John Brackstone b. 18 May 1931 d. 12 Nov. 2013

IMG_0172IMG_0171Bracky in 2007Image

Bracky checking out the Koppenberg  (greenjersey photo)

Sad news I am afraid. Bracky died yesterday at Wexham Park hospital near Slough. I called at the hospital this morning hoping to see some improvement in his condition since my last visit, when he was very poorly indeed, only to learn that he had died early on Tuesday morning. It was slightly surreal as I was taken in to a side room by a young doctor to be given the sad news and also a mug of tea. Bracky always claimed I visited him at the Farm only because I am too cheap  to pay cafe prices for a cuppa and he would have found it deeply ironic that I was still on free tea after he had passed on. The doctor commented on my cycling kit and asked if Bracky was a cyclist and then mentioned that he had ridden the Etape du Tour on the Galibier stage. Needless to say he was most impressed by Bracky’s palmares.

John was born in West Ham district, then part of Essex but the family moved to Hanwell, West London when he was a boy. After leaving school he was an an apprentice craft engineer at  Hoover on Western Avenue. By this time he was in to cycling and his first club was the Westwelve Road Club unsurprisingly based at London W12. John says he struggled to finish in early races but he soon got the hang of it and with a fast sprint in his legs by 1952 he had some good wins under his belt. That year he rode the Tour of Britain and on the first stage from Hastings to Southsea he got in the break and outsprinted Ken Russell to win the stage. Here is a link to the Pathe News report of the early stages.  http://www.britishpathe.com/video/round-britain-cycle-race-aka-daily-express-tour   A few years ago I watched this film with Ken Russell at his home in Yorkshire and even then Ken thought he was robbed! I note however in a recent interview he admitted defeat to the West London wonder. That year John also rode and finished the Brighton to Glasgow race

On finishing his apprenticeship aged 21 John served his National Service in the RAF but unlike many of his contemporaries who treated it as a two year training camp John did little racing. He claimed that his C.O. didn’t like him and made things difficult. John was poached by Vic Humphrey for the West London Road Club and he raced through the fifties all over the country. John started the Brighton to Newcastle five day with a bang coming second on the first stage but he abandoned on the final day when well placed overall. In 1955 John was part of the London team in the nine day Quaker Oats Circuit of Britain. The first stage was a 145 mile slog from Manchester to Scarborough and John was racing for seven and one half hours and from day one John and indeed the London team were on the back foot. By mid race they were last in the team classification . Probably the best ride was by Gino Goddard who finished at the same time as the winner on stage six from Keswick to Morcambe. The route included two climbs of Newlands followed by Honister and Kirkstone passes.  At the London finish the team had climbed four places and John was thirty fourth.

Possibly the most interesting result sheet I have is for the Birmingham Premier R.C. two day, year unknown. John finished ninth equal (with Ginger Bates, then of the Liverpool Unity and later of the Southport RCC) For almost twelve hours hard graft John won, and I quote, 1 Tin Biscuits donated by S. Dunning! Ginger got a bottle cage. 

In 1956 John rode for GB at the Tour of Austria.  At some stage John’s father, who was a driver, had started pig farming and John left the factory to help out. Among John’s many duties was to collect the “swill” from central London hotels. I recall having a meal at John’s home when the knife was marked The Dorchester and the fork was marked The Ritz!! Obviously they had come out of the swill bin.

John was also a race organiser of the Lady Margaret Grand Prix. He was, it is claimed, in charge of routing on the Tour of Britain the year of the infamous stage finish in the dark at Belle Vue dog track, Manchester when due to missing arrows the field covered more than 160 miles. In 1957 and 1958 John rode the Giro Cicloturistico D’Italia in a five man West London Road Club team. In 1958 the West London squadra came fifth and the two week event was won by the Liverpool team (so no surprise there). The whole field even found time to meet his holiness Pope Pius Xll.

The pig business must have gone well as in 1963 the family moved to what can only be described as a small stately home. John has shown me episodes of  The Professionals featuring the stately pile. By the time I started visiting John the property had been sub divided into a more manageable size. When John returned to cycling he took up Audax riding and in 1988 and 1989 he was Audax UK veteran (over 40) champion. He joined the Middlesex Road Club and went on their TDF trips while at the same time decrying them as “a bunch of testers”! For some years he was a regular at the Gent Six and was also an avid race follower at the Tour of Flanders.

In his sixties John achieved his ambition of signing a Pro contract with the E.U.  He agreed not to farm and just ride his bike and they agreed to pay him Set Aside grant. It was an agreement that apparently suited both parties. For about the last ten years, possibly longer, John got his cycling fix from Eurosport watching every moment of broadcast bike racing. John never married and he leaves three sisters, a younger brother having pre-deceased him.

The above is from memory of conversations with John and I am certain it is full of errors. Corrections welcome.

John’s funeral will be held at Breakspear Crematorium, Breakspear Road, Ruislip, Middlesex, HA4 7SJ  Telephone: 01895 556560 at 1.00pm on 6th December.

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2 Comments »

  1. Anonymous said

    Thanks for updating the dates

  2. Bob Rocca said

    I met John a few times some years back – I was writing a book on ”The Professionals” at the time and we shared a few days together chatting and reminiscing – I always said I’d call back, but being so far away, never did. I sent a few Xmas cards along the way and that was it. I was deeply saddened to hear he’d passed away….RIP John…

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