Tribute to Morecambe off-road sport legend Bill Lawless
Bill Lawless, the launch editor of Trials and Motocross News (aka TMX) – part of The Visitor and Lancaster Guardian group of newspapers since 1977 – died on Christmas Day following a short illness.
He was 84.
Born in 1936 in Hyde, Manchester, Bill was hooked on motorbikes from an early age thanks to a sympathetic teacher who let him tear up the quad on his Cycle Master.
Nothing more than a bicycle with a small engine bolted onto the back wheel, it was a tame introduction to an obsession that shaped his life.
Words, horsepower and family were his trifecta. He loved John Steinbeck and big British singles equally – he pretty much kept Vincent and BSA afloat while at the same time feeding his children gruel. He also loved his three kids, his three grandkids, his wife Sheila, his late wife Hazel who died in 1987 and his son’s wife Louise. None of whom were ever forced to eat gruel. Honest!
Bill was a big bloke in every respect. Physically, mentally and emotionally. He fought as a heavyweight boxer for the British Army of the Rhine in the ’60s and was busted back to the rank of corporal from the heady heights of sergeant for his non-ring-based bar shenanigans. The same man would, 20 years later, regularly return home with a rescued hedgehog that ‘wasn’t aware of the Green Cross Code, kid’ wrapped up in his anorak prior to being released into the safety of his garden.
Forced to join the Swedish Merchant Navy in Casablanca after a failed attempt to drive to South Africa, he was eventually set ashore on the South Coast of England where he began his career in journalism.
He once interviewed Laurence Olivier – and splintered dear, dear Larry’s antique chair with his 20-stone girth – after spending the night in a bush. The actor obviously wasn’t too bothered because he later invited Bill for a champagne breakfast on a train from Brighton to London.
He rode fast motorbikes that leaked oil everywhere. He cracked open a bottle of malt that Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham pulled out of an aluminium coffin and handed to him. He harassed Dave Lee Travis – who at the time was Radio One’s top DJ – for a full English breakfast at the filming of the first Kickstart TV show in 1979.
Bill started TMX in 1977 and lived it until 1996. If anyone ever brought up the subject of his impact on what is now a multi-million-pound market he’d be too modest to acknowledge the part he played. The truth is that without TMX – and, of course, Bill – the sport in the UK would never have flourished to become the envy of Europe.
He’s survived by his wife, Sheila, daughters Kary and Victoria, son Sean and grandchildren Julia, Hazel and Polly. He’ll be missed by them all.