Paul Hetchin Remembers

The following is condensed from email correspondence between the Editor and Paul Hetchin. It shows a side of Alf which most customers would not have seen. Editor's notes and comments appear in square brackets.

... although I was always fascinated by the business, it was never going to be a path that my brother, sister, or I would follow. None [of] us had the practical capabilities that would have been required, but I loved looking at the beautiful bikes, meeting some often fascinating customers, and as children we were blisfully lucky that the shop opposite my dad's was a tie business run by a very famous footballer, Dave Mackay (who captained Tottenham Spurs, and also Scotland). Dave Mackay was a great player, a tough and fiesty man, and my dad, Mackay, and the co-owner, a director of Spurs, were friendly. My brother [and I, and] other Spurs players, would often join my dad in a little cafe opposite for eggs and chips, steak and chips, [and] bacon sandwiches. Can you imagine that now, a top player in football eating a load of old rubbish a few hours before a big match? I was not as excited as my brother. My dad and mum were Spurs supporters as is my brother, and my sister and I are Manchester United supporters. But at least it meant we always got tickets for the Spurs vs. Man[chester] Utd game.

Alf behind the wheel:
... relatives of ours were calling on a couple to look at antiques they had for sale and they saw, sitting in the garage, a beautiful 1930s white Mercedes Benz (a 170 D I think). My dad had never been much into cars and neither are [we], his kids, as, amazingly, the three of us are all non-drivers. Anyway they told my dad, and, acting out of impulse and the fact that the previous day he had sold a large number of cycles to a Nigerian delegation and had a few pennies in his pockets(!), he bought the car. When he reversed to put the car in the garage he unfortunately put his trust in me and my brother Lawrie to signal him into the small space[;] sadly both of us were too late to tell him to stop and within 10 seconds of his getting the car, we helped cause 300 pounds of damage. He loved the car but never really had the confidence to drive it for long, so a "day out" in the car would be a nervy ten-minute drive through the town and back again. In defence of him, the first signs of Parkinsons disease were showing and this could well have contributed to his nerves.

Helping out in the shop:
I used to go in on a Saturday morning to help my dad. When I say 'help' that might be overstating things, but I was there. The premises in Tottenham were quite big and there was no fancy heating. So on the coldest days in, say, January I am convinced ice formed on the inside of the shop. My job was to get the parafin to light one small heater; my dad would light it, wait a few minutes, and then say how wonderful and warm it was. Yes, minus 11 instead of minus 12!

The Anglo-German connection:
I have always been intrigued by the Hetchins/German team link up, especially as it was still in full swing in 1938/39. As you know, my family is Jewish and for such a team to continue to co-exist and flourish is intriguing, especially at a time when anti-semitism would have been increasingly rife. Of course, there may be no mystery at all. It might simply be that my grandfather respected the team and they respected him and that is why they carried on. ... It is an intriguing "marriage" and there is a delightful irony that a Jew should have supplied the bike for the gold medal winner.

[Ed.: There is indeed a story here, but it is fragmentary at best. Toni Merkens came from Cologne Germany and was a well-known and well-liked rider in Europe throughout the 1930s. He participated in several events in Great Britain and his name would have been known to the British cycling public. Hyman supported a number of cyclists over the years, Toni Merkens among them. He also supported the Dutchmen, Cor Wals and Piet van Kempen, as well as a number of British riders. Merkens was a popular cyclist in Britain in the 1930s, and after Merkens won the World's and Olympic Championships in 1936, Hyman offered a Toni Merkens model. This was not a commercial success and only one is known to have survived. Hyman's support of the two Dutchmen proved to be more lucrative, as the Six-Day model which they rode was sold in substantial numbers (quite a number of which have survived).]

