Posts Tagged ‘Isle of Man’

Spills and chills

Posted: May 25, 2015 in Uncategorized
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One day in the mid-1990s I was filming with my BBC TV crew outside the Creg Ny Baa hotel. We were crouching down at the top of the escape road alongside a medic who knew everything there was to know about the TT. You could tell he knew everything because he spoke in a cool drawl like James Stewart and he wore an Aussie-style hat. “You can always tell if a rider’s gonna make the corner,” he informed us. “It’s not the speed, it’s the line.”  We nodded and carried out setting up the camera. “Look at this chap now,” he went on. “He’s got it. You can always tell. His line’s spot on.” At that moment there was that horrible sound of metal scraping on tarmac, a shout went up from the crowd, and our new best mate was grabbing his medical bag and running off to patch up the rider whose line, unfortunately, had landed him in the chicken wire outside the Creg’s saloon.

Talking of horrible sounds, one that I’ll never forget came in my first year as Manx Radio commentator. I was staying at the Hilton, although it might have been called the Palace then, or maybe the Stakis….. My room overlooked the car park at the back. I was working away on my preparation, head down, when there was the sound of metal splintering and the most horrendous howl-cum-scream that I’ve ever heard. I rushed to the window and there was a car which had obviously reversed into a baby buggy, with the baby in it. There was more shouting and screaming and it emerged that dad had backed up the car, not realising that the buggy was parked right behind the rear bumper. The mum was distraught, hotel staff raced out, an ambulance came, and the babe was rushed off for treatment. I heard later that he, or she, can’t remember which now, was ok. But it was a terrible incident which could have been absolutely tragic.

Another episode which chills the blood, looking back, was when I was in a car being driven by a cameraman to the airport. Somewhere after the Mount Murray a biker pulled right out in front of us at 90 degrees. We smashed  into him, he flew up over the windscreen and the roof, and my instant thought was that he had to be seriously injured, if not dead. Looking back over my shoulder, I could see him picking himself up. Incredibly, he was unhurt and was full of apologies.

It’s an extreme place, the Isle of Man, especially at TT time. As the precinct lootenant used to say in that brilliant series Hill Street Blues, “be careful out there”.


One question always pops up in my mind when the NW200 comes around – given that the NW has been shown live on BBC TV for several years now,  how long till the TT is also televised LIVE? It’s something I’ve been discussing with the man in charge of the TV operation at the TT, North One’s Neil Duncanson.

The NW200, coverage produced by Greenlight for BBC NI,  is always compelling viewing. Admittedly, sometimes that’s because the pictures go down and we can enjoy the commentators squirming! That of course is one reason why we are still some way from seeing the same live output at the TT. Reliability issues have to be solved. But having said that, the races are shown live and that puts the NW some way ahead of the TT.

NW200The Greenlight team place several fixed cameras on the ground around the start/finish section from Metropole to York Corner. These generate dramatic shots but for most of the 9-mile lap the bikes are out of vision, so the key is the helicopter. The chopper allows live shots to be seen the whole way round the course, and (most of the time) the signal back from the chopper to the OB trucks is reliable enough.

At the TT, they’d need to do the same – but it isn’t so easy. Choppers may struggle to keep pace with the leading bikes across the mountain, and producers would have to think about deploying more than one chopper because at the TT, unlike the NW, the leader of the race could be back in sixth or seventh position on the road. There used to be an argument that a TV helicopter was unrealistic because it wouldn’t be allowed to fly in poor visibility. But these days, races don’t go ahead in poor visibility because the emergency choppers have to be able to operate. So that objection has gone away – but there are still a lot of hurdles to clear.

I’ve had a fascinating conversation with Neil Duncanson, who shed a lot of light on exactly where we are with this debate.  North One is the company which produces all the coverage of the TT for ITV4 and other outlets. Neil told me that this whole question of live TV coverage is very high on the agenda, especially as plans for a TT World Series continue.

