The "Chasps" (26/01/2018)

The following is an article of explanation of an infamous group of friends and runners within the club during the late 1950's and early 1960's. It is was written by Roy Poultney around the time of our Centenary. The friendships formed lasted a lifetime. Sadly a number have now died.

The Chasps by Roy Poultney

1958 to 1962

The "Chasps" were born out of the wanderings of Peter Boxley; he’d go anywhere for a road race.

In the summer of 1958 he entered the Horsham Sussex ‘10’ (miles not kms) and persuaded Eric Silk and myself to join him.  I was working in London at the time and invited them to stay with me in my Clapham bedsit for the weekend.  So come Saturday morning off we went to our inauspicious start as a group.  It was unbelievably hot and none of us beat the hour.

I think we ran one or two more ‘10s’, Chigwell comes to mind, and we acquired another interested member, Tony Fern, who had just joined the club despite living in Smethwick.

Later that summer I went to Scotland for a walking and hitch-hiking holiday which turned out to be highly significant.  I’d reached the northern limit of my travels at Fort William where I got friendly with the local runners of Lochaber A.C. who were training for the Ben Nevis Race.  I had already climbed up and down the Ben and it had taken me all day, they were doing it in 2 hrs or less!  I went back to my B&B and told the landlady I was coming back next year ‘to do the Ben’.  She looked me up and down and said ‘oh no, ye coodna do thart’.  What a challenge!

I put the idea to the lads who were all for it.  We decided to camp out for the week before the race and Eric knew the Thorpes were great campers and had tents of various sizes so Ray Thorpe also joined the group.  By persuasion or voluntarily I’m not sure, but this was crucial to the development of ‘the chasps’ not yet known as such, in fact called ‘The Ben Men’ after it became known by the club members that we had entered the ‘Ben’ race (Sept 1959).

So now we had to try our hand at camping and do some serious training.  None of us could drive at this time but this problem was partially solved by Ray’s uncle who dumped us from his van in the wilds of Kinver for a weekend, about 3 months prior to the Race.  This was the beginning of the "Chasps" way of life, living rough, training hard, camp fire sing-songs (mainly Lonnie Donegan hits of the 50s), football kick-abouts and of course the essentials of cooking, mostly on wood fires.

We all improved our 10 mile times that summer with Eric the best of the bunch with 56.50.  Ray declined to do the ‘10s’ as he had ambitions at shorter events and actually became an army champion at 880 yds with a time in the low 1.50s.  We had a further training long weekend that summer in Prestatyn, a rehearsal for our Scottish trip, travelling by train although Pete actually went by motorbike.

So to the ‘Ben’ race.  We travelled on the night sleeper ‘The Royal Highlander’.  I joined the train at Euston, meeting up with the other guys at Crewe at about 11 pm.  We arrived at Kingussie (Monarch of the Glen country) at 9 am on the Saturday, a week before the race and soon found a lovely spot to make camp.

After a weekend of training and generally enjoying the wild Scottish scenery Monday morning came and the reality of making our way to Fort William nearly 50 miles away was upon us.  To modern day thinking hitch-hiking may seem a complete no-no but 50 years ago when National Service was with us and very few young people could afford a car, young men thumbing lifts were a common sight on Britain’s roads so off we went on the A86 road, and a motley crew we were with our rucksacks and a general unkempt look except for one Tony Fern who looked smart enough to meet his girlfriend and carried a smart suitcase.  No hitch-hiking for him, he set off down the road to walk to Fort William!  Meanwhile we patiently sat if out and after about ½ and hour an artic lorry stopped for us.  The driver said he was going near Fort William so Eric, Ray and Pete jumped into the open back with the kit and I got into the cab (I had the map).  A couple of miles along the road I saw Tony walking manfully along with his case balanced on his shoulder.  I explained to the driver that he was with our party so he kindly stopped.  The look of relief on Tony’s face was something to behold! We were dropped near enough to Fort William to walk the last bit and set up camp in Glen Nevis in the shadow of the Ben.  We duly ran the race at the end of the week with Pete first home in 2 hrs 14 and that week set the pattern for the next 3 years with weekends and holidays at various spots, Abersoch, Woolacombe, The Lake District.  The main differences from 1960 were that I learnt to drive, moved back to Tipton and the group expanded with many of the young single men wanting to join in the fun.  We would all go out together on weekend evenings to the cinema, dance halls, fish & chip cafes etc and this is where the name "Chasps" came from.

