Obituary: Ewen Haldane, racing motorcyclist

Ewen Haldane. Picture: Contributed
Ewen Haldane. Picture: Contributed
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BORN: 29 June, 1929, in Menstrie, Clackmannanshire. Died: 23 August, 2015, in Luss, aged 86

Ewen Haldane, who has died aged 86, was a well-known Scottish racing motor cyclist of the 1950s whose career coincided with the “golden era” of bike racing. Legendary names such as Geoff Duke, John Surtees and fellow Scot Bob McIntyre made headlines as the sport enjoyed a high profile. British bikes with evocative names – Matchless, Norton, BSA, AJS – took centre stage. The Isle of Man TT races and the Manx GPs, where Haldane competed 15 times, were the sport’s Mecca. When he was asked why he did not win there, he replied: “My excuses are Duke, McIntyre and Surtees and others of that golden era… but I did try!”

It was a dangerous and demanding course, accidents were frequent and fatalities too common. Despite that, over his many appearances, Haldane was never involved in an accident nor did he ever fall off.

Only once did he have to resort to the use of a slip road to avoid a fall. With that background, it was a cruel twist of fate that he should die after being involved in an accident while riding his motorbike.

Highlights of his Isle of Man appearances included a 12th place on his debut in the 1953 Clubman’s race; third in the 1954 Clubman on his BSA Gold Star; seventh in the 1956 Manx GP on a Norton, and, perhaps best of all, eighth on a Norton in the 1958 TT (the “top category” race open to works teams and professionals and counting for world championship points) at an average 93.03mph.

The winner of that race was world champion Surtees while future world champion Mike Hailwood was 13th and Duke and McIntyre failed to finish. Each of these races attracted high quality fields of more than 70 riders.

Central to his participation in and love of the sport was the triumvirate consisting of Jim Drysdale, Sandy Bowie and himself; they became friends through working together at the DCL in Menstrie.

After Drysdale took part in a race at Crimond in Aberdeenshire in 1952, Haldane and Bowie were persuaded to take up the sport and the three of them founded Menstrie motor cycle club.

Initially Haldane competed in trials and scrambling in the Hillfoots area before making his debut in the Isle of Man in 1953 where he would go on to compete every year up to and including 1959.

He also raced at Scottish circuits including Crimond, Beveridge Park, Kirkcaldy and Errol.

Jim Drysdale, also an Isle of Man racer, recalled: “Ewen was a very rhythmic, smooth rider who never appeared to be under strain. Although too tall and a little heavy, that did not hold him back. We were a very tight-knit group who learned off each other.

“But more than anything, we had great fun, nobody had more fun than us! Once Ewen stopped competing in TTs, he was honoured by being appointed a marshall on the circuit. He was called on to ride out to emergencies with a doctor as pillion, in the course of which he witnessed some awful scenes.

“To be appointed was a tribute not only to his skill as a rider but also to his personal qualities and capacity for dealing with crises.”

Racing days coming to an end, he set up his own eponymous motorcycle business in Greenock which became a successful Honda dealership and continues to this day. He was attracted there as he had spent holidays in nearby Wemyss Bay and Greenock was then a thriving community.

Despite, according to daughter Dianne, being a “confirmed bachelor married to his motorbikes”, in 1961 he married Jane Miller after a “whirlwind romance” and went on to enjoy a long and happy marriage. Jane was a secretary for DCL in Edinburgh and Kirkliston and the couple were introduced through friends at work.

Elder son Steven said his father was “extremely hard working and built up his business through hard effort. He also had an entrepreneurial streak and at different times when business was slow, he diversified into timber extraction, commercial diamond manufacture and a fruit and veg store.

“He was a principled man, well respected and popular in the community who had high personal and business standards. On occasions, to his own loss, he discouraged customers from buying a bike if he felt it was too powerful for them or not appropriate because of biking’s dangers.

“He was renowned for his dislike of foul language but loved a party and a sing song. He also enjoyed dancing and once he had danced Mum off her feet he would continue with another partner.”

Jake Drummond, secretary of Kirkcaldy motor cycle club and a former racer himself, described him as “a real, real gent. He was guest of honour at our dinner a few years ago and spoke very entertainingly about his racing days, especially the TTs.

“His career was pretty special considering he was really an amateur although he did obtain sponsorship from 1957 on, testament to his standing in the sport. He was great company and happy to share memories with any of our members, a credit to himself and the sport.”

Outside work, his main interests were family and Greenock Wanderers rugby club, where he was a loyal and enthusiastic supporter, particularly when son Steven was captain some years ago. The club are to honour him by flying their flag at half mast and holding a minute’s silence at their next home game.

During the summer he also enjoyed supporting the local cricket team as well as taking an interest in all sports.

He continued to be active in his business till about a year ago since when he would still turn up most days and pass the time, happy to share his racing memories with other enthusiasts in front of the log fire, surrounded by his memorabilia.

A gifted storyteller, he enjoyed reminiscing. He was a true character blessed with sound values, gregarious, unfailingly helpful and supportive. His qualities reflected the best of the “old school” persona. His wife Jane predeceased him but he is survived by sons Steven and Douglas, daughter Dianne and seven grandchildren.