Barry Sheene 1950-2003: The Biography
by: Stuart Barker
Publisher: HarperCollins UK
We’ve had this review page up since the publication of Barry Sheene’s biography in 2003, and the book has been sitting on my shelf just as long. I’d come across this page and glance at the book, or vice versa, and thought “One of these days I simply have to plow through that book”, but one of these days just never seemed to arrive.
I think I know why I stalled for so long — some of the other biographies we’ve reviewed are, well, let’s just say they won’t be sitting next to the classics of literature on the library shelves any time soon. They’re either rushed into production, written by a hack, or even worse, they’re written by a star-crossed fan who is completely incapable of taking the cool and unbiased viewpoint necessary for a good biography.
This book met one of the criteria, having been published very soon after Bazza’s passing. I figured it was yet another one of those let’s-make-a-quick-buck tomes that seem to hit the stands in unseemly haste.
But a recent mention of Sheene in one of the classic motorcycle print magazines recently made me feel guilty, and I grabbed the book and started to read. I’m now so sorry that I didn’t do this sooner, because I find it to be probably the most well written and entertaining biography of a motorcycle racer that I’ve come across.
Stuart Barker’s name and books should be familiar to motorcyclists; he’s written several, including Hizzy: The Autobiography of Steve Hislop 1962-2003, Niall Mackenzie: The Autobiography and Life of Evel. Barker says he’s been a fan of motorcycle racing since the tender age of 4, when he first became thrilled by Barry Sheene’s ride at Oliver’s Mount in Scarborough.
I’m not sure where Barker got all the background on Sheene, but the detailed information and Sheene’s quotes are sprinkled throughout and serve well to illustrate Barry’s life. There isn’t a lot of detail about Sheene’s post-race career, businesses or off-track personal life, but there is plenty of narrative about Sheene the racer, and that’s fine with me.
I vaguely remember reading about Barry Sheene’s exploits during the ’70’s, and now I wished I had paid more attention. It was extremely difficult to be a motorcycle race fan back then, what with a half-dozen or so channels on the telly, and motorcycle racing having about the same network clout as pudding making competitions.
But this book brings it all to life, and I now have a much deeper understanding of what made Barry so popular. He was a true trendsetter in a time when it was much harder to get the attention of worldwide press, unlike today’s 15 minute of fame types who run a dime a dozen.
Barry Sheene, 1950-2003, The Biography is highly recommended. Read it and learn about one of motorcycling’s greatest characters, who didn’t necessarily have to win championships or races — all he did was be himself and people around the world loved him for it.
By the way, here’s a nice tribute page to Barry Sheene