▲ The Ner-A-Car originated in Syracuse
New York, USA. Designed and built by Carl Neracher in 1921, he brought the idea to Sheffield, England where Simplex put it into production. With its 221cc single cylinder engine and friction drive, it wasn't the fastest thing on the street. However, its center hub steering and low centre of gravity made it easy to drive, while its huge mudguard kept the rider relatively clean. But the public didn't go for it, and the business—on both sides of the Atlantic—wound up in 1924.
▲ This stately pile has been the des res
of the the Lytton family since the fifteenth century. The current incumbent is screenwriter Henry Lytton-Cobold.
▲ How much does it cost to ride around
one of these? Not as much as you might think. Follow the Esso man at the bottom of the page for the answer to this question.
▲ Andrew Greenwood has organised over
750 events over the past 20-odd years. You'd think he might want to make a lot of noise about that fact, but he's actually fairly low key and prefers to focus on getting on with the business of doing business. Show business, that is. Greenwood style.
▲ You know how it is when some days
are just perfect? Well that was pretty much the vibe for us at the 11th Knebworth Show. Not an awful lot going on, if you want the truth. But everything went down slow and easy, with great weather and a laid back crowd. And that's just how we like it.
Want to see more of the 11th Knebworth show? Prod the little Esso man for a backstage pass.
|Andrew Greenwood has a very simple approach to promoting a bike show, and that's staying "hands off" as much as possible. Take the 11th Knebworth 2010 show. Locate one a stately home. Hire a field. Flog some space to a squadron of autojumblers. Print some tickets. Buy blocks of ad space in the usual rags. Light the touch paper. Stand back. Count the receipts.|
But not too far back, perhaps, because Andrew keeps his shows on a short leash and is usually around somewhere keeping an eye on his investment.
And it is an investment. But never a very high risk one.
"That's true," said 55-year old Andrew when Sump spoke to him. "When we set up the business, I was determined that the venture wasn't going to fail if one venue or show fell over. And we do have bad shows. Everyone does. We don't book special guests. We don't add any frills. We simply provide the basic facilities and allow visitors and autojumblers to sort it out for themselves."
"Because if we developed a very big show and invested a lot of money in it, it could be very bad for us if it went down. We're not a 1st division promoter, remember. We're 2nd division, and we're very happy about that. That's where we've pitched our business, and it suits us well."
Not that there isn't occasionally big money at stake?
"Yes, that's true. It costs £40,000 to hire the Alexandra Palace in North London," said Andrew. "Our next show there is in February 2011, incidentally. The London Custom Bike Show, which is sponsored by Back Street Heroes magazine. But that's our biggest. Most of our energies revolves around the 34 other shows we organise."
Andrew's referring to events at Malvern, Newbury, Blenheim Palace, Shepton Mallet, Stoneleigh Park, Wakefield and Rhyl.
"But we don’t make a fortune everywhere. We just make a living; a little and often is how we prefer it."
"At first, I didn't think much of autojumbles. They were largely attended by jumblers who hired fields and spent their time visiting the events of other jumblers in a kind of circuit. But then I saw an opportunity and decided to turn it into a proper business."
Clearly it's a workable business model. So far. But what happens when, for instance, a show is rained off?
"We have abandonment and cancellation insurance which costs around £5000 per annum. That pays our expenses such as the venue hire, advertising costs, toilet cubicle hire, etc. But insurance doesn't pay our profits, so we take cancellations seriously."
So how did he get started in this game?
"Actually," said Andrew, "I trained to be a teacher. Biology was my subject. But by the time I'd finished Uni with a degree in my pocket, the employment conditions had changed. The jobs simply weren't there. Not just with respect to myself, but for a lot of people. I needed to do something, of course. So I looked elsewhere and fell back on other things I could do.
"Such as fixing up old cars. I used to do that with my dad. So I bought a Wolseley 1500 and attended a few autojumbles with my late brother-in-law. He was an antiques dealer.
"At first, I didn't think much of autojumbles. They were largely attended by jumblers who hired fields and spent their time visiting the events of other jumblers in a kind of circuit. But then I saw an opportunity and decided to turn it into a proper business.
"Times were booming them. It would be much harder to do now. At our first event in Peterborough, we had around 130 visitors. But these days we generally have around 2500 paying visitors at an average show, with the highest numbers being 10,000-12,000. But our best attendance was back in 1990 when we had 32,000 visitors through the door at Alexandra Palace. Back then, however, the pubs closed at 2.00pm, and the supermarkets weren't keeping the same kind of hours they keep now. Things have changed a lot."
So it's all outdoor shows?
"No. We organise indoor shows over the colder months. But come the 1st weekend in May, we go outdoors again as the new season starts."
And how's business?
"Well, economic conditions are tough at the moment, but we're still doing okay. However, the phones are quieter than they used to be. But that's largely because of the internet. We have quite a popular website and get 150 visitors a day. That's how people book tickets and buy autojumble space now."
And how was the September 2010 Knebworth Show?
"We think it went down pretty well. It came about after the June Show last year was cancelled due to bad weather. We quickly rescheduled for September and did okay, so we ran it again this year. We certainly had the right weather this time."
There's no mistaking that. It didn't strike us as exceptionally busy. But it was a comfortable size; a "low risk" size, as Andrew might say.
It's hard to state what the star of this show was for us. But our eyes kept straying to a beautiful, if relatively humble, 1965 Greeves Challenger owned by Dave Deacon (you'll find it on the left of this page and elsewhere in this feature: just follow the Esso men).
But the bike the public voted into the top spot was a 1979 Kawasaki 650 C3 owned by Shaun Turner which saw off competition from a very clean Vincent Rapide—which just reinforces the view these days that the Japanese are on the march again, not so much in the modern bike shops as on the classic bike scene.
Overall, it was a pretty good outing. And Knebworth is, after all, practically hallowed ground having been played by everyone from Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Status Quo, The Beach Boys, Tom Petty, Jefferson Starship, Genesis, Queen, Eric Clapton, Pink Floyd and Dire Straits.
Which is why it could have done with a live band or something to reprise the vibe. Or maybe a little parading on the grass. Or some silly biking games even. Or a wet T-shirt competition (whatever that is).
But then, this is was an Andrew Greenwood show, and because we weren't first-timers, we remembered to bring our own entertainment.
You should too.