Michael Dunlop 2nd 600 Kirkmicheal

Michael Dunlop 2013. photo: Alan Knight

He told me: “Ask any major broadcaster of sport and they will tell you that only live coverage is important, whether it’s football, rugby, the Olympic Games or Formula 1. In these days of modern media saturation and digestion, the world wants its events served up live and will pay handsomely for the privilege. There is no doubt that the TT would be an amazing live TV product and the reason it hasn’t happened yet is simply a combination of technology and money. Unlike the NW200 or Ulster or indeed any circuit race, the TT is 37+ miles of twisting public roads that roll through towns, villages, countryside and over mountains. The cost of planting enough course cameras, flying enough helicopters and creating the tech to beam live on-board images from the bikes is extremely prohibitive cost-wise and for a single event it has proven the main barrier to progress. But as time has moved on the tech is improving and getting cheaper. however, it’s still not cheap enough just yet and the issue of getting on-board pictures live from the bikes (which motorsport fans are so used to now) is still a costly stretch, but it simply needs a catalyst to help get things moving.”

That’s a terrific insight into the thought-processes going on at the moment. As Neil says, it isn’t just a matter of getting pictures out. It’s the style and quality of pictures that people want and Neil’s clear feeling is that the wider audience won’t settle for anything less. Viewers of sport are now accustomed to live shots from the helmets of horse-racing jcokeys, from F1 cars and even from cricket stumps. The business of sports TV has leapt forward from being simple information to becoming rich entertainment, and if the TT is going to make an impression in that market, it has to get it right from the start.

So where will the catalyst come from? Neil says: “Clearly the IoM government and tax payers do not have the money to invest in such things, so it will be up to broadcasters, producers and possibly future promoters to foot the bill. If a World Series was to become a reality the cost of this coverage could be amortised over a number of global events and over a number of years. I believe this is the most likely end game, but ultimately the IoM government will decide at the end of the year whether they want to proceed with it. Until then quality live coverage of the TT is still just out of reach. Of course elements of live coverage could be produced now – ie pieces of the course, some hele tele and no on boards – but our view has always been that the event is too important and precious to waste poor coverage on it. As the old cliche goes, you only get one opportunity to make a first impression. I dearly hope we will get that opportunity in the near future and if it happens, boy will it be something special”.

That sounds exciting, but it’s significant that Neil says the ball is in the court of the IoM Government.

Another factor is the ever-increasing spread of the smartphone. 4G has arrived on the island within the last month (not sure why it took so long when 3G has been there for several years) and these speeds would allow TT fans to access live TV pictures and commentary around the course. That of course would be a new rival for Manx Radio – but we’re not there yet. The smartphone audience on the island will be important, but the real numbers are those to be found worldwide. As Neil adds: ‘The real factor is an increasing demand for high quality live Motorsport coverage and the ability for specialist sport networks to pay high rights fees for it in an ever increasingly competitive world. The TT has an enviable brand and pedigree and in recent years has seen something of a renaissance in terms of the racing and global awareness. The quality of the riders, the closeness of the racing and the increase in teams and manufacturers (all part of this upward TT curve) have made our job at North One a lot easier in terms of making the TV look good.”

It’s all a long way from the days when I would film short segments of a race, record a voiceover at the end of the tape, then rush the tapes to Ronaldsway to be placed in a Manxpack and flown on Manx Airlines back to the BBC in Manchester, then for a VT editor to match my voiceover with the correct pictures and scramble it onto air in the nick of time before 7pm!

So where does that leave the notion of live TV from the TT? Waiting on the IoM Govt’s decision on a World Series, in Neil’s view. So that’s one to lookmout for with even more anticipation towards the end of the year.

charlie lambert 2015                                                                       Copyright_symbol_2


TT Talking books

Delighted to report that ‘TT Talking’ is now officially published and is available in bookshops and also by post from the publishers   It retails at £14.99. The publishers have a number of personally signed copies so if you’d like one of those please give them a call on 01305 260068 or email them at There are also signed copies available at the Lexicon and Waterstones in Strand Street, Douglas. The book is also available at Please post a review at Amazon!



