday papers they had an article which said that “The decapitated body of…” and that did it, my mum was fine, but that sent her around the corner, you know. The ambulance came, got her into hospital and she was gone more or less, she pulled it off for three weeks.

I talk about it and it still gets me and she said to me, “I want you kids to stick together through thick and thin”. We went home, you know, then they phoned us and told us she died. We went to see her again and then we went home and everybody came around, ‘do-gooders’ I called them, “Yeah, we’re going to put this one in that home and that one in that home” and luckily for me my sister was 18 months older than me. Her birthday was in May and this was about July. I was only 17, she was 18 months older, and so I was just coming up to my 17th. I didn’t know it, but I thought I’d fought them off, but I didn’t. They couldn’t actually touch us because Jackie was 18 and round about two months. Then the two aunts came along and said, “We’ll take one each” and I said, “No, you won’t”, so I had that right. It was lucky I’d had learning about fighting with the schoolmasters, so it gave me a bit of training in fighting with the rest of them.

Then you did an unusual thing by going to what was then called Rhodesia, what pulled you there because you’re a young man, you’ve had these tragedies in your life, you’ve lived through the war, was it wanting to break completely with the norm?

No, I didn’t just go; I got chucked out of England, forced to go. There was compulsory army, so I got from 17 to 18 and they said, “ You have to go in the army” and I said, “I can’t go, I need to look after my kids…” so they gave me a six-month deferment. They did that four times and finally when I was coming up for 20 I was sat there with about 12 guys with umpteen medals running over this thing and they said, “You have to go, it’s finished with the thing of skiving off like you are”. So I said, “Okay, but now tell me, I’ve done some homework, the maximum you can give me is 15 Shillings a week to keep the children, so that gives me 30 Shillings, the rent’s 20 Shillings, so now I have ten Shillings and my army pay”, so if I leave them all the army pay, it’s nowhere near enough for them to live and that’s with me with nothing, absolutely not one penny and if you tell me to polish my boots, I won’t be able to polish my boots because I buy, I haven’t got one Penny.

They said, “It’s your problem”, so I said, “You’re nothing but a bunch of fucking armchair warriors. You’ve got all those medals and I bet you, you’ve never been in the frontline, so I’ll tell you what you bunch of bastards can do, you can stick your army right up your arse and you can stick your country right up your arse, I’m outta here”. I went back to work and my boss, who owned the garage was a lieutenant colonel retired in the army and he said, “Have you got your deferment all right?” I said, “No” and I sort of lost the plot a bit and I told him what happened and he said, “Jim, they’ll have you in there in six weeks and you’ll be dead. They’ll march you, you will be marching when everybody’s sleeping and you’ll be still marching”, so I said “I’ll go to Rhodesia, my friend’s just gone, he got offered a job and they paid his way and off he went”.

So I knew one guy in the world in Rhodesia, so okay Rhodesia. I said to the colonel, he had me earmarked, he’d built another garage, and he said, “You’re going to run this one on your own and I’m going to do the new one. I’ve got to teach you buying and selling the cars”. I was 20, I was set for life, loving my life, had my motorbikes, had my girlfriend. We were going well on money; I had Curbside Motors running smoothly, which was repairing people’s cars outside my house. We lived quite well, much better than when the folks were around and we had fun, we made fun of it.

When people would come along, you’d open the door, and they’d say, “Could I speak to your parents?”, “What about?”, “It’s about some insurance”, “Oh, we don’t have any parents, we’re so poor we can’t afford parents” and so we made jokes about it and it’s quite sad in a way that none of the neighbours, nobody ever tried to help us or maybe I was too rude for them, but we got no help from anybody. I was quite proud of the fact that I was going to have my own garage. I loved England, I loved my life, I loved everything and they chucked me out and I got on the boat and I watched England, London docks fade away. I sold my motorbike, got 200. The only thing I could get is a cargo boat that takes a month not two weeks and it’s leaving on Tuesday.

