California, gender bending and tortoises
From Cyril's memoirs dated 30 July 2005
Ah, the heat of lazy summer days, the smell of scorched tarmac, the bitter-sweet thrill of a sun-baked black vinyl saddle. This time of year was made for motorcycling and when the mercury rises and resting fuel tanks gently whistle, I like to take off into the mountains on my Ducati Monster M1000S.
I was parked up last week overlooking a parched Apennine valley and tucking into a juicy panino slipped into my backpack by the lovely Francesca (who works wonders with a salami and a smear of olive oil). My mind was taken back to the permanent summertime of California where I was lucky enough to spend a couple of months in August 1971 working on an exciting film project with the BSA-Triumph group in my role as Global Sales Director. I'm sure you're all familiar with the great documentary film On Any Sunday, starring Steve McQueen. Well, BSA-Triumph decided to cash in on the film's success by creating its own version in which Triumph motorcycles would play a major part. The film was to be called Spank the Monkey! (these were more innocent times when it meant merely to enjoy the power of one’s machine) and its star would be Sean Connery. However, despite the best efforts of everyone involved, things didn't go exactly to plan. A humiliating farce? I’m afraid so.
The project ran into budgetary troubles almost immediately. BSA-Triumph could barely afford a buttered bun let alone the movie business, consequently, plans to commission the highly respected Bond film producer ‘Cubby’ Broccoli had to be abandoned. Many potential candidates were then sidelined as we searched for an affordable name. Alf Bishop may not ring a bell with many people, but when I tell you he was the genius behind the 1968-'73 British TV quiz show Nig Nog Golliwog I'm sure the memories will come flooding back (it must be said, the programme was a product of its time and nowadays not only unacceptable, but quite probably illegal). We considered ourselves very lucky to get Alf.
Of course, Sean Connery also fell victim to our meagre budget. As we went down the list, through Dennis Waterman, a young Mike Read and even the keen motorcyclist Dick Emery, it was clear how desperate things were getting. Eventually, salvation arrived in the shape of a young amateur actor who, better still, was useful on a bike, having been spotted on waste ground handling his big thumper with aplomb. (I must say, I do enjoy taking out my own lusty mudplugger on balmy evenings, much to the delight of certain of the local lads.)
However, there was something about Ashley Clarke that unsettled me, yet I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. But the board were getting jumpy and decided that his rather effeminate voice (I'd say Catherine Zeta-Jones being throttled by a large-handed maniac) could be dubbed over at a later date – such was the muddled thinking which had already permeated the project.
The first week's shooting ended badly after an almighty row with director Alf Bishop, who had hijacked what was an admittedly loose script and decided to insert his 'trademark'. This entailed 20 black and white minstrels riding pillion through the Californian desert, complete with straw boaters and canes. It was clearly ludicrous, though perhaps not quite so ludicrous as the mass brawl that ensued when I requested security remove the disgruntled minstrels from the set. Mammy!
A couple of days later things turned especially strange. We were out in the desert shooting a scene where Ashley comes charging through the scrub, kicking up a trail of dust on a lovely, high-piped Triumph TR6C. Unfortunately, he swerved rather violently in a noble attempt to avoid a desert tortoise. The result was a spectacular end-over-end crash which left Ashley squealing like a stuck pig with what appeared to be a broken leg. The medics were on hand very quickly and having administered enough morphine to render him not only silent but putty-like, proceeded to cut away his leather jeans.
Well, as jeans and underpants came away as one, my misgivings and Ashley’s curious traits all began to make sense. Ashley Clarke had quite the strangest set of ‘meat and two veg’ any of us had ever seen. It turned out that he was, in fact, a transsexual who, until very recently, had been Andrea Clarke (not the Brit porn star from the 80s, she came later). The last turkey in the shop with which the gathering crowd was presented was the result of many hours of surgery, but
by the look of it there was still a fair bit of tidying up to do around
With our main rider out of action, the project folded. But wouldn’t it be superb to see John Bloor and Hinckley Triumph pick up the reigns and make a modern-day Spank the Monkey? A Bonneville Scrambler powering through the Baja California desert, perhaps with 'Right' Charley Boorman in the saddle? What a marvellous thought that is.