Ian Hoskins: Tributes paid as the man who brought speedway to the UK dies aged 97
Evening News Entertainment Editor and Edinburgh Monarchs match co-presenter Líam Rudden remembers legendary speedway promoter Ian Hoskins.
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The death has been announced of speedway promoter Ian Hoskins, the man who, together with his father Johnnie, brought speedway to the U.K. and the Edinburgh Monarchs to the Capital and helped create generations of fans of the thrills-and-spills sport.
The news broke on the Old Meadowbank Speedway Facebook page this morning in a post by Terry-Jean Macfarlane-Stone, who wrote: "We received the sad news this morning from Joe Hicks in New Zealand that long time promoter of The Monarchs Ian Hoskins died at 18.30 hrs.
“Reunited with his Dad Johnnie who was the instigator of Speedway in Great Britain. RIP Ian.”
In a statement following the announcement, a spokesperson for Edinburgh Monarchs confirmed the sad news.
It said: “We have heard from New Zealand that former Glasgow and Edinburgh Speedway promoter Ian Hoskins has passed away at the age of 97.“It would be hard to imagine that anyone ever had a greater influence on the sport of Speedway in Scotland, or even the U.K.
“During his time as the boss at Edinburgh, riders like Tommy Miller, Junior Bainbridge, Lowther and Crowther, Gordon McGregor, Ken McKinlay, George Hunter, Doug and Willie Templeton, Wayne Briggs, Bert Harkins, Reidar Eide and Bernie Persson came to the fore.”
Hoskins was a showman as well as a shrewd businessman - in the days of Old Meadowbank he didn’t eat his hat if his team were defeated… he just set it on fire instead.
He was 81 when I spoke to him back in 2005 and he recalled that, unfortunately for the city’s speedway fans back then, but more fortunate for his milliner, the burning of his trademark pork pie hat became something of a regular occurrence. Not that he was remotely bitter about it his favourite style of headwear ending up a charred remnant.
“I have always believed that speedway is more than just a sport, it’s an entertainment,” he said of his time as promoter of the Edinburgh Monarchs.
“After all, if you’ve had a boring meeting you have to give the crowd something to remember. So I’d put on interval attractions.
“That way if their team had been hammered the fans might forget the fact that they’d been beaten.”
And while those attractions included beauty pageants, bicycle racing and donkey derbies, the one that the crowd most wanted to see was his flammable hat.
“On average I got through one hat a week. The riders would grab it, pour methanol on it and set it alight. The crowd loved it. When speedway closed down, Dunn and Co the hat makers went broke,” he jokes.
Hoskins was on a rare visit to the Capital from New Zealand where he lived, to reminisce about his days as king of the track and promote his first novel, a romantic thriller called The Cardinal Takes a Bride, when we met.
Speedway, it seems, was just one of his many interests over the years.
In fact, he had already crammed more into his life than appeared humanly possible - having been a fighter pilot, cinema manager, professional actor and playwright.
But it’s was as one of the country’s most flamboyant sports promoters that the son of Johnnie Hoskins – the man widely acknowledged to have invented speedway – was best remembered.
Hoskins promoted the Monarchs from 1960 to 1967, but his involvement with the speedway scene pre-dated that spell by 12 years.
The problem was, at the time he also owned the team that, to this day, are Edinburgh’s greatest rivals in a traditional East versus West struggle for supremacy, bragging rights and sporting achievements.
Following in his father’s tyre tracks, Hoskins took control of his first team, the Glasgow Tigers, in 1946, at the age of 21 just when speedway was starting to really catch the public’s imagination, fuelled by multiple smashes, loud exhausts, smoke and flying ash.
He recalled: “In 1946 and 1947 we got really big crowds in Glasgow, so I decided that we should try to get a team in Edinburgh.
“At the close of the 1947 season I chartered an aeroplane and pilot and flew over Edinburgh. It was the quickest way to discover if there was a suitable venue. I saw the Leith Athletic ground and thought ‘that’s an interesting place’.”
That “interesting place” turned out to be the Old Meadowbank Stadium.
“I arranged to bring speedway there the following year.’
Speedway ran at Old Meadowbank, with the Hoskins family keeping a low profile, until 1954, when the post-war entertainment tax started to make the sport unprofitable.
Six years later, it was a different story when, with the tax scrapped, Hoskins reintroduced the sport to Edinburgh.
This time he was in the spotlight and the burning of hats became a thing.
When the Monarchs were turfed out of Old Meadowbank at the end of 1967 to allow the stadium to be re-developed for the 1970 Commonwealth Games, Hoskins took his team to Coatbridge for two years after a request to race at Powderhall had been turned down – although the stadium would later become the Monarchs’ home from 1977 to 1995.
But leaving his sport’s spiritual home promoted Hoskins to make a bigger move, and in 1975 he emigrated to Salisbury in Rhodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe), where he once more promoted speedway, before opening an ice rink, running a chain of cinemas and writing a 20-part radio drama. He also fulfilled another ambition there, becoming a professional actor.