Watch it here



Hear my interview with Talk Radio Europe on 22/4/14 here


TT Talking celebration

Celebrating the launch of ‘TT Talking’ with photographers Dorothy Lambert and Alan Knight and Al’s partner Jackie














I’d like to say a few thank-yous because a lot of people have helped me bring this book to fruition. John McGuinness has written a very generous foreword, somehow finding the time in a busy schedule. To have THE top rider willing to put his name to my book is a huge compliment. Phil Wain and Chris Kinley read the manuscript and came up with some great comments and suggestions, especially Phil who was absolutely brilliant and steered me away from a few high-sides. Michael Dunlop 2nd 600 KirkmichealAlan Knight has provided most of the pictures. It was hard to know which to leave out. For example this one, of Michael Dunlop at Kirk Michael is one that isn’t included. My wife Dorothy captured a lot of behind-the-scenes moments over the years and the book includes a number of her photos.  I also want to thank the guys at Veloce, specialists in publishing motor sport books – Rod Grainger, Kevin Quinn and Kevin Atkins, for their professionalism in editing, designing and producing the finished product.

Of course none of this would have been possible without the raw material generated by the most exciting road races of them all and the terrific buzz that is part of the live broadcasting operation. I hope ‘TT Talking’ does something to reflect the spirit of the races, perhaps in a way that hasn’t quite been done before, while at the same time lifting the lid on the fun and the stress of being at the sharp end of the radio broadcasts.


Leading the funeral of Paul Dobbs was the most emotional event

Leading the funeral of Paul Dobbs was the most emotional event

I've never known anything like the day when Crowe and Cox crashed near Ballaugh

I’ve never known anything like the day when Crowe and Cox crashed near Ballaugh

Paul Owen's truck gets a mention all of its own!

Paul Owen’s truck gets a mention all of its own!

There's no script for times like this! You just have to find something else to talk about.

There’s no script for times like this! You just have to find something else to talk about.

So here we are with the final four choices in my personal hit parade of Twenty Top Memories from the commentary box over 18 TT/MGP meetings and 193 races.

4Fourth place goes to one of the moments thatAnstey make the job so exciting – when the time trial nature of the races really comes into its own and it’s too close to call as the riders head down from Cronk ny Mona on the last lap. It’s last year, 2012, and the first of the 600cc Supersport races. The race has settled into a duel between Cameron Donald on Wilson Craig’s Honda and Bruce Anstey on Clive Padgett’s Honda. There’s nothing to choose between them and I have my stopwatch at the ready as Cameron flashes across the line. Then the excitement builds as we count down the seconds until Bruce arrives – and as I stop the watch I declare in my unofficial view that the Kiwi has won it. He has – by 0.77 seconds. They’ve been racing for 150 miles and it comes down to a few yards, and ten hours of broadcasting that day boil down to a split second. Magic.

03These are my most memorable moments, not necessarilyOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA the happiest, and this is one of the toughest situations I had to deal with – the crash involving six-time winner Nicky Crowe and twice-winner Mark Cox in the second Sidecar TT in 2009. It’s been a day of delays and I’ve been talking to the boys in the awning as we wait to see if racing will take place. Then we’re off, and the lads are first away. They pass the commentary point at Glen Helen but then the computer screen goes blank: no sign of them at the next transponder point, Ballaugh. Red flags appear. We hear Nicky and Mark have crashed at Ballacob on the approach to Ballaugh. After that, nothing in terms of reliable news. Rumours abound, among them the horrible report that the paramedics are treating one of them and leaving the other in the road, from which I have to assume that one is beyond help. It is truly awful and I am holding the fort as best I can, machines circulating the wrong way round the course back to the Grandstand, the fear gnawing away that before long I’m going to be told terrible news but saying nothing about any of the rumours. In the end racing is abandoned and we go off air. Eventually we hear that they are both in Nobles and both are badly injured – but alive. I remember that as much as the horrendous suspense that went before and that’s why the moment makes it up to No 3: the absolute relief and gratitude that they’d survived.

2Second spot is that man McGuinness again and another lap record. 16 John McGuinness. Pic by Dorothy LambertThe reason for this choice is simple. It’s the Superbike TT 2004 and my very first Radio TT commentary. First race, first lap, from a standing start McGuinness on the No 3 Yamaha rewrites the lap record. I recall standing looking at the timing screen, which was very unfamiliar then, wondering whether to believe it or not and anxious not to broadcast any false information. But it’s true: 17 minutes, 43.8 seconds. I’ve just commentated on the fastest lap in the then 97-year history of the TT Races. What a way to start! McGuinness’s average speed of 127.68mph slashes 3.2 seconds off the previous best set by David Jefferies two years earlier. I don’t know what shape John is in, but I’m shakin’ all over.

