Johnny Brittain. A true sportsman and gentleman, who will forever be associated with the Royal Enfield marque. Words by Tim Britton.
To document the life of a rider such as Johnny Brittain, who passed away on March 7th 2019, aged 87, is not an easy task. One could simply list the sporting successes achieved by one of England’s most accomplished off-road riders, which alone would fill this section, but then miss a lot of what made John Victor Brittain not only a top rider, but universally popular too.
Known to his contemporaries in the trials world as ‘JV’ and to the readers of the motorcycling press as ‘Johnny’, he was born on December 27th 1931, in Wombourne, West Midlands. Johnny and his younger brother Pat grew up in Walsall, where their father, noted pre-Second World War rider Vic Brittain, ran a garage and motor engineers business – where Johnny would begin his working life on leaving school.
Despite parental successes, there was no pressure on JV to take up motorcycling but the competitive urge was there. In the immediate post war period, with petrol in short supply, the local motorcycle club ran cycle trials and it was with pedal power that Johnny began his competition career. He must have made an impression, as the local motorcycle manufacturer Dawson Motor Works – who made DMW machines – provided young Johnny with a mount for the forthcoming national Clayton Trial.
From this tentative beginning an entry was gained for the 1949 ISDT which would be held in Wales, thanks to the British Team winning the 1948 San Remo event – when Johnny and Pat’s father Vic was part of the winning Trophy Team. Another manufacturer, James, provided a machine for Johnny and he repaid their confidence by winning a Gold – his first of 13 such medals in the ISDT.
Long distance events such as the ISDT and that other ‘six day’ the Scottish, seemed to suit the Brittain temperament and his calm way of riding. He would take the SSDT premier award, the J R Alexander Trophy, twice in his career.
Those other successes were on other makes, it is the Royal Enfield marque and in particular the 350cc single HNP 331 on which he made such an impact on the trials scene, during the years now regarded as the ‘classic’ period of the late 1940s to the mid – 1960s. Johnny was to join the Redditch company in the early 1950s, would win his first Scottish for them in 1952 and remain with Royal Enfield until the end of his top line riding career in 1964. Not only would Johnny’s results in competition be of benefit to the factory but also his quiet, easy and approachable manner made him a good ambassador for Royal Enfield.
When Johnny felt the need to move on from the family business in 1960 and to start out on his own with a motorcycle shop in Church Street, Bloxwich, it was certain that Royal Enfield was to be one of his agencies. A new business wasn’t the only change in Johnny’s life in 1960, as wedding bells rang that year too when he tied the knot with Wendy Elliott at St Margaret’s Church, Great Barr, Staffordshire.
Johnny’s top line riding career came to an end in 1964 as he made the decision to retire, though he did continue to be involved with the ISDT as a sighting rider for the British team but he was concentrating on his business and family, both of which were growing. The couple now had two daughters, Trudi and Heidi and in time would have three grandsons – Rhys, Harry and Jac – as well as the thriving motorcycle shop. With the emergence of the Japanese industry, a Honda agency was taken on, again something that proved very successful for the Brittain shop, so much so that Johnny won a trip to the factory for his sales exploits.
There was a change of pace in 1984 when the shop was sold and Johnny’s attention went full time into the smallholding that he and Wendy had been on for a few years and it was as a farmer that John Victor Brittain would spend the last years of his full and active life. He was of course a regular guest at trials and Royal Enfield gatherings and thoroughly enjoyed talking to enthusiasts of all ages and abilities.
Johnny passed away with his family near him, having been looked after at home by his daughter Trudi, a nurse and her husband Robin, a doctor, with help and support from the Douglas Macmillan Hospice. On Monday 25th March 2019, J V ‘Johnny’ Brittain, in his Barbour jacket, was laid to rest at St Peter’s Church in Ellastone, Staffordshire. The coffin carried the registration number HNP 331, as seen on his ‘works’ Royal Enfields.