So I said, “I’ll book it”, one berth left, 12 passengers and the rest cargo. I went back out and said, “Can I resign?” I gave 100 to a Union Castle for the trip, worked it out with my sister, it was £20 on the train and “I had better have some money, so I’ll take £30, here’s £70, I’ll send some money as soon as I can”, got on the boat to Rhodesia and the first thing that happened, I met somebody and we were only 12 passengers. They said, “Let’s all meet in the pub”, oh-oh, pub, money, so I went in the pub that night, “What are you going to have?”, “Water thanks, a glass of water”, “No well, have a beer”, “No, I don’t drink beer”, “Well, have a scotch”, “No, I don’t drink spirits”, “Well, have a coke”, “No, I don’t drink coke, ooh it allcosts money”, What do you drink?” I said, “Water, coffee, tea”. They were all free on the ship

I went through all day, every day, you know and when you’re sitting there watching everyone drinking their beers and the sun’s beating down and you’re dying for a beer and you’ve got to go there and drink water. Anyway, then we got to Dakar and on the boat were some National Geographic guys so they wanted to help them do the town. I carried all the cameras and all that for them, so I saw Dakar without any money out of my pockets; I still had 30 Quid there.

Then we got to Walvis Bay and I chased the flamingos down the beach, so they got them taking off, you know a fantastic sight and they were filming it all and I’m running behind, so I did that and then we got to Cape Town they dropped me off at the station, so I think I still had the 30, maybe 29 or something. Then I got to the desk and they said, “No berths to Bulawayo for ten days”, took a precious Pound, pushed it across, and said, “What’s the chance of getting on the train today?” They said, “No problem” you know, and so I said, “Here’s your 20 Quid, plus the Pound”. He said, “That’s fine, now we need £2.10 for your meals and £3.50 for your bedding or it was the other way round and was left with three Shillings.

So you arrived in Bulawayo –

Four days on the train with nothing but water coffee and tea again. I don’t drink much water these days. And when I got there and the sunshine and the place and the people, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. All of a sudden I reversed my wanting to kill the guys that took me out of England. I thought I’d like to send them a thank you letter for sending me here and then they took me to Victoria Falls and I’m looking at this and then from little me in a little garage in Greenford in Middlesex, and here I am, I had better send a case of champagne to those guys and so that was it, that’s how I came to Rhodesia.

Jim Redman, 1966

It wasn’t long thereafter that you started discovering the real passion of your life, racing motorbikes. How did you get into that?

It was already motorbikes. So if you’re in motorbikes, I always went every year that I was old enough and had my bike. We always went to Silverstone for the Grand Prix, I think they called it TT, or whatever, but we started going to motorbike races that were within the distance of what we could afford. I watched racing. When I got to Rhodesia, John Love was working at the CMED on the motorcycle section, I was on the car section and then later the engine section. I always wanted more of everything, you know, more of stuff. Then I met John Love and he was racing motorbikes, so wow, now I’m working next to the guy. We became friends and I started going round and he was talking about racing driving cars.

He put his motorbike up for sale and then he bought Cooper JAP from Stirling Moss. He had to go to PE to get it, so I went with him in the car, and we drove down with the trailer and brought the car back from Port Elizabeth. It was a wreck, so we just stripped it and rebuilt it, ready for the next race and all the time he was trying to sell his motorbike. It came near to the time and he said, “Look, entries are closing, you’re dying to start racing. I can’t pay you for the work you’ve put in”. We used to be there at midnight and then I’d go off and go to work and we’d work together the next day and we’d do work at work that we could, fitting in the things, you know and ducking and diving and he said, “Why don’t you race my bike?”, wow, so no leathers, no helmet, no gloves, but we were about the same size, so the whole package.

I entered, off I went, raced the bike, and finished seventh, thanks very much, it was a one-off. Then we came back and he still didn’t get any customers, but a guy came along and swapped it for a Garden Gate Norton and John did a straight swap because the Norton was worth more than the Triumph, but then I said to him, “I would buy that Norton, but I’ve got no money. I can give you £25 a month because now I’ve got four salaries, four people living in the house, my wife working and both the kids were working”.

I raced it a few races, the season ended and then Chris Nesbitt had a 7R and wanted £150 for it because he needed some money quickly. So I thought, “How much?”, you know so I think I borrowed a bit from John, went to him and said, “I can do it at £25 a month” so he said if you pay the first two instalments, so I went and borrowed the other £25, I had £25. I think John lent me the £25 and I bought the 7R, but the condition was I couldn’t have it until it was paid off, so there was no racing for a couple of months and the racing was coming round again and I’d already paid him another one or two instalments.

