From Cyril's memoirs dated 14 December 2006
‘Get me Ago’s sperm!’ And with that shout from the boardroom so began one of the strangest and most regrettable chapters in the history of the British motorcycle industry.
This year I’ve spent many a happy hour glued to the screen watching lithe youngsters perform while a foaming stubby sits snugly in my hand. MotoGP has been thrilling, but how much more thrilling it would be for us Brits if we had a bunch of riders out there capable of getting on the podium. No disrespect to James Elison, [now James Toseland – Ed] who at least gives us a presence.
In the late Sixties we Brits were beginning to struggle both on the track and in the showrooms. When Mike Hailwood retired at the end of the 1967 season, it left only Phil Read with a real chance of winning a prestige title (which he did admirably, with a 125, two 250 and two 500 crowns between 1968-’74). But it was clear to all that the glory days were coming to an end and something had to be done. There was much talk of racing academies and the like, but nothing has even been divulged of the plot to systematically breed fresh racing stock. It was a dark period in Britain’s proud motorcycling history.
By 1968 the boardroom at BSA-Triumph was being infiltrated by accountants and marketing men with little background in motorcycling. The future looked grim for this once immensely successful industry and they were desperate for a solution. In November of that year, three directors – Tom Wildman, Terry Sheldon and William Atkins – gathered for an informal meeting at the Talbot Inn, Leamington Spa. The discussion that took place over pies and pints today beggars belief. It was agreed that what dealers needed was not only a high-tech product to combat the increasingly popular and sophisticated Japanese motorcycles, but also a highly-talented British racer to put the firm’s name on the podium (imagine how Ducati feel right now, with Capirossi [now Casey Stoner – Ed] doing the business for them). However, BSA-Triumph's methods were questionable to say the least.
It’s said that Atkins first proposed obtaining Phil Read’s sperm with a view to creating a test tube racer, as it were, even offering up his own wife, Glynis, as the carrier. However, although in vitro fertilization was in development, the first success wouldn’t come for another ten years and it was decided that given Triumph’s inability to get a reliable oil feed to rocker spindles, the chances of manipulating Read’s lively semen into the right nook or cranny were minimal.
It was then Sheldon who suggested that surely the thing to do would be to select a young, healthy woman, fully paid for the task, to seduce a racer and fall pregnant, the progeny to then be raised in an environment that would nurture his inbred racing talent. And why not, he suggested, aim for the top? Giacomo Agostini had already won four world titles and showed no signs of slowing.
So, the buxom daughter of a former British racer of some repute (doubling their chances of producing a racer-baby, so they argued) was enrolled for the job and packed off to Italy with the aim of draining Ago dry. The firm lost contact with her after two weeks and after a couple of months had given up hope of ever seeing her again, assuming she’d simply done a runner with the down payment of 400 guineas. But five months later she returned, clearly pregnant. Champagne corks popped in the boardroom.
However, doubt was soon cast over the child’s parentage. Rumour had it that the midwife sprang back in shock when the glistening infant slipped out and emitted an unearthly, guttural howl. He had more of a pelt than skin and by the age of five his Cro-Magnon features and inability to master simple words were giving serious cause for concern. Unfortunately, he was never able to cope with riding even a tricycle, a nasty tumble mercifully knocking out one of the buck teeth from his hideously overcrowded gums and leaving his ginger mop with a slight bald patch. A child of Ago's? Never. He was, however, extremely dexterous and when presented, aged 7, with an 80cc Italjet scrambler he rapidly converted it into a rudimentary two-speed ploughing device.
Aged 11 he escaped into the wild and, now in his thirties, is believed to be living a feral existence in the dense forests of Cannock Chase in Staffordshire. Rumours that he’s being stalked by Foggy Petronas trappers, keen to offer him a development engineer position, are completely unsubstantiated.