01Number one is not a TT moment at all, but the CraigManx Grand Prix. The Junior race in 2006. The first two riders to leave the line side by side are Yorkshire’s Craig Atkinson and Ireland’s Derek Brien. They get the tap on the shoulder at the same time, they depart at the same time. After three laps, with one circuit of the mountain to go, there are only seven-tenths of a second between them, Atkinson leading. This can never happen again – riders no longer start in pairs at either the MGP or TT. Past Ramsey and over Snaefell it is still nip and tuck, neither man able to make a decisive break. This is going to be closer than close. I lock my gaze onto the tarmac of Glencrutchery Road and the Honda of Atkinson and the Kawasaki of Brien scream into view, still cheek by jowel as if strapped by gaffer tape. This is no time to be waiting for the computer to process the information, I call it as I see it: Atkinson. Even though I’m watching at an angle and not dead in line, I’m sure Craig has won it. Then the computer has its say: Atkinson, by one hundredth of a second. One hundredth of a second!! Phew! And what drama! The adrenalin is still fizzing days later and that’s only the commentator!  Without doubt the most exciting moment I’ve known in live broadcasting, anywhere. And that’s why Craig Atkinson’s duel with the equally brilliant Derek Brien at the MGP 2006 is my number one Mountain Memory.

We’re moving into the business end of my personal Top Twenty Mountain Course moments in my nine years as lead commentator at the TT and Manx Grand Prix. Up to now my hit parade has included the funny and the quirky as well as moments of sporting theatre. Today we are well and truly into the category of history-makers.

8In at Number Eight is the Godfather himself, John McGuinness. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s the Senior TT in 2009 and a high-quality grid looks certain to provide us with some rapid speeds. Even so, the stat that my computer screen blinks out as McGuinness slows into pit lane at the end of lap two comes as a stunner: 131.578mph. “Ohhh, look at that!” I bellow into the mic, oblivious to the fact that no-one else can actually see it. “It’s one-three-one!”  The first 131mph lap ever and a wonderful, exhilarating moment for us all. Such is TT though: John is denied a victory chance when his chain snaps and Steve Plater takes the win.

7Same year, but the summer is burning out and this is a carolynndifferent kind of history but no less remarkable. I’m in my lofty perch watching the Ultra Lightweight race at the Manx Grand Prix. We’re wondering if Carolynn Sells can become the second woman on the podium after Maria Costello, after all she was well placed in 2008 before coming off at Windy Corner. It’s the midway point in the race and riders are coming in for the routine pit stop. Carolynn’s bright orange Yamaha FZR400 rockets into view – but does not slow down. She scorches past the pit wall, head down. What’s happening? A desperate blunder or a brilliant strategy? All is revealed soon enough. Brilliant strategy. The Paul Morrissey/Martin Bullock team has calculated their fuel consumption to the drop and without any pit stop Carolynn wins the race and I’m saluting the first woman ever (and still) to win a solo race around the Mountain Course. Afterwards we examine the stats again and work out that she would still have won even with a pit stop.

6The thought of any one rider winning five out of fiveHutchy TT races in a single year seems ridiculous but in 2010 Mission Impossible takes place before my very eyes. Just as remarkable, all races are won with the same manufacturer and the same team, Padgetts Honda. In a day of sometimes painful drama, in which Guy Martin survives a fireball at Ballagarey and Conor Cummins is seriously banged up at the Verandah, Ian Hutchinson emerges triumphant in the four-lap restarted Senior TT, leading from flag to flag with two 131 laps in the first two.  Hutchy, McGuinness and Conor all exceed 131 on the first lap. The race ends with Hutchy standing on the pegs as the Honda coasts across the line and into Ian’s own chapter of TT history.

05Number Five is another Magnificent McGuinness moment. johnWe’re at the Centenary TT in 2007 and the island has been simply spectacular all week with re-enactments, celebrity visitors, and terrific racing. One thing remains: we’re into the last race of the meeting, the Senior TT, and no-one has yet done a 130mph lap. Enter the Morecambe Missile. Lap Two, and here’s the HM Plant Honda Fireblade as the klaxon sounds to indicate a pit stop. Has it been done this time? It’s a real possibility. There’s the timing computer’s verdict. “It has been done! It HAS been done!!”  The engineers are frantically winding the volume down because my voice is busting the decibels at the top end.  130.354mph is the new record and John goes on to wrap up his 13th TT win with a new race record as well.