So I said, “Can I take it” and he said, “Yeah, you know, I know you’re going to pay me” and off I went and they had always, the scratch races and the handicap and the handicap was everybody and you got a handicap and it was always the biggest money and I won it. I got a nice handicap and I was an unknown bike and it was a fast bike. I didn’t know I could ride a bit, I wasn’t very good, but I was better than I thought and I won the race, so of course, Monday morning I pitched up Cliff Nesbitt’s place with a fat wad and said, “Here’s the rest of your…” and he said, “You won it, you bastard”, you know.

Jim Redman, Luigi Taveri, Kunimitsi Takahashi (1963)

That was the start of an incredible career. You won the South African Championships and then came to Europe to ride against the best in the world. What motivated you to do that?

I always thought and a few people are doing it, Eddie Grant did it from South Africa, later on a couple of other guys, but Eddie was one we knew. He was a friend of  a friend and he said, “If you save up £1,500 and you cut out extras like eating and stuff like that, that you don’t have to do you can get by on £1,500, so sure that was my goal. Then I bought a Manx Norton, kept the 7R and went for the 500 Championship, got beaten by Castellani in the last race and when the results came out I won the 350 Class. So I thought it’s a championship, it‘s good enough, I’ll go. I had saved up the £1 500, I sold my half; oh I missed out a bit. John and I broke away from the CMED, put in £250, rented a premises, brought in a few motorbikes that were sold on the auctions and we knew which ones to buy, because John had been maintaining them.

So we took the bargains, left the shit and we had a few bikes to sell and anybody who wanted to sell their bikes, we took a commission and basically we lived off the workshops where we both worked on motorbikes because a motorbike and a car is more or less the same and we did all the races and every Friday night that there was a meeting on, John and I were racing together, to work out to leave and if it was Cape Town we went earlier and we always drove all night because you could change drivers and we didn’t have any mechanics, we were just the two of us with a van, two bikes, trailer, car, off we go and you know Rhodesia in those times, if it was raining there were no bridges you had to wait for the rivers to go up and down and things like that.

We were always the first ones across, even though we were pulling a trailer, we had those things lined up. A friend of mine used to go before me, but he always said, “I’ve never been stopped, so many times he had to get towed out with a tractor and get his van out with everything flowing. Anyway, just at the time, you know Beit Bridge was not even tar roads, was it, the third tar and the rest dirt and then dirt from Beit Bridge to Pietersburg, I think and the farmers knew how to do the roads, so we rode 60 miles an hour in our Chev’s and they were tough, you know, Chev trucks and cars

And you were winning the races….

Not then, well winning, yes by the end we were winning. We were winning, but we got through that and got to the front, both of us. John won nine times South African Champion and I got my six World Championships and I got another few things that I’m proud of. A couple of things that I’ve learnt lately, I was doing a talk and somebody said, “Who was the best rider not counting you in the world?” I said, “Counting me, Mike. Counting the others, Mike”.

That’s Mike Hailwood?

Mike Hailwood, yes and they said, “Why?”, I said, “Well, when you’re heading for the finishing line and it’s Agostini or it’s Phil Read, on the last lap I’m thinking, “I’ve got you, I, you know this is over on the last lap. With Mike I never felt that. I thought, “What is the bastard up to?” I never knew. When I got over the line, I knew I beat him, but I said “I’m proud of the fact that I think, in the end I beat Mike more times than he beat me” and so I’m quite proud of that.

It was a golden age of bike racing that time, in the sixties when you and Mike Hailwood, names that are still well remembered today, were riding, but what got you in there, what took you from Rhodesia, was it the challenge of taking on the best?

I wanted to see, I’m now a South African Champion, how do we shape against the world. But we had Ken Robas, Bertie Hall, Boet Ferreira, we had good riders in South Africa. I never thought about there being a difference, but I was lucky that there were such guys as Castellani and those, because they were on the pace, so we were on the pace and when I got to Europe we got the bikes together. We got to Europe, rushed around, bought a van, collected the bikes from Norton’s and went to Brands Hatch, got the bikes on Wednesday and went to Brands Hatch on the weekend. We got the bikes up kicking them into shape as much as you can in two or three days. You only get a few laps practice, so I’ve just got to do my best. I managed to get, I think it was a third in the 500 and a fifth in the 350 from starting about third row on the grid, which then got to the third row because I was a South African champion, so it helped me a bit..

