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Norwich Firs speedway announcer Bill Smith dies

PUBLISHED: 17:56 24 January 2011

SPEEDWAY

SPEEDWAY

For generations of speedway fans in Norwich, Bill Smith, who has died aged 89, was the last announcer and the "Voice of the Firs."

Bill Smith, who has died aged 89

He was also chairman of the Norwich Speedway Supporters’ Club in early 1960s and presided at the last meeting on November 5, 1964 at the Firs. The site at Hellesdon, almost opposite the Firs public house, had been sold for development for about £75,000 about a year earlier.

He knew many of the stars including world champions Ove Fundin, who was a great friend. Later he became a speedway referee, travelling the country on official duties for about three years. He also became an announcer at King’s Lynn Speedway.

Although speedway was his lifelong passion, the art and skill of driving was his life. He became the country’s chief driving examiner at the Department of Transport before retiring in 1985 and moving to Norwich.

William Smith was born in December 1921 at Easton, near Woodbridge, in Suffolk, where he went to school. He was one of seven brothers although only one, Geoff, who lives in Suffolk, is still alive.

After joining the Royal Air Force in 1941, he spent more than three years in Canada, where he became the station commander’s official driver. He landed in Normandy on D-Day +2 with the mission to retrieve damaged aircraft.

He married a Norwich girl, Doris, at St Peter Mancroft Church in March 1945 and after he had been demobbed started work in insurance. But he decided on a change of career and became an instructor with Gunton’s School of Motoring.

In 1954, he joined the Ministry of Transport and was sent to Hendon Police Driving School, where he won the top award for driving proficiency of cars and also riding motorbikes.

After transfer to Peterborough as a driving examiner, he was promoted to senior and moved to Norwich. He spent two years in Liverpool before returning to Norwich, where he opened the new test centre in Theatre Street. In 1969, he was promoted again to London where he became assistant chief examiner and finally chief examiner in 1980.

And his son, Prof Steve Smith, vice-chancellor of Exeter University, said that his father had a completely clean driving record. “He never got done for speeding or parking,” he added.

Appointed OBE in 1983 and admitted liveryman to the Worshipful Company of Carmen, he became involved with a range of road safety charities including Rospa and campaigned on driving issues.

He became an active member of Cringleford parish council, where he lived. He also became a season ticket holder at Carrow Road with his son, Steve, who was at the University of East Anglia until 1992 as a professor in international relations. Mr Smith, who was a long-standing member of the Victoria and Norfolk Bowling Clubs, was also a member of a complaints’ panel on medical cases.

He was married for 65 years and leaves a widow, Doris, and son, Steve.

Funeral arrangements to be announced.

For more on Bill Smith and the Firs, keep an eye on Derek James’s column this week.

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