A Boy A Girl And A Bike, dir Ralph Smart (1949
Up hill and down dale with a Yorkshire cycling club in pursuit of romance, robbers and road racing
This is a tale of love, class and larceny among members of a West Riding cycling club. A box-office flop, on release, viewed today it is a powerful evocation of the golden age of club cycling, and offers rich panoramas of industrial Yorkshire when the smoking mills still thronged with workers.
Set in the fictional Wakeworth, the location filming was in Halfax, Hebden Bridge, Ilkley and Skipton. The hurly burley of club life is disrupted with the arrival of a new member. Most of the club apparently work in the mills, David Howath (John McCallum) gives up a sports car to join the chums on two wheels. His main interest, however, appears to be Susie Bates (Honor Blackman).
For the most part the plot works. There is a love triangle, a fatherless boy who has become wayward and a mysterious club member who appears to be living under an assumed name. The film even manages some kitchen-sinkesque overtones in the Bates family’s overcrowding and the cycle shop owners’ illegal bookmaking.
As you would expect with a film of the time, by the end of the last reel, the plotlines have been charmingly resolved. The David-Susie-Sam situation concludes abruptly and unsatisfactorily, but by that time, the film has delivered its juice.
The film makers – Shorditch’s Gainsborough Pictures – really tried with the cycling action. Historically, the racing is pure hokum – mass-start races on open roads of the kind depicted were all but unheard of in the UK at the time. There is an attempt to explain how team tactics operate within a peleton, but for the most part the racers look more like they are on a charity ride.
Nonetheless, the location coverage is a joy to watch, both as a portrait of cycling in the 1940s, and for the backdrop – the heady mix of moors and mills that can only be west Yorkshire.
The excitement of racing eludes the camera, but the heady joy of a club run over rugged hills and through tight industrial settlements are captured brilliantly.
At the time the film was made, upwards of quarter of a million people cycled for recreation and sport every weekend in the UK – over 100,000 a week participated in time trials each weekend in the early 1950s. Given the number of films that were being made in England at that time too, it is surprising that cycling clubs are not the locus for more cinematic dramas. Perhaps the intrinsic complications of filming moving bicycles put the studios off – which, if true, makes the success of this film all the more impressive.
It is available on DVD because of the minor role played by Diana Dors – who looks positively dowdy beside Blackman. Anthony Newly, just 16 at the time of filming, plays a recent arrival from the capital. It can also be easily rented from Love Film.
The film is all but forgotten today, but more than deserves its place in the cycling films Parthenon.
Tim Dawson March 2010