File: Jim Redman, 1967

Jim, you were world champion six times, what makes a champion?

I learnt, in fact I learnt it after I did it, but I’ve told people constantly, “ Not you can have anything you like, its you can have anything that you Really want” and I said, “Write that down” and it’s funny, so many people write down, “I can have anything in life that I want”. No, that’s not what I said, the big word in there is the ‘really’. If you really want something and sometimes you’re forced, like I was, I was forced to bring up two kids. I didn’t want to, but I was forced to and I learnt then nothing is too difficult, you can do things that you don’t think you can do and I didn’t think I could be World Champion, but I made up my mind.

My Mum started it, when I went to work, 14 years of age, she threw her shoe after me and it hit the door and I went back to see what happened, she said, “That’ll bring you luck in your life”. She said to me you know that “Henry Ford started there, where you’re starting, Henry Ford started”, not “You can be the manager, you can be the foreman, you can be something”, Henry Ford. Then I got my motorbike which she signed for and funnily enough she had already died when I bought two other motorbikes and she signed for those as well, but I had to take the papers home because she wasn’t very well, I told them, and it was right she wasn’t very well because she was dead. I copied her signature and I thought they’re not going to check on that as long as I pay, that piece of paper’s going to go in the file and it’ll only come out if I don’t pay the money.

So very simple, you can sign for what you like as long as you pay, they won’t take it away from you and so later in life I used to teach people you can have anything in life that you ‘really’ want and it does work. Some people might fail halfway, but that’s not that bad either you know. So I really do think, because when I got my bikes and I said “I want to race one day”, my mum said, “World Champion, my boy, that’s what you’re going to be, first Henry Ford,  next World Champion” and it’s a pity that she couldn’t’ be there when I did it, you know.

Jim, you’ve lost a lot of friends over the years, many competitors, people like Jim Clark, Graham Hill, how do you feel about death, how do you see death, given that you’ve lost so many of those very close friends.

Well, here we come straight back to what I said earlier. My dad came back from the war, lost all his friends, I used to say that in my career, somebody died every month and the statistician came back and said, “You’re wrong, it was 15 a year, not 12”. Of course, the Isle of Man tough, it was normally on a good year, one died and on a bad year six,  we’re talking about riders killed, not the top riders, but it wasn’t, it was over 15 a year and it wasn’t necessarily from the top or the bottom, it was just plucked out of everywhere you know, we got used to it. I remember clearly that I pulled up on the entrance to the Salzburgring,  we all separated, the Continental Circus would be three events on the weekend and we would separate, and then there’d be a Grand Prix and most of us would come back together.

This wasn’t a Grand Prix, it was a Grand Prix, but it wasn’t a World Championship event and I’d pulled up with Peter Pauson at a little corner as we drove in and so I was still sitting in my van or car, or whatever I had and I said to Peter, “How did it go last weekend?”, you know, I was somewhere else and he said, “Yeah, I got us a good place, I got whatever”, he said, “Dickie Dale had a bad one” and I said, “How bad?”, The worst. He said, “Oh shit” you know and it got like that.

We just had to take it on the chin and when I think of it, you know I lost never mind that it was much more than 100 people, but I reckon probably about 50 or 60 of them were best friends Gary Hocking, Bob McIntyre, Tom Phillis, people like that, we started at the season in 1962, Bob Mac came in the team, so there was Bob, myself and Tom Phillis on Honda, Gary Hocking and Mike Hailwood on MV. Gary Hocking was always talking about, “Don’t get killed, be careful” and he said, “We’re going to kill each other this year. We all know how to ride, but there’s none of us know how to lose”, so we said, “Shut up, you know we don’t want to talk about that shit”. We get to the Isle of Man; Tom Phillis gets killed chasing Gary Hocking and Mike (in 1962).

Why did you keep on riding?

At that time when Tom was killed in the TT, Gary Hocking said, “I killed Tom Phillis today” and we said, “No, you didn’t, he’s got the throttle, he controls it”, “No, if he hadn’t been trying to chase me he would be alive today”, so he did, the same year he packed up his stuff, went back to the factory, told Count Domenico Augusta that, “I’m sorry, but it’s halfway through the year, you’ve paid me for the year. I’ll give you half back if necessary, but I killed Tom Phillis, I’m out” and off he went to Rhodesia. Augusta said, “I respect your decision, keep the money, best of luck” and they parted friends and then he got killed in Durban, in the same year racing a F1 car.. Meanwhile a month later Bob McIntyre was killed  too,  we had decided we’re helping each other anyway or we were going to do that in any case. He and I used to say, “This fucking racing, I’m going to get some money and I’m going to get out of it, it’s killing my friends”.

