For many years, people have been saying that somebody should write a biography of Alex Moulton. For several reasons, I resisted the temptation. However, with the late John Pinkerton, I did produce a comprehensive video-recorded interview with Alex, about 12 years ago. This was highly structured and covered all aspects of his varied career. John and I felt that it was important that such a record existed in the archives. We were therefore delighted when, after seeing the finished programme, Alex described it as the best interview he had ever given. It even spawned a pocket-sized book, based on a transcript of the interview, which was published by Moulton enthusiast Dr Wilhelm Hopf, via his company Lit Verlag, in 2007.
(The video is available from the Veteran-Cycle Club and you can hear the 94 minute edited soundtrack by visiting http://idisk.mac.com/hadland1-Public/cycling_history_interviews.html For availability of the pocket-sized book, email firstname.lastname@example.org )
The interview was in no way intended as a substitute for a written biography. Oral histories can be very revealing and provide unique insights into a personality. They are not, however, a replacement for a carefully considered and researched biography. I was therefore pleased, some years ago, to discover that Alex Moulton was writing his memoirs. It has not been plain sailing and the book has been a long time coming. Alex is somebody who spends most of his time thinking about the future rather than dwelling on the past. For such people, writing memoirs can be difficult and a low priority. Jonathan Rishton assisted Alex in producing the initial manuscript. It is some years since Jonathan visited me to discuss aspects of the project.
Now, as we approach Alex Moulton’s 90th birthday on 9 April 2010, the book has finally been published by The Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust. It is a large format paperback of 320 pages, profusely illustrated, with considerable use of colour. The title is Alex Moulton – from Bristol to Bradford-on-Avon, with the strapline ‘a lifetime in engineering’.
In his introduction to the book, Alex points out that his intention is to be didactic as well as descriptive – notwithstanding the complaint of an old friend that he ‘pontificated too much’! To this end, the book contains many diagrams and sketches from Alex’s archives, to show the origins of concepts and consequent steps in the creative process. This adds a special value to the memoir.
The chapters cover: Alex’s family background; World War 2 (part of which he spent at Bristol aero engines); suspension research and development; Hydrolastic and Hydragas; the Moulton bicycles; steam power; and pastimes and the future.
There are also four appendices. These comprise: a very comprehensive section of 72 pages on the Bristol Centaurus aero engine; the Fedden car specification; a Moulton Bicycles Limited policy memorandum from the time when the firm was running at a loss in November 1965; and a concise and interesting section on a subject dear to Alex’s heart – education for engineering.
Alex Moulton is unique. No other living engineer has combined active involvement in the design of steam engines, aero engines, automotive suspension and bicycles. I can think of none who is still working at the age of 90 and whose products are being made in the grounds of his own house in England, by British craftsmen, with the majority being exported at premium prices to the Far East. His story is well worth reading, for a variety of reasons – not least its frankness.
You can buy the book from Alex Moulton himself (email email@example.com) for £25 plus postage. If you are interested in any of the fields in which he has worked – steam, aircraft, cars or bikes – you will certainly enjoy this memoir. In so doing, you will marvel at the way in which this inventive and determined man has bucked the mind-numbingly conformist trends of the modern corporate world – even though this has, at times, cost him dear.