Norfolk speedway star has never been forgotten
Derek James looks back on the life of our very own speedway hero Billy Bales as he celebrates his diamond wedding anniversary.
He is the elder statesman of Norfolk speedway – the man named as the top Bloater who shone so brightly over Norwich before turning into a Tiger.
His name – Billy Bales. The Mighty Atom. Our very own speedway hero who has just celebrated his diamond wedding anniversary.
It was 60 years ago when Billy, already a speedway favourite, married his sweetheart Myra and they are still living at Hellesdon, near to where he was a star attraction at the fabulous Firs Stadium, home to the Norwich Stars.
Today, surrounded by family and friends, they live a quiet life but whenever Billy goes out people come up to him and want to shake his hand.
'That's Billy Bales,' they say. 'The speedway rider.'
'People are very kind – and they still remember,' said quietly spoken and modest Billy, who is now in his 80s.
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Billy and Myra have four children – daughter Carol, landlady at the Crown Point in Trowse, sons Raymond, Andrew and Philip and a collection of grandchildren.
Son Raymond was also a handy speedway rider and grandson Billy Jnr is a young star of the grass track.
And, just to confuse you even more, Billy's real name is Raymond. It was changed because speedway boss Dickie Wise couldn't remember Raymond.
Billy grew up in Hellesdon and was a member of the Hellesdon Harriers cycle speedway team which practised in the Firs car park.
After leaving school he went to work at Laurence, Scott & Electromotors but was tempted to have a run-out with Paddy Mill at his speedway training school.
And once young Billy climbed on a bike, fell off and got on again, he was hooked. He practised over and over again.
One man who spotted the young rider who looked like a boy was Dickie Wise who was Mr Speedway in those days, He invited him to ride at his new track at Great Yarmouth.
'Within a few meetings I got the chance to ride in the team and never looked back really, Mr Wise couldn't remember my first name and put Billy in the programme. It stuck ever since,' he explained.
People say top-scoring Billy, Mr Maximum, was the best Bloater of all time.
Mind you, looking like Billy the Kid did have its problems.
When he tried to get into the clubroom for a celebration drink after a great meeting the attendent didn't recognised him and barred from the club because he looked so young. He was 19 at the time.
After doing his National Service Billy was snapped by big brother Norwich and he rode for the Stars right up until 1964 until the track closed.
Despite many spills and broken bones Billy was a team regular and one of the best known and best loved sportsmen in the city and county.
When the Firs suddenly closed, leaving fans heartbroken, Billy was snapped up by Sheffield Tigers where he spent the rest of his career before retiring in 1969.
Although Billy is now in his 80s people will never forget him – once a hero always a hero
Happy anniversary Billy and Myra.