Tomorrow: Four to go. Which moments make the podium? Which is my all-time Number One? 

It is of course about engines and shocks and swingarms and brakes and tyres and pitstops. But it’s also about concentration. That special quality which most of us would like to have more of, especially when the going gets tough. The ability to place the mind in a zone that brooks no interference, no distraction, no deviation from a single goal. To trade not just on hope but on belief. To make the mind more than a receptor and filter of information, more than a decision-maker, but to make it a significant source of advantage in itself. This, I believe, is what is setting Michael Dunlop apart this week.

Irresistible force: Michael Dunlop at Kirk Michael today. photo: Alan Knight

Irresistible force: Michael Dunlop at Kirk Michael today. photo: Alan Knight

Watching him race to his fourth win in four races today, I was stunned by the man’s ability to keep up the pace for so long, knowing that fractions of a second counted, to keep hitting apex after apex, to run that Honda so smoothly on such an outrageous course, to deal with setbacks like a lock-up at the Bungalow and meeting traffic in Ramsey. It doesn’t matter how good a bike is, it’s the rider who makes the difference at this level. I know Hutchy won five out of five three years ago, and I saw Joey, McCallen, Hizzy and Foggy all race on the island, but I believe we are now seeing the greatest individual display of road racing. Michael is not just beating the course, he is beating brilliant riders who themselves are at the top of their game. McGuinness set a new outright lap record and today Anstey beat the old Supersport record, yet each was eclipsed by Dunlop M.

Sportsmen and women with outstanding powers of concentration tend not to be thought of as motorbike racers. Cricket fans will remember Bill Lawry, the most obstinate of opening bats for Australia. Ed Moses, the American 400 metre hurdler, would lie flat on the track before a race to compose himself in the zone. He was unbeaten in over nine years. Nick Faldo won his six major golf titles by thinking his way round the course as much as playing it. Michael has now produced this unique level of concentration on three separate days, four separate races, and 18 laps of 37.75 miles each, at an average speed in the region of 130mph.

One day to go. Whatever you have planned, cancel it. Do not miss the Senior TT on the Isle of Man this year.



Tomorrow gives us the fifth running of the TT for electric bikes, now the TT Zero but originally the TTX, won by Rob Barber for Team Agni, using Cedric Lynch’s innovative engineering, in 2009. The electric machines are developing well in quality if not in quantity. The American Motoczysz team has taken over from Agni as leaders of the pack but they will have their work cut out tomorrow with the Japanese Mugen Shinden team in top form with John McGuinness likely to hit the 110mph mark.

One innovation which did not stand the test of time was the Billown TT. It was five years ago that the southern course played host to TT racing as the organisers tried to come up with a format that retained two-stroke racing under the TT imprint.  The races for 250 and 125 bikes were staged the day after the Senior and I remember they produced some brilliant racing. There was an added sense of occasion, something different from the usual post-TT day at Billown. Appropriately, the first 125 TT at Billown was won by the last winner of a 125 TT on the Mountain Course, Chris Palmer. Ian Lougher won the Lightweight, his eighth TT win. There was plenty of debate about how valid it was to give these races full TT status, but then, plenty of TT races have been held on courses other than the Mountain Course. And to put the debate into another context, how many TTs were Chris and Ian denied by the abolition of two-stroke racing around the mountain? The Billown TT only lasted two years but the Southern 100 Club certainly rose to the occasion and gave us an indelible contribution to TT history.

Coming back up to date, Cameron Donald’s beard is attracting as much comment as his riding  – each is as spectacular as the other. Cam is on his way to taking over from former sidecar racer,  Irishman Pete Farrelly, as the owner of the best beard in my time at the TT. Pete cultivated a near waist-length creature which looked like it needed feeding at least twice a day. I asked him once how he coped with all that under his helmet? “I plait it and throw it over my shoulder,” he said with a beam.

I remember also asking Pete the reason for the name of his team, Reptile Racing? “I’m a tiler.”

Can’t argue with his logic.