Here we come to what I mentioned earlier, my Dad killed himself because all his friends got killed in the war. I lost a lot more friends than her did but I never had any inclination to commit suicide as he did. Quite the opposite. I was known as Just Enough to Win.  In fact when I became the first rider to win 3 Grand Prix in a day at Assen, Holland in 1964 the press said what a day Jim 3 wins with 3 race records and 3 lap records and after a total of 31/2 hours of racing you won by less that a total of 10 seconds and Ralph Brans said Just Enough to Win !

For the records I was the first to win 3 GPs in a day in 1964, then Mike Hailwood did it in 1967 and that is no one can do it now it because now you can only ride 1 Grand Prix in a day.  Bloody health and Safety rubbish again I suppose

Bob said, “Listen, you know that he hit Laurel Bank” and we always say, “You get to Laurel Bank, you stop racing, you slip through it, and then you start again because it’s just a wall, you know and they say that he was dead before he hit the ground, you know just smack and into the wall. He said, “If you’re going to go smack against the wall, Laurel Bank is not a bad way to finish it, 30 days later it was smack against the wall, Bob McIntyre and dead again and after getting me through it, now I’m on my own again, you know and I said to Honda, “Who are we going to get to replace these two guys?” and they said, “You’re winning the races, we don’t need anybody else”. In fact, I had a very good compliment, when I was retiring I said to Soichiro Honda “Who do you want, which rider do you want?” He said, “I want another Jim-san”.

What makes a great bike rider, is it talent, is it nerve?

Mike had all the talent, he was the odd man out, he was the rich father’s son with the silver spoon and everything thrown on top of him and he didn’t need it, he was good enough to do it anyway. Mike didn’t need his old man. It used to piss him off that he would go and bribe Derek Minter, he never came to bribe me, but I heard that he took bribes. Mike would have beaten him anyway, you know. We called him “Stan, the Wallet”. He was dishing out money to get good write-ups for Mike. Who needed that, you know, but Mike used to get so angry with him, that he tried too hard, that he should have sort of stepped back and been proud that he did it himself.

What made him and you so good, what was it, what qualities did you share?

We were both fun loving, good party goers as well, him more than me, he loved music, I loved music and I suppose that he came into South Africa and he came into Charlie Young’s, I took him in to meet Charlie and everything and we had a few beers after work. We got him drunk for the first time, he was laid out on the spares counter unconscious, drunk. We got him laid, I think for the first time. I’m not sure. But he was only 17 or something, or 18 and we came back on the boat together and we were like together and we were still surviving. When Bob Mac got killed, he said, “You know we’re on the short list now, don’t you?”, so I said, “What do we do, stop?” He said, “No, make a will”.

Your MBE, how did that come about?

You know, nothing is simple with Redman. I was in New Zealand and I got a letter addressed to me, forwarded. I opened the envelope and it was letter addressed to me, forwarded. I opened the envelope and it was another letter addressed to me, and it said, the third letter said, “If you’re not Jim Redman, then destroy this correspondence without opening it”. So I opened it and it said, “If Her Majesty in her wisdom would grant you an MBE for your service to sport, would you accept it?” So they ask you first and then you accept it and then you get asked, you know. I said I would accept it and sure enough when it got to Christmas, New Year’s honour’s list, Jim Redman, MBE. I got back to Europe from the New Zealand tour and there’s a letter that said and inside there’s another letter, then another letter, and “Please report to Buckingham Palace…” such and such a date.

I wrote back and said, “I’m so sorry, but I’m riding in a Grand Prix on that particular weekend and it would cost me the World Championship maybe”, “No problem, we’ll invite you again”. After about a dozen of these things, they said, “Let us know when you’re free and we’ll fit you into one of our dates”. I appologised and they said, “No, no, we’re following your career… you know, and you can’t be in Japan when we’re giving out stuff in Buckingham Palace in London”.