Hyman's frame:
I was a co-presenter of an antiques/collectables programme in the UK called "Boot Sale Challenge", a popular programme. One day I thought I would bring my grandfather's Magnum Opus, a beautiful bike, owned by him and by repute the very first Magnum Opus produced. I told my co-presenter that because the cycle had the provenence of being owned by Hyman Hetchin, being his own frame, being the first Magnum Opus ever produced etc., its value could be as high as around 7,000 pounds. Unfortunately the editor cut the explanation that the frame had such a provenence and that was the reason for its high value, with the result that the television company received hundreds of calls from Hetchins owners wanting to know where they could sell their frames for 7000 pounds!

Alf with the family jewell

Above: Alf with the family jewell, Hyman's own, built in 1948--the prototype Magnum Opus.

Monty Young:
... other things I enjoyed were meeting the increasing number of Americans who used to come to order bikes, and also the visit every Saturday from Monty Young of Condor Cycles. Monty was a great character, but what was very funny is that because neither of them wanted to say they had had a good week when maybe the other had not, whenever the other asked how the week had been, they always replied, "not bad." Taking the response to its logical conclusion, the two of them had never in 20 years or more had a good day ... and I for one know that was not true.

The move to Southend:
[Ed.: In Feb. 1974 the shop moved from Tottenham to Southend. The reason for the move from Tottenham was that the block of Seven Sisters Road where the shop had been located since the 1930s was requisitioned for demolition in order to build a bypass (which was, in the event, never actually built). There has been speculation why Alf took the shop to Southend. Paul fills in the picture:]

Regarding my dad choosing Southend because it had quite a large Jewish community; if that was a factor, it would have been only a small consideration. Much more likely was the lure of the sea (well, the estuary actually) and most importantly there was a cycle business operating [there already] and my dad simply took it over and adjusted things accordingly.

Why Alf sold the business:
My sister tells me that there is a totally incorrect account [on the Internet] of how and why my father sold his buiness, suggesting that, of all things, he could not cope with the "bookwork". This is total nonsense, complete rubbish, but my sister can't remember how she stumbled upon the website.
The reason my dad sold the business was actually quite simple. Jake [Riviera], according to my dad, went to see him not with any business plan but to look for a frame, and my dad repeated what he said so many times to different people: "You know what, I wouldn't mind selling up one day." This time the man he said it to had both the money and the enthusiasm to actually follow up that chance remark and the whole deal was wrapped up with extraordinary speed.
As I say he (my dad) never had any specific plans to sell but he acted on impulse. He was a curious person my dad, at times very cautious, not one to take risks, but then out of the blue he would have the ability to surprise.
[For example,] He came back from a holiday to Nice, a place he absolutely loved, and announced to us he had bought an apartment there! Neither my mum nor dad would fly, so they went by sea and train, taking forever but loving it.
So, actually the selling of the business, in retrospect, was not such a surprise, but the speed of the deal was.
The trouble [with selling the business] was that my dad was absorbed with the business, certainly not the money but just the daily fix of meeting people etc. So he missed it more than he ever let on. He had very few hobbies, so retirement was not the fun it should have been and, of course, he had Parkinsons disease which slowed him and jolted his confidence.
So, the reason he sold the business was simply that somebody made a decent offer for it. Had Jake not had that chance chat with him, he would no doubt have carried on.

I sell antiques and also like to buy cycling related memorabilia like old french advertsing posters which used bicycles, bronzes, silver, all kinds of thing. I bought a couple a months ago a beautiful art nouveau cycling medal designed by Frederic Vernon depicting a nouveau maiden on a biycle. The reverse is dated 1911 and was a medal presented to someone called Marcel Planes. When I did some research I found that Marcel Planes was the world distance cycling champion and held the title from 1911 to 1938.

My brother, sister and I, take great pride that the history of Hetchins Cycles and my family will forever be on record thanks to your tremendous site. My dad was a lovely man and a very modest person but he would have taken a real pride in your historical (and current) homage.
--Paul Hetchin, 2009

[The Editor thanks Paul for his contribution above. Hetchin's name does indeed live on; it has become a cycling icon. This web site is secondary; the real tribute to Hetchins are all the beautiful bikes still on the road. Ed.]

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