As well known in speedway circles as any Speedway World Champion past or present, is Dr. Carlo Biagi, who was born in Maybole, Ayrshire, Scotland on the 8th of August 1924. He was the younger son of an Italian immigrant, educated at the George Watson’s College in Edinburgh where he showed sporting potential, being particularly successful in rugby and athletics although I believe if there was an award for the long distance throwing of a cricket ball then our Carlo would have won that with no problem.
With the onset of World War II, Carlo Biagi exchanged education for a service uniform enlisting into a Commando regiment and seeing service in Belgium, France, Netherlands and Germany, able and courageous, receiving the French and German stars and being mentioned in dispatches. He remained in the services after the end of the war serving with the Paras. in Palestine. He finally left the army to follow his elder brother Bill into the medical profession training at Edinburgh University, graduating in 1954. As a young doctor he worked at several of Edinburgh’s hospitals and then the Peel hospital situated in the Borders near Caddonfoot, this hospital had originally been used for service personal and had evolved rather than been designed, it did however I am told always hold a place very near to the heart of Carlo Biagi and indeed he was to return later in his career but for now he was off to Southampton.
How and why did this prominent orthopaedic surgeon become so involved with sports in general and speedway in particular, it was an involvement that was to become well above that to be expected of the general clientele of a surgeon specialising in bones. The connection apparently started way back in 1959 when Carlo, now a registrar at the Southampton General Hospital, agreed to stand in for the track doctor at the Banister Court Stadium for a home meeting of the Southampton Saints, as things turned out not a good introduction to the sport, during a second half junior match that night a rider, Alan Pearce, was victim of a fatal accident when he hit the safety fence and received head injuries, dying later that evening in hospital and the young doctor Carlo decided he would never watch another speedway match.
Fortunately for the speedway world this initial response passed and whilst still in Southampton he met and then married actress Bridget Claire. His circle of friends and patients included many speedway riders who benefited from the services of this outgoing surgeon with ‘magic hands’. Amongst the riders to benefit from his skills, a young rider badly injured at a Southampton meeting, this rider all but severing his foot on the fence, realising time was of the essence Carlo Biagi set to work right there in an attempt to save the foot, he succeeded and the rider, Belle Vue’s Bob Duckworth, was, allowing for healing time, able to return to racing and a continuing career. Perhaps a better known occasion was work done on the broken foot of Ove Fundin, a few days before the 1963 Speedway World Final, Carlo devised a special cast to enable the rider Ove to take his place in the World Final and indeed to win the title of World Champion.
As Dr Carlo’s career progressed he returned to the Scottish Borders he loved so much, back to the Peel hospital as orthopaedic consultant in 1964. This was in no way a problem for the speedway racing fraternity who, used to travelling, just followed him to the Borders, it seemed that once told that nothing more could be done to correct or heal their broken bodies the riders, instead of heading into despair, headed for the consulting room of the “miracle doctor” Carlo Biagi, where they were confident that if it were humanly possible to mend their bones then Doctor Carl would do it and indeed their faith was not misplaced. Once back in Scotland he resumed his connection with speedway as a sport, and not just the supplier of clients, when he became the Medical Officer at Edinburgh Powderhall Stadium during many a speedway racing meeting, there can’t be many who are Consultants during the day and M.O. at a sports meeting of an evening.
It would be wrong to suggest that this talented man only used his extraordinary skills for the benefit speedway riders, indeed his ability was used for the benefit of other sporting people and, of course, members of the public. However along with the fact that he had a special interest in sporting injuries and an enormous talent and understanding of the requirements of sports men and women he had a particular interest in another sport, rugby, providing medical cover for the Galashiels Rugby Club who so appreciated his services they appointed him an honorary vice-
1981 and the speedway fraternity held a testimonial meeting for him, the meeting resulting in the presentation to him of a brand new Car in recognition of the years of service to the sport and the high regard in which he was held. In 1982 it was the turn of his colleagues when he was awarded an honorary fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons, this tribute normally reserved for distinguished international visiting surgeons and for it to be awarded to someone who had chosen to give his services from a small and somewhat dishevelled hospital situated on the Scottish Borders was indeed a ‘one off’ tribute to his devotion and skills. That was not to be the end of his awards because in 1990 he received an MBE at Buckingham Palace, presented in recognition of his services to orthopaedic surgery.
You would be hard put to find anyone who would not agree this was a highly skilled, gifted, intuitive and instinctive healer of bones but over and above this he was a friendly and approachable person who viewed his skills as a gift to be used for the benefit of others and in no way regarded himself in any way above or better than anyone else, he was a people person treating everyone the same enjoying the company of all but the company of sportsman in particular.
When in 1988 the original Peel hospital closed and he moved with the rest of the staff to the new Borders General Hospital, he would I am sure have appreciated the facilities and equipment now available in this new facility but he missed the friendly and intimate atmosphere that prevailed at the Peel and after one year at the new hospital and at the age of 65 he retired.
Even in his retirement he remained interested in sport along with his garden and kept those skilled fingers busy with the making of model ships – we all felt a tremendous loss when he died peacefully on the 13th June 2006 aged 81 at his home in Clovenfords, his family around him, he left his wife Bridget and their four children and what must be hundreds of grateful patients feeling their loss but at the same time grateful for the life of this extraordinary man.
By Jackie H