This just drifted on and on and I’m supposed to get hold of them, but then all of a sudden, Harold Wilson and Ian Smith were on the bridge over the river and I thought, if I go to Buckingham Palace I’ll snub Ian Smith, so if I do Ian Smith, that’s a snub for the Queen, don’t do anything. So I got the MBE in 1964, and never collected it so in 1972 I got a phone call from the ambassador to South Africa to say Buckingham Palace have said, “If you can find Jim Redman, please give him this certificate and medal”. By then the bush war was over and so I got my MBE, I never went and got a cucumber sandwich from the Queen, so I think I’m one of the only people in the world who turned the Queen down on a date.

From a personal perspective, did your sons ever race as well?

I kept the trophies hidden and never talked about racing motorbikes in front of my kids because I buried 60 friends and I didn’t want to bury my kids with them. They got to know a bit about it, but it was never a big thing. My son Jimmy, who was fine, you know just a normal kid and then Brett was a normal kid until one of his friends said, “My dad’s buying me a motocross bike when I’m 11”. Brett said, “Hey, you can ride motocross when you’re 11, we already had bikes, it was on Sierra ranch, and he rode around on motorbikes when he was three, so I can race. So what can you do, you know, and on his birthday I got a Yamaha and I just took one bike and then Jimmy wanted to ride, so they shared the bike. Then I had to get two bikes and Brett was much better than Jimmy, so Jimmy did a few seasons and then they went to the back of the moon. Brett became the South African Champion many times.

Why do you still ride?

Because I love it. They took me to Daytona, to that race I did in Daytona. Well, I went there to parade there on the Honda six and he said, “While they are here do you want to race, we’ve entered you, so if you want to race an ex Agostini MV in the Classic Grand Prix?” I said, “What’s a Classic Grand Prix?” riders over 38, bikes older than 1970. Shit, I’m mad you know. I haven’t ridden a bike for 26 years. I’ve ridden a road bike and I’ve gone on the odd Sunday run, but I haven’t rode seriously for 26 years, so Rob Iannucchi said, “Well, just go out and try it”. When I came and he said, “How was it?” I said, “The only thing I can say, they used to put pennies on the road, so I would ride over, but I said I’m very fair to this track, because I’m in a different place every day” so he said, “Well, next time you go out it’s going to be better”.

So I went out and then I said, “Okay, I’ll race. And then we went to the pre-paddock and they called them out and they put five, at Daytona you could put 15, but they only put five. Then they took a few steps back and put four in the gaps. They started with Roper, who was the King of Classic Racing and my teammate on the same bike. And then I said, “Second Row”, you know, was I that slow and they said, “No, you get your grid position from the points last year. So having no points, we’ve put you in front of the guys who never scored a point in their life. So I said “How far back?” They said, “55th Out of 65”. My young wife of the time said, “It’s good, you being out the back because you can wobble round with the old farts” and so I said, “Yeh, I can can’t I?”.

Anyway, I never ever saw the flag go down because it was so far away, but everybody was moving, so I took it it’s time to go. And so off I went and a lot of these guys were guys who were in Classic Racing and their fathers said, “I will put you out of the business” or the wife said, “I won’t marry you”, so they were reliving their past that they didn’t have, so they learnt how to ride and they know which are the lines on the corners. They queued up so much I was able to get right around the outside of all of them. I got from 55th to 14th on the first lap and then 14th to fourth on the second lap, and then I picked them off gracefully and I caught up to Roper, who was cruising along fast asleep, you know, having a wonderful time, looking at the weather and everything.

I went vroom, past him,  and the next thing he came vroom, you know what’s going on and the game was on, but now I’d had a few good laps and now he was, so I let him lead, and found his Achilles heel quickly. He was getting to the banking and nipping round the corner and obviously, the bottom is with quickest, so that’s the quickest way home, so what I did was hung back and then I raced at the banking and I’d never been on banking before. I didn’t realise that if you have leather soled shoes you can hardly walk up, you’re slipping so much. I was hitting a bank and plucking up the courage because you’re going through the bank and you think, “I’m going to go over the top, but it doesn’t, you only go about a quarter of the way up, so I got braver and braver until the second last lap. I would be right up there and I could go past him and it’s the finishing straight, I had him.

