The Carlton man behind Sting's Quadrophenia scooter

Brian Cady brianinatlanta2001 at
Wed Aug 12 10:52:26 UTC 2009

Also from This is Nottingham:

The Carlton man behind Sting's Quadrophenia scooter
Wednesday, August 12, 2009, 08:00

IT'S one of British film's most iconic sequences.

An angry young man, disillusioned with life, steals Sting's scooter and tries to hurtle off a cliff.

But few people know that the man who helped make that sequence possible now lives in Carlton.

Former aircraft engineer William Woodhouse was enlisted to build the silver Vespa that makes the closing scenes of Quadrophenia so memorable.

In reality, William had to assemble five identical Vespas for the stunning shots in which Phil Daniels' character Jimmy veers along the Brighton cliff-tops before his bike hurtles on to the rocks below.

"I had to make one bike without engines to go off the cliff," explained William, 72.

"The filmmakers didn't want the weight because they had to get the bike back. The council wouldn't allow them to leave the wreckage on the beach!"

William's involvement in the film came to light because the Quadrophenia story has been revived in a rock opera, based on The Who album of the same name, which is running at the Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham this week.

Scooter enthusiasts organised a mass ride-out to the Royal Concert Hall yesterday to celebrate the show's arrival and William contacted the venue to ask if he could join them.

After that, he was treated to a showing of the musical.

"It brings back memories of the rallies I used to attend 50 years ago," he said. "I was really looking forward to seeing the stage version of the show. Obviously they couldn't do it the same as the film. All they can do is make a stab at it."

Back in 1977 William was working part time at a scooter shop near the filmmaker's London studios.

Initially the filmmakers contacted him to see if they could get hold of a Vespa 160 but William advised them it would be too difficult to track down five such identical bikes.

"They only made a few of them before that model was superceded by a different one," he explained.

Instead, he suggested getting five modern Vespas and redesigning them to make them look vintage.

It took him two weeks to find all the parts.

"We had lots of trouble hunting around dealers finding the mirrors and lights. You had to find five sets that all looked the same," he recalled.

He decided to paint the bikes silver because the original was white and he feared white paint wouldn't hide the bright colours of the other bikes.

He also dreamed up the mysterious VCB 160 number-plate which sparked much debate among the film's fans.

"I was in the Vespa Club of Britain. That's the reason I put its initials on there: I was just advertising the Vespa Club for free!" he explained. "And the original bike they wanted was a Vespa 160 which is where the numbers came from. All the film's fans thought the numbers had a special meaning behind them."

William can't remember how much he was paid for the job.

Despite the film's enduring popularity, he says he thought it was a bit "over the top". "I never thought people would still be talking about that scene 30 years on," he said.

William trained as an engineer with the Royal Navy in 1953. He then moved to Heathrow as an aircraft engineer and even worked on Concorde. His love of Vespas arose because the bike's Italian manufacturers applied aircraft technology to scooters. William has attended Vespa rallies all over the world and, in 1967, he rode to Moscow and back on a Vespa. In 1997 he was part of the team that worked on Thrust, the jet-engined British supersonic car that broke the sound barrier.

At one stage he owned as many as nine bikes.

 -Brian in Atlanta
The Who This Month! 


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