James Whitham Scrapbook: Part One

A life in comedy photographs

Don’t know what was going on with the bum-fluff on my chin. I may have been going through a stage of trying to look cool with a bit of designer stubble... your guess is as good as mine on this one!

This was my third ever outing in the Isle of Man. It’s the 1987 Senior TT. Here I’m demonstrating a classic ‘nose-dive’. I managed to lap at 108 mph on this thing, although I don’t know how, with a frame made of plasticine and a front number board fashioned from a bathroom floor tile. Also note pink helmet side pods – possibly trying to get in touch with my feminine side?

The man with the flares and beehive hairstyle is my dad Dave. I took this pic of him during our trip to the TT in 1978 leaning on his 1937 Manx Norton that we’d ridden over on. He didn’t bother with time consuming formalities like actually registering the bike or fitting lights or getting an MOT test. He just painted a made-up number onto the back mudguard and off we went down the M62 heading for Liverpool docks... err, at night! The Norton disgorged more oil that week than the Exxon Valdez, as you can deduce from the strategically placed plastic tub, oil stained path and discarded Castrol R tins. But it kept running. It was the year Mike Hailwood made his comeback. The Island was packed, the weather was warm and Hailwood rode to a fairy-tale win in the F1 race... turning 200,000 grown men into blubbering kids... and it’s what made me want to race bikes.

This was Suzuki GB’s team in the then annual GSX-R Cup, Hockenheim, 1991 – Dave Jefferies, Mark Forsyth and me. All was going well and we’d qualified up the front as I remember, until, during the race a mad Jap Kamikaze shunted me in the rear (ooh, matron !). It was carnage. Blokes in the background are Mick Grant, Sean Kynnersley and the legendary Rob ‘Butch’ Cartwright.

This was my first outing in the Isle of Man. The 1985 Manx GP. The bike is a KR250 Kawasaki, a tandem twin disc-valve two-stroke street bike that Kawasaki never imported officially to this country. We got this one from Holland. Two things tell me that this picture was taken during practice. Firstly, I’m wearing a novice jacket to let other riders know I’m a ‘newcomer’. And secondly, I never actually made the race because, on the last day of practice I failed to negotiate a bend somewhere on the Bungalow section of the mountain and went careering off down the moor... sustaining concussion and a broken collar bone. It’d been an eventful week, I’d already been warned for dangerous riding by the organizers and attacked by a fellow competitor for a similar offence. Perhaps Nobles Hospital was the safest place for me to be!

I throw myself at the mercy of the court with this one.  This is Carl Fogarty and me on holiday... we were in Fuertaventura with the girls in 1990. I have no reasonable excuse for any of this...  the hair, the clothes or the parasols in the drinks.

This is me in the rear seat of a GR4 Tornado (motherfucking jet thing) before going flying with the RAF from Lossimouth in Y2K. That smug grin was soon wiped from my face. The ride was so violent I spent 40 minutes of the hour-long flight being sick. I may have pissed myself too. I couldn’t tell. One second you’re pulling 7G positive with your flight suit squeezing your legs, the next you’re pulling 6G negative and your bowels are being forced out of your ears. I was so desperate for it to end I seriously contemplated ejecting. For years I thought I was made of ‘the right stuff’. I found out that day I’m actually made of snot and bile!

1993, Assen, Holland. I was doing a wild-card on my BSB Fast-Orange YZF Yamaha at Assen. I had a couple of good results that day and was offered a factory bike by the Belgarda team for the up-coming Donington park round. This is me trying Fabrizio Pirovano’s factory bike for size behind Belgarda’s pit garage. I can’t tell you how trick this bike was compared to my domestic one. Note big swingarm and carbon fibre brakes. It was light and revved like a twat. I got on the podium with it at Donington. Also note quality coiff!

!988 British production Championship round, Scarborough hairpin. I’d been hit from behind and toppled over as we all funneled into the hairpin on the first lap. I was very angry and intent on exacting revenge on the perpetrator, who I thought (wrongly as it turned out) was number 95. I shoved him over, picked up my bike, re-mounted and finished the race in third position. Even as I was going round I realized what I’d done was wrong. But I didn’t know how wrong until I got back to my van and looked in the programme to see who number 95 was. His name, it turned out was Rory Thompson who hailed from Glasgow... the Glasgow part was scary enough, but his occupation was listed as ‘door to door butcher and part-time debt collector’... When he came seeking me I thought a policy of’ “appeasement’ was best. He agreed not to beat me to a pulp if I bought him a new fairing for his FZ 1000. Fair enough. I went on to win the production championship that year.

1989. The leather maker was a firm called Hindsight clothing. I was present at the meeting when the deal was struck for the whole team (me, Ian Simpson and Mez Mellor) to wear Hindsight leathers, but I confess to only really listening up to the point when they told me how much I was gonna get paid. They were, without doubt the worst fitting, most shoddily constructed leathers ever made. Simmo and Mez refused to wear them after the first race. I persevered... at that point the money was more important to me than my arse skin.

My first ever race, 1983 Carnaby raceway. I had no clue as to what I was doing or where I was going, but luckily the Carnaby track was made up using traffic cones laid out on an old WW2 airbase... so even I couldn’t do much damage. Note that I’ve turned my red socks over the top of my boots. I thought this might make me go a bit quicker!

More of Whit's comedy life in photographs in part two of the scrapbook