Chapter 1 The Genesis of the FLYER
This is the start of documenting the historic occasion of reviving Britain’s 1st mass produced skate boards. The Warwick Bullet and the Surf FLYER Board were well known to a generation of Britain’s first skateboarders as well as memorable to skateboarders across Europe and even in Australia and South Africa. Many remember this skateboard with affection, many do not. I guess it depended largely on your perceptions, experiences and skill levels as to how you came away from the experience of the ‘Bullet’ and the ‘FLYER’ skateboards.
These boards came in two graphics, the iconic red nose and surf stripes and the more complex blue deluxe version. The first production models came out in 1964 after the Mettoy toy company took over the N&R Green Roller skate manufacturer in Solihull who sold roller skates under the brand Warwick Flyer. Hence this is where the names Warwick and Flyer come from. Later in 1964 Derek Morris manager of the roller skate operation for Mettoy produced the Warwick Bullet surf skate including the deluxe version and within a year had distributed them as far afield as Sydney, Australia. In March 1969 the cheaper version was written up in the first edition of British Surf Magazine.
The iconic surf board influenced graphic came with a very basic truck and roller skate rubber compound wheels. It was slated because it wouldn’t turn and this was no different in 1977 when the FLYER was mass produced. The wheels ‘bog’ in and are very slow. The deluxe version however, although it had the same wheels, had a much improved and possibly unique double side bushing system. Ridden on a steep hill the deluxe Bullet and its successor the FLYER were super slalom boards. The two models sold in their thousands and its beyond question that Derek Morris made this the most successful skateboard in the 60s/70s history of British skateboard manufacturing. Depending on which model your parents got you determined your memories of this first skateboarding experience, from which kids either dropped out or advanced to better things. By 1978 with urethane wheels and improved trucks appearing on the Morris Vulcan skateboard range the FLYER boards were dubbed Trainer boards in the promotional literature.
Derek Morris was not only the father of British skateboarding; his influence in the world of roller skating was even greater. Although no information about his career within the Mettoy and Playcraft Toys empire is currently known, what can be established is that he was the man who single handedly exploited the two skateboard waves in the mid 60s and later 70s. As things slowed down in Britain on the back of the mid 60s collapse in the States he pursued the roller skating market until the next wave of commercial skateboarding came along. This next wave was on the back of the mid 70s explosion, fuelled by the summers of 75 and 76 immortalised by the DOGTOWN chronicles.
Around 1974 Derek Morris founded Morris Vulcan at the same Solihull factory which Mettoy bought from N&R Green and which Morris acquired from Mettoy. This factory was to become the centre of his Empire for the rest of his working life. Probably as a result of the previous slowdown he retained the two graphics of the Warwick Bullets and just changed the name to FLYER. What followed was a radical increase in production over a short time scale. Where other less experienced punters came unstuck and financially embarrassed Derek Morris was absolutely pivotal in the history and heritage of British skateboarding.
Chapter 2. The graphics and a remarkable connection
We have established that Derek Morris produced the two Warwick Bullet ‘surf skate’ designs in red and blue in late 1964/early 1965 and used the same designs 12 years later in 1977 when he relaunched these boards as the ‘surf FLYER board’. There is one other board however which had the identical graphic design on an identical sized board. This was the 1976 Mr Chipper board which came in red and blue with different logos and which Kent Sherwood, who was Jay Adams’ step dad, produced under the Z-FLEX label that same year. I think its Wenzle Rummel who says we didn’t have kick tails before 1975. All skate boards in the 1960s when the surf skate style prevailed were on flat, surf board shaped boards. In England in 1977 we were a year or so behind DOGTOWN. The 1976 Mr Chipper board was undoubtedly Kent Sherwood’s entry level board for kids at that time and once the Z-FLEX proper fibreglass boards took off the Chipper was consigned to history. In Great Britain and Europe however the FLYER continued until 1978 as the go to starter board for young kids. So where did the Mr Chipper design come from? The only possible answer to that question is that it was either copied from Warwick Bullet or it was a complete fluke. The former is the most likely because it is not only the graphic but the deck size and shape that are also identical.
The Warwick Bullet surf skate therefore has a remarkable place in skateboard heritage, not so much for its position in skateboard development, but astonishingly for its position in skateboard art and as a shoelace tying the seedling British scene to that giant of skate culture the Z Boys, Jay Adams, Zephyr and Z-FLEX.
Chapter 3. The making of the surf FLYER board in 1977 and 78.
The man who did this work is still alive, a local well known character of Lydbrook called Laurence Williams. He earned £35 a week at Lydwoods back then until Robert Jones put Laurence and two friends on peace rate of 6d a board to make the FLYER decks. That’s about 2.5 pence in today’s currency. Laurence’s wage then jumped to £135 a week for nearly 18 months. Believe me that was a fortune back then and way beyond the wage of most working men.
Laurence has told Nick Jones and me that he and his mates made 5-600 decks a day for the best part of 18 months and, except for the annual fortnight shut down, 7 days a week. In between times they still managed to fit in local football and some skateboarding too. Naturally some of the FLYERS ended up early on in Lydbrook, the Forest of Dean’s longest village and nearly all downhill. Possibly more wannabee skateboarders than cars around Lydbrook back then too!!
There were five operations in the production of the decks all done entirely by hand. First, one of the lads would cut out the rectangles of ply which would be drilled for a basic jig which allowed the ply to be shaped on a thin band saw, rotating it by hand to cut the blank. This was then put to the third man for hand held sanding on a rotating sander. After the day’s target had been reached they would seal the decks with a coat of varnish and lay them all up to dry and go home for tea. This was a long enough day for anyone, day in day out doing the same monotonous work, but it was the shekels that counted back then for the lads and they had to keep the output up to satisfy Derek Morris at Vulcan Solihull, where the boards were sent by lorry each day for assembly.
After tea Laurence and his mates returned to screen print the decks. Lay the deck down top uppermost, lay over the screen, squirt of ink and a pass with the squeegee, job done. The deck was taken away and the next laid down and so on. All the decks were done after the factory closed because they had to lay them out on the factory floor to dry. In the morning Bob Jones would open up and the first job was to pack the FLYER decks for carriage to Solihull.
Its a crazy story for crazy times, it was 1977 Britain, Silver Jubilee, Star Wars, Eagles, Bee Gees, Fleetwood Mac, Abba and skateboards. It was the year after the longest drought in human memory. Laurence and his two mates kept on the job until mid 1978 then skateboarding crashed in Britain and burnt out overnight.
to be continued……