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Home movie shows The Great Escape stunts

Tim Gibbes with Great Escape Triumph TR6

A home movie showing an Aussie rider’s involvement in the making of 1963 film The Great Escape has surfaced after more than half a century.

Australian rider Tim Gibbes (pictured above with the original bike and current owner Dick Shepherd) was selected to perform stunts in the famous movie while he was competing at various motorcycle events in Europe.

However, he did not perform the famous jump scene which was done by movie star Steve McQueen’s friend Bud Ekins who died in 2007.

Tim, aged 85, is the only surviving motorcycle stunt performer from the movie.

Home movie

The home movie was shot by his wife, Joan, and was shown on Sunday (24 March 2019) at a 75th anniversary of the end of WWII screening of the movie in London which Tim attended.

Tim says he has only seen The Great Escape a couple of times.

He says he took “a code of silence” not to talk about the filming, so the home movie was “put away”.  

It shows Tim riding as a Nazi soldier who is trapped by McQueen’s character stringing a wire across the road.

Tim Gibbes The Great Escape Triumph TR6 Steve McQueen
Steve McQueen and a “dead” Tim!

“My first run I dropped the bike and slid along the road as requested by the director,” Tim says.

“But I slid too far in a shower of sparks and hit the camera and its operator.

“While the medics attended to the camera man (they said I’d broken his leg, but that may have been a Hollywood term for a bit of a bruise) I quietly dissolved behind the crowd knowing that my role as a stunt man in the film was over.

“Then I heard Jack Reddish the assistant director call out ‘Gibbes, Gibbes come back here’.

“He explained, ‘Can you imagine how that would look in the film theatre when the motorcycle would slide along in a shower of sparks into the audience. Do it again’, he said, ‘but this time we’ll lift the camera a little higher and you slide under it’, which I duly did.”

Tim says he was “ashamed” to be seen wearing the Nazi uniform while filming in Germany only 17 years after the war ended.

Great Escape jump scene

He and Bud also helped prepare the famous Great Escape fence jump scene on a Triumph TR6.

“We spent a long time finding the perfect dip in the ground to launch the motorcycle over the barbed wire,” he says.

“Bud and I had a few practice runs at riding up from the dip, and it wasn’t an easy stunt.

“The Triumph wasn’t really the right bike to be doing it on; it made things a lot more difficult. It was just an ordinary street bike with fancy tyres, one that you’d use to go to the shops. 

“It wasn’t a stunt Steve McQueen could have attempted, and the film crew wouldn’t have let him do it anyway as they had to ensure a big star like him didn’t get injured. 

“Even Bud, who eventually did the stunt, said he was only going to try it once and then I would have had to try and do it myself. He said before he did it that he didn’t want to do it. But he managed to get it done.”

Tim’s tally

Tim Gibbbes performing in a Welsh competition escape
Tim Gibbes performing in a Welsh competition

Tim won three win International Six Day Trial medals for Australia, including the first in 1956.

In 1961, he married Joan and moved to Palmertson North, New Zealand.

He continued to race, winning a total of six Gold and one Bronze ISDT medals.

Tim stopped competing at the age of 60 and has since been honoured with a John Britten Innovation and Service to the Industry Award, a Motorsport NZ Distinguished Service Award and in 2016 he was inducted into the MNZ Hall of Fame.

While in the UK for the movie anniversary, Tim says he will also the visit Dick Shepherd Triumph motorcycle museum, The Triumph factory at Hinckley and the National Motorcycle Museum in Birmingham.