One Saturday evening in Dudley Market Place a group went to do the necessary in the gents where one very drunk man greeted them with ‘Worro Chasp’.  He was too drunk to pronounce chaps and everyone found it so amusing that it became the normal greeting everytime we met one another.  So "The Chasps" we became.

Notable additions to "The Chasps" were Bert Harbach, Alan Whittle, John Severn, Tony Burkitt, Jim Wright, Tony Phillips, Dave Denton, John Malpass and Moti Makan.  The athletic achievements of the above mentioned are no doubt mentioned elsewhere in the History of Tipton Harriers but I might mention the second venture to the Ben Race in 1960 by Messrs Severn, Whittle, Poultney and Silk who finished 3rd team behind Lochaber & Barrow.  We now travelled in style in a hired Thames mini-bus complete with the Thorpes largest tent.  Being mobile we were able to travel more and sought out the local village dances at such places as Spean Bridge, where whole families would join in from ages 8 to 80.  The Scots certainly know how to enjoy themselves and didn’t mind guys doing a jive in mountain boots.

We had many memorable events over those years.  One amusing incident involved Poultney, Silk & Whittle at Clovelly in 1961 when we hired a rowing boat, while Harbach stayed on dry land.  He watched us from the beach as we rowed out about 200 yds on an eerily calm still afternoon.  Always ready for a sing-song we decide to sing Donegan’s Grand Coulee Dam with Eric on percussion with a piece of rope bashing on the boats metal baler.  Apparently our singing echoed across the still water and shattered the peace and quiet on the beach, Bert thinking, oh here we go again! They’re not with me.  Anyway when we finished with a great crescendo, many people on the beach stood up and cheered. Only then did we realise how the sound had travelled across the water.  Eric almost fell out of the boat standing up to take a bow. We got some very funny looks when we returned to the quayside!

Later in the year we tried a repeat performance in a West Bromwich pub where the old regulars were totally unimpressed!

"The Chasps" final venture in Aug 1962 was a trip to the South of France.  Nine "Chasps" in a hired VW mini-bus which was to be picked up in Calais.  Messrs Poultney, Silk, Harbach, Burkitt, Wright, Denton, Malpass, Makan and newcomer Mick Watson drove in 2 cars to Dover.  After parking up we had to man handle all the gear on and off the ferry.  We were all totally green as regards foreign travel and we were a source of some humour from the local as we used our schoolboy French for the first time to locate the Rue Victor Hugo where our hired vehicle was waiting.

That was the start of our great 700 mile journey to the Mediterranean, where we eventually arrived after 3 days travel.  We had many events on the journey included an after dinner speech by Bert.  The applause from the restaurant staff would perhaps not have been so enthusiastic had they understood what he was saying. 

We travelled along the coast from near St Tropez to the Italian border then north to Paris where we had two brushes with the police concerning parking and going past a red light.  Each time we avoided an on the spot fine by pleading ignorance of the language.  ‘English no comprenny!’

So back to England.  Most of us were now involved with the fairer sex and a series of weddings followed in quick succession over the next couple of years so the chasps didn’t die they just faded away………

So, what part did "The Chasps" play in the history of Tipton Harriers.  Well in the mid 1950s club membership was very low and it was always difficult to raise a team for such events as the Manchester to Blackpool 11 man relay.  "The Chasps" did their bit in creating that indefinable quality, ‘Club Spirit’ and perhaps it was that atmosphere that helped to attract so many people to come and join the club even though they’d never heard of "The Chasps".

Acknowledgements to:

Eric Silk and Alan Whittle

P.S. - A final mention of Moti Makan, a South African born Indian.  He never made it as a runner and turned to acting with some success.  His most high profile part was as the guide in Passage To India.