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Farewell Alan Oakley

04/06/2012

Alan Oakley, born 27 April 1927, was for many years senior designer at Raleigh. He died on 18 May 2012, aged 85, after a long fight against cancer. Obituaries have been dominated by references (of varying accuracy) to his work on the Chopper high-rise bicycle. But Alan was responsible for much more than that – everything from components, such as anti-squeal roller-lever brakes, through conventional roadsters and a highly succesful range of small-wheelers, to race-winning high-end lightweights. As part of the research for my 2011 book on Raleigh’s history, writer and cycle historian Eric Kwiatkowski interviewed Alan Oakley about the upmarket machines. Eric attended Alan’s funeral to pay his respects and here records his impressions:

I went to Alan Oakley’s funeral yesterday. A dull day, but there was a very warm although of course sad atmosphere at the service. On arrival, I noticed about ten ‘Choppers’ near the chapel entrance, which I thought was a very nice touch!

About a hundred people attended, filling the main chapel at Wilford Hill crematorium. The service opened with the 23rd Psalm sung by the congregation, followed by prayers and also eulogies given by his son, grandson and a friend, Dennis. Of course, the Chopper story was told, but so was Alan’s involvement with Reg Harris’s career.

Dennis has quite a sense of humour – he said that after Alan’s enforced redundancy from Raleigh, they both spent some time sticking pins in effigies of the management. It must have worked said Dennis, because those responsible were themselves ‘retired’ soon after! He told the story of Alan’s wanting to fly, but having eyesight problems which were sufficient to keep him from joining the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy.

Model aeroplanes were a passion, as was painting and fine wines – Alan’s senior at work once asked why he’d never seen a photo of Alan without a glass! Alan’s grandson and son spoke of his broad interests and his immensely positive influence on them in childhood.

The minister conducting the service told us all that he himself had once owned a ‘Chopper’ and a ‘Grifter’, and joked that it was probably blasphemous to say so, but he’d preferred the ‘Grifter’! We were asked to reflect on Alan whilst a recording of Eva Cassidy’s version of ‘Fields of Gold’ was played. As the service neared its close, ‘Forever Autumn’ from ‘War of the Worlds’ was played.

Although my meeting with Alan was brief, his willingness to open his door and help with my research even though Raleigh was many years in his past spoke volumes about him. He also entrusted me, a complete stranger, with some of his precious photos – which of course I returned the next day having scanned them. I’m glad we met.

Eric Kwiatkowski

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From → Raleigh

2 Comments
  1. Paula Thomas permalink

    I wonder if you could help me confirm something regarding The Chopper and Alan. I believe it was my brother Guy Phillips [decseased at 49yrs Feb 2012] born 1962, had something to do with the bike named Chopper. We lived in Walsall , West Midlands. My parents had some friends by the name of Ann and Robin Webb and they had two children Jaqueline and Charles.My brother was a close friend of Charles and he called him CHOPPER. The story was that the childrens grandfather called the bike Chopper after Charles . I need to know if Alan Oakley had a daughter Ann from his first marriage. Regards Paula Thomas. Tel 01889 560474.

    • Hi Paula,
      Alan Oakley’s first wife was Brenda Wilson and they had a daughter, born 1955, called Deborah. The name Chopper is attributed to Al Scalingi, Raleigh Industries of America’s marketing vice-president. It derives from the then relatively new word “chopper”, meaning “chopped” or adapted motorcycle – as in the film Easy Rider.
      Regards,
      Tony

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