So we started the last lap and the hammer was down and two riders were minding their own business being lapped by two other riders, being lapped by Roper and me, and Roper’s 38, he’s just out of his career. The guy that was in the first two, as soon as one of them went past him, he thought, “I’ll follow him and moved out, bank straight into Roper, or straight into that guy who went straight into Roper and I was looking at it and I thought, shit this is not going to work, before it all happened, while it was still, I could see it was going to happen, not to have it all go down, but this is going to be no good and the upside was the guy who was first didn’t even know anything happened. I was dodging bodies and bikes and getting banged a bit, but not enough to knock me off and got through. Roper was on the ground, you know, he got knocked off, no chance, not his fault. You know, it was just  like a domino.

How old were you then?

I was 63 years old and Roper was 38, so a sequel was, Rob Iannucchi phoned me two years later and the said, “Sick and tired of them telling me that it could never happen again, you have to come back to Daytona and do it again”. I said, “Rob, leave me alone, you know I’m 65 now”, “No, come”. “Oh, okay”, so I got there and we raced and we had a new guy on the team, Eric Green, 38, so it’s not much but 38 is something, so the end of the race, Roper got beaten by Eric because he’s fresh from racing. Roper got third and Eric got second and I won it again and the clerk at the course said, “What have you got to say?” and I said, “One for the old farts”. So he said, immediately, “I propose Jim as president of the Old Farts Association”.

You’ve packed a lot into your 85 years, what’s given you the excitement to do this?

I was talking to Kenton (Fine – our host) earlier on because he likes the way I’m doing things and he says myself and Tom Jones, who he went to see and Tom Jones is still belting them out at 70-something, you know he’s only a kid really, but he’s still going and he said, he decided he’s not going to retire from his business because if we haven’t retired from our business, and I said, “You’re right. It doesn’t matter how little or not you do, but do it, you know it’s what you do” and when I got that ride, that was a one-off ride and all of a sudden everybody’s inviting me and paying my expenses and giving me money and all that, so I thought, “Yeah, well I just lost my champion racehorse who won, never before or since has anyone been Champion Sire, which is how much more babies win, he won it 11 out of 12.

What was his name?

Foveros. Remember him?

I do indeed.

We brought him in, fantastic horse, but he died of neglect on the Scott’s farm over Christmas, another story it is and I was so sickened and then I found out, when the insurance came in, that my partner had drawn a salary, been given a quarter of the syndicate, and had cheated me of money all the way through, set up a company and took ten percent on anything we sold and bought on top of his salary and everything else. Anyway, I’m a mug because I’m too trusting. Foveros died and Brian was cheating me and I was sick, and I said to him, “You know, I can put you in jail, but just get out of my sight. I just feel sick in my stomach. Why, why, you know you’re not short of a meal, why…?” and he couldn’t answer. I suppose if you’re bent, you’re bent.

Jim Redman’s other champion – the mighty stallion Foveros, many times South Africa’s top sire. Photo courtesy of Sporting Post and Brian Fleischmann

Anyway then this offer from Iannucchi came and then they all liked me there and the motorbike book came out and they had four pages on Daytona, most of it about Jim Redman. And then one of the old guys right from my time,  whose dead now, did seven pages in the same magazine (Classic Racer, I think it was), so there were seven pages of my whole career and four pages of Daytona, so 11 pages, so they seemed to like me there. I loved the riding. I’m only stopping because as I was doing the riding, it was just like racing, 95 percent boredom, and five percent living.

World Champion bike rider, you rode in Formula One cars, you owned Favoros, the great Favoros, the great stallion, who as you say was 12 times South African Champion Sire, you’ve lived to a good, healthy age, and you’re in a sharp mind at 85. What’s the secret, what do you say to your grandkids, how should they live to have a repeat?

I have a couple of nicknames and one of them was Jammy Jim.

Is that Jammy, meaning very lucky?

Yes, Lucky Jim. It sounds terrible, Jammy Jim, Lucky Jim and that’s what I used to say in the racing. I told Honda, “It’s all in the start”. You know my race strategy was always first into the first corner and they’ve got to pass me”. So every start I did was a start, so the mechanics, when they finished, they would just step back and I’d do a practice start. Gary Player said it, didn’t he, “The more you practice, the luckier you get”. Some people said, “How do you get such good starts” and I said, “I’m just lucky, because I’m Lucky Jim I get… you know”.

Did none of the other competitors practice?

Nobody ever thought about it, or talked about it, so I didn’t, no why talk about it? I just got lucky, but you see they push started different to me. Most of them stand there and they go ooh, I stand there with the front brake on and the forks butting at me out, just about, you know if you get it right you can go like that and the bloody wheel goes forward. When I got my first championship, they said, “You’re actually British, aren’t you?” I said, “Don’t come with that, I’m a Rhodesian”, so they said, the London born Rhodesian about me.

Did you always race as Rhodesian?

Yes, except the last two years because I moved down actually in 1964, when Jimmy had to go to school. Marlene stayed at home and I commuted and then in 1966 I crashed and then I did the immigration then, I think and that was only because already there was Mugabe on the radar. He wasn’t in, but he was looking the best bet and Smith been on the train with Wilson and all that stuff you know, and I was not getting my MBE because of it and I was hiding in the corner in South Africa. So yes, I lived in South Africa, I bought into Charlie Young, and I lived in South Africa.

I left Charlie for Golden Products, came, and spent a year in England working for Golden Products, spent six months in Italy with Golden Products and then 14 years at Sierra Ranch with Golden Products, it belonged to them. I only ran it for them and then Marlene left me and I retired or resigned (I didn’t retire I resigned) from Golden Products and I went on a bit of a wild spree. I had my own casino, so that was good because loads of young girls were around you all the time.

Where, in South Africa?

In South Africa, – eventually I had a partner and the partner was the godson of the colonel in charge of gambling and gambling, prostitution, and drugs for another friend of mine was paying the top lawyers in South Africa R250 000 a month to keep us out of jail because he opened a full-blown casino and everyone thought he was going to jail and they said, “What’s the charge?” “You haven’t got a licence for gambling”. “We’re not gambling; we don’t cut the cards. If you’re a card counter, we go right through the pack, so you can count, it’s a game of skill”. We went to court, they closed us down, it went to court, they closed it, and we opened again. Then they found more excuses, so a couple of months later they closed us and a couple of months later we were opened. It was a crazy time 1 day we are legal and all O.K., then they change the law a bit and we had to stay closed for a few days and then we have maybe a month or so why they think up news ways to make us illegal and so on. It was fun and the lawyers loved what we were doing as they were doing well too.

Some guys were getting caught, but the colonel would always phone his grandson and say, “Don’t open for them”, so we had a lot of fun, you know and then I was racing Favaros, so that was a fulltime business. We had about 65 horses and we had mares and putting them to Favaros. We had to buy mares because the people wouldn’t put the foals there. When he proved himself, it was Favaros is everywhere and his stud fee went from R4000 of begging people to pay R4000 and giving them free to some people who had the best mares and it was R30 000 by the time everybody recognised him.

So you lived in South Africa right up until February last year?

February last year, then I drifted from 1995, I left South Africa to go to Daytona and then the invitations came and I kept coming over and then we bought Kyalami. Then I had to be back in Kyalami, so I remember that one year I came over on Friday night and went back on Monday for seven consecutive weeks because I was committed here and committed there. While I was doing all that, I suddenly got old, you know and I only got old last year when I didn’t want to ride the bikes and that means I don’t go and do the gigs because you know I only do the gigs and sell the books, not for the money, I sell the books because I got so bored, that was helping out when he started a shop and he said, “Why don’t you open your own shop?”.

Not a bad idea, so I’m selling the books and the T-shirts and all that, you know and then suddenly last year early in the year I was sitting on a motorbike doing 200 and too many kilometres and I thought, if this things chucks me off, if it seizes, will you catch it? Then it occurred to me that I wouldn’t before, right up till I was 84, I never thought about it, I just was having fun. A few people said, “When are you going to retire?”, so I said, “No, I’m enjoying it”.

They said, “Well, how long can you go?” I said, “Oh, about 150”, I said, “Its nothing riding these bikes, I’d easily make 150”, and then I sort of said “Maybe only 120” and it turned out to be 84. Luigi hit the same wall I hit when he was about 78 years old and I went out with him and he said, “Ride slowly with me” and I did, but they were asking me to lead and the German riders were waiting for me to lead, so I led and I led very slowly and he was angry with me because I went so fast. I said, “Luigi, I went slow”, “No, you didn’t”. Now I know how sloe he meant, I apologised to him last year. I sent him an email and said, “I’m sorry, but I didn’t realise when that wall hits